Another African Music Legend Passes on: Adieu Tony Allen

Another African Music Legend Passes on: Adieu Tony Allen

Ok I’m going to keep this short otherwise a book might emerge. Tony Allen has passed on. That’s it. Here is the front-page story from the BBC News:

Tony Allen: ‘World’s greatest drummer’ and afrobeat pioneer dies (BBC News)

Pioneering Nigerian drummer Tony Allen, a co-founder of the afrobeat musical genre, died in Paris on Thursday (30 April) aged 79.

Another from the UK Guardian, which has previously showcased tony Allen in the Boiler Room series. 

Tony Allen, legendary drummer and Afrobeat co-founder, dies aged 79

Born in Lagos in 1940, Allen was the drummer and musical director of Fela Kuti’s band, Africa ’70, in the 1960s and 1970s. During that time, the pair created Afrobeat, combining West African musical styles such as highlife and Fuji music with US jazz and funk. Afrobeat went on to become one of the totemic genres of 20th-century African music.

He taught himself to play drums at the age of 18, drawing inspiration from the US jazz greats Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, as well as contemporary African music. In 1984, Allen moved to London, and by the turn of the millennium had settled in Paris where he died this week.

He has attributed his versatility to the need to make a living as a jobbing musician in Lagos in the early 1960s.

According to the Afrobeat King himself, “without Tony Allen, there would be no Afrobeat”.

It was only recently in March 2020 that I paid “A Befitting Tribute to Dr Victor Olaiya – Highlife’s “Evil Genius”. A Nigerian trumpeter who played in the highlife style. 

Music legend Victor Olaiya, who created Nigeria’s highlife rhythms and influenced a generation of musicians including Fela Anikulapo-Kuti.

Hugh Ramapolo Masekela (4 April 1939 – 23 January 2018) was a South African trumpeter, flugelhornist, cornetist, singer and composer who has been described as “the father of South African jazz.” 

One thing these great me have in common is Fela Kuti, a man that needs no introduction. See my December 2019 article, “Pop Culture Africa! A Narrative on Afrobeat, Afrobeats and Highlife.” 

Fela Kuti passed in 1997, Hugh Masekela in 2018, Victor Olaiya and now Tony Allen both in 2020.

Let’s not forget other Legends who have passed such as Manu Dibango (aka Pappy Grove), the Cameroonian saxophonist, and musical innovator whose work over six decades inspired some of the greatest artists of our time. He died at 86 this week after contracting coronavirus, also influenced many musical genres.

Back to the current Afrobeat maestro. I do not consider myself qualified enough to articulate a befitting valedictory speech, but would try nonetheless.

Here’s what the UK Guardian Newspaper says:

Gilles Peterson and Flea of Red Hot Chili Peppers pay tribute to the Fela Kuti collaborator, described by Brian Eno as ‘perhaps the greatest drummer who ever lived’

As we celebrate the contribution of Tony Allen to African Music well beyond Afrobeat, here’s a parting commentary reported in the Guardian:

This year he planned to work on what he described as a “travel album”, playing with young musicians in Nigeria, London, Paris and the US, “because I want to take care of youngsters – they have messages and I want to bring them on my beat…”

Hopefully the youngsters would step up to the plate and celebrate the life of this Afrobeat legend.

Adieu Tony Allen.

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