Music | May 1, 2020 12:15 pm

Legendary Afrobeat Drummer Tony Allen Dead at 79

Allen played with everyone from Fela Kuti to Damon Albarn

Tony Allen
Tony Allen in 2007.
Rama/Creative Commons

When Fela Kuti and Brian Eno both agree on someone’s musical greatness, it’s a solid bet that their musical legacy is a stunning one. That was certainly the case with Tony Allen, a drummer who first became prominent through his work in Kuti’s band Africa 70. Allen died on April 30 in Paris, as a result of an abdominal aortic aneurysm.

Writing at Rolling Stone, Daniel Kreps and Elias Leight concisely summarized the work that helped cement Allen’s reputation as a powerhouse drummer:

As a member of Kuti’s band Africa 70, Allen helped revolutionize the art of drumming, simultaneously anchoring and propelling classic albums like 1973’s Gentleman, 1975’s Expensive Shit, and the Afrobeat legend’s most enduring work, 1976’s Zombie. Each release depended on Allen’s slippery, ferocious, polyrhythmic grooves.

But Allen’s career didn’t stop once he left Kuti’s band in the 1980s. Instead, he went on to work with an absolutely staggering list of acclaimed musicians. Earlier this year, Rejoice, his collaboration with jazz trumpeter Hugh Maselka, was released to great acclaim. Allen played on several of Angélique Kidjo’s albums, including her take on Talking Heads’ Remain in Light. And he worked with Damon Albarn on multiple projects, including Good, the Bad & the Queen and Rocket Juice & the Moon.

Allen’s last album as a bandleader came in 2017, with The Source. At the time, Ben Cardew’s review of the album at Pitchfork spoke to Allen’s skill as both a musician and a composer. Cardew wrote that “this is an album that straddles jazz and Afrobeat in an elegant push-and-pull that sometimes edges closer to the former, sometimes wanders closer to the latter, and often sits joyfully in the middle.”

The scope of Allen’s discography remains absolutely stunning. He leaves behind a vast and impressive body of work, one which will continue to inspire musicians across genres for years to come.

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