Tony Allen, Fela’s Drummer and Co-creator of Afrobeat passses on

Amid the lockdown, the global music community, particularly the Nigerian music industry and fans are mourning the demise of Tony Oladipo Allen who died on April 30, 2020 in Paris, France.
Allen, who died of heart attack, was the greatest drummer that ever lived in the world, and most importantly, the co-founder of afrobeat music genre with Fela Anikulapo Kuti, the late afrobeat music legend.
 
Born in Lagos in 1940, Allen, an ace drummer, composer and songwriter, would have been 80 years this July. He met Fela in 1964, and they went on to record dozens of albums in Africa ’70, including Gentleman and Zombie.
 
 
As the drummer and musical director of Fela Anikulapo Kuti’s  band Africa ’70 from 1968 to 1979, Allen was one of the primary co-founders of the genre of afrobeat music and Fela once stated that, “without Tony Allen, there would be no Afrobeat”. He has also been described by Brian Eno, a music icon, as “perhaps the greatest drummer who has ever lived.
 
Aside being the inventor of the rhythms that underpinned Afrobeat, Allen recorded more than 30 albums with Fela and Africa ’70, as well as, three solo recordings: Jealousy (’75), Progress (’77), No Accommodation For Lagos (’79) before leaving Africa ’70 in 1979 in search of his own sound. In 1980, he formed No Discrimination, his own group. He recorded  and performing in Lagos until emigrating to London in 1984, then later moved to Paris where lived until his death on Thursday April 30, 2020.

Last December, Allen was in Nigeria for three weeks, and hosted live performances for his forthcoming 80th birthday anniversary in July 2020.

Speaking on the demise of Allen, Benson Idonije, ace broadcaster, music critic and first band manager of Fela Kuti, noted that Allen was the leading Afrobeat drummer with unmatched dexterity, and that with his death, that phenomenon has disappeared.

“Tony Allen was the pioneering rhythm maker for Afroabeats as the ace drummer of Fela’s band. While Fela Kuti was known as the reference point in Afroabeats, Allen created the rhythm and rhythm plays a very important part in Afroabeats”, Idonije said.

According to the former band manager of Fela Kuti, all the people Allen had influenced with his drumming skills will miss him, while the music world would miss he contributions to quality rhythm and music.

In his tribute to the late legend, Tee Mac Omatshola Iseli, legendary Nigerian musician, former president of the Performing Musicians Association of Nigeria (PMAN) and old associate of Allen, said, “Tony Allen was a great human being, a good musician, very helpful and wonderful friend. We will miss a five-star drummer who was out there in the world making Nigeria proud. He was professional and not like the jokers we have today”.

Tee Mac recalled his last encounter with Allen on December 26, 2019 when he performed alongside Allen in his pre-birthday party show in Lagos.

“He was in Nigeria last year for three weeks to celebrate his forthcoming 80th birthday, I performed with him as a friend and that was the last time I saw him. It was a reunion and great fun for both of us”, Tee Mac said.

Tee Mac further described Allen, who had been his friend since 1970, and also worked for his band for a year when he left Fela in 1983, as “a  five-class human being, and a great musician”.

Also in his tribute, Ayo Sadare, CEO, Inspiro Productions and organiser of Lagos Jazz Festival, noted that Nigeria and the world has lost an authentic music icon of the afrobeat genre, an influential cultural and musical ambassador in Tony Allen.
 
The CEO of Inspiro Productions, who partnered with Zome International & Metroventures to organise a tribute concert on December 29, 2019 in the honor of Tony Allen at Reserve Lounge, Restaurant & Bar in Victoria Island Lagos, described Allen as a fantastic soul. “Allen was a legend who was active with a career that spanned over six decades and was relevant on the global jazz scene right till his recent passing having just released a posthumous album with another African Jazz Legend Hugh Masekela on Nick Gold’s world circuit records”, Inspiro Productions CEO said.
 
Speaking on the tribute concert, Sadare said, it was a resounding success. “Uncle Tony was elated. He was happy to be back among his people and celebrated like that. He announced to the crowd that he wanted to do this more often. We planned to bring his to the Lagos International Jazz Festival 2020, which which we dedicated to him, Victor Olaiya, & Manu Dibango.”, Sadare further said.
 
For Gboyega Adelaja, a veteran musician and contemporary of Allen, a whole book would not be enough to talk about Tony Allen. His greatest achievements, according to Adelaja, are found in his profound contributions towards Fela’s afrobeat, which has now become a music genre and, of course, his own personal development and success as one of the greatest drummers ever.
 
“Allen is a straight forward person who never exploited no one. We are going to miss Tony Allen tremendously, first as a great drummer and artiste and as a very humane person who got along with everyone that cherished dignity and good character. Rest in Peace Tony Allen”, Adelaja said.
Allen is among African music legends that died in Paris in recent time. It would be recalled that Manu Dibango, a Cameroonian music legend also died in Paris on March 24, 2020 at 86 years after catching coronavirus.
 
 

Tony Allen Break Down Afrobeat’s Major Drum Patterns in Unseen Doc Clip

 

Tony Allen breaks down the five major drum patterns of Afrobeat in an unreleased clip from the recent documentary short Birth of Afrobeat.

Production team Rest In Beats and director Opiyo Okeyo provided the unseen footage to Rolling Stone following the death of the pioneering drummer Thursday at the age of 79.

Birth of Afrobeat, filmed in 2017 as Allen prepared to record alongside Chicago Afrobeat Project, offers a glimpse into how Fela Kuti and Allen crafted the Afrobeat sound. In this unreleased clip from the short, Allen breaks down the five major drum patterns he employed.

“Afrobeat has different varieties of rhythm. Maybe because I’m in control of that, I don’t know how to stop inventing different beats because when I’m bored with the patterns of the beat, I need to create another one,” Allen says in the clip. “But all what I’m doing is on 4/4 time signature, so it’s just a question of the composition of the patterns, how to group them together.”

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Allen added that the most important thing aspiring Afrobeat drummers need to learn is the first major pattern shown in the video.

“Tony had an impact as powerful as Fela Kuti’s voice, though he rarely said much,” Okeyo told Rolling Stone. “His weapon was collaboration and he was Afrobeat’s greatest ambassador. While we were filming, Tony said, ‘Afrobeat is the only major music genre of which you can still count the number of bands on your fingers—from Japan, France, to the U.S.—but that will change, it’s growing.’”

Birth of Afrobeat screened as part of the 26th New York African Film Festival in 2019, and is now part of PBS’ AfroPop: Ultimate Cultural Exchange Series.

Following Allen’s death, both Flea and Damon Albarn – his band mates in Rocket Juice and the Moon – have paid tribute to the drummer.

 

SOURCES: 

BusinessDay.

Rollingstone

 

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