Drummer Tony Allen 1940 – 2020
Born in Lagos, Nigeria in 1940, Allen taught himself to play drums at age 18 while working for a radio station. Allen was closely associated with fellow Nigerian musician Fela Kuti, helping to establish the Afrobeat genre. The drummer was an integral member of Kuti’s band Africa 70.
Allen’s association with Kuti began in 1964 and lasted through a final performance with Kuti and Africa 70 at the 1979 Berlin Jazz Festival. Allen and Kuti recorded over 30 albums during that span.
“Fela was like a brother to me,” Allen stated. “He was a true genius and I worked with him for 15 years because I believed in him so much.”
Allen also released a trio of solo albums in the 1970s, and continued solo work in subsequent decades. After relocating to France, Allen teamed with fellow African natives Ray Lema and Manu DiBango, issuing the 1985 album, Never Expect Power Always (N.E.P.A.). Allen’s final solo album was 2017’s The Source that was issued by Blue Note Records.
Later years also saw Allen collaborate on a variety of projects. He was a member of the supergroup The Good, The Bad, The Queen alongside multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Damon Albarn of Gorillaz, bassist Paul Simonon of The Clash and guitarist Simon Tong of The Verve . Their self-titled debut was released in 2007 and its follow-up, Merrie Land came out in 2018.
Allen, Albarn, and Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea formed Rocket Juice & The Moon and released a lone, self-titled album in 2012. Additional Allen collaborators included Charlotte Gainsbourg, Zap Mama, Chicago Afrobeat Project, Jimi Tenor and Hugh Masekela, among others.