Tony Allen, the master drummer and co-founder of the Afrobeat genre, has passed away at the age of 79 in Paris, France.
The cause of death has not been confirmed. “We don’t know the exact cause of death,” manager Eric Trosset tole Paris 24, “He was in great shape, it was quite sudden. I spoke to him at 1:00 pm, then two hours later he was sick and taken to Pompidou hospital where he died.”
Allen, born in Lagos, Nigeria in 1940, is best known for his work with fellow Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti and as a bandleader in his own right. His revolutionary drumming style was foundational to the development of Afrobeat in Nigeria in the 1970s and has made him one of history’s most influential drummers.
Tony Allen established himself as a master drummer supporting the legendary Fela Kuti in the band Africa ’70. They founded the Afrobeat movement, which rallied dissent against rampant corruption that plagued Nigerian society after the country became Africa’s largest producer of oil and gas. Though its roots lie in anti-colonialist activism, the movement remains influential because of the revolutionary music they produced.
The Afrobeat sound cannot be understood without reference to Tony Allen. His grooves are foundational to the music, and part of what makes it recognizable as Afrobeat. As Fela himself put it, “Without Tony Allen, there would be no Afrobeat.”
Combining Western and African rhythmic influences, his legendary beats are always understated, but groovey and danceable. He often flips standard drum beats on their head, accenting the snare on beats one and three when it’s usually placed on beats two and four. Mimicking his style is a challenge even for professional drummers—it is said that Fela had to hire four percussionists to play all of Tony’s beats after he left the band—but with Afrobeat making a comeback, it is a voice you hear copied often.
In addition to the more than twenty albums he made with Fela Kuti, Tony Allen also had an extensive solo career. He released his latest solo album, Rejoice, earlier this year.