Tony Oladipo Allen
1940 – 2020
World Circuit are very sad to share that the wonderful Tony Allen passed away on Thursday afternoon in Paris, at the age of 79. He is survived by his wife and his 8 children.
Tony’s manager, Eric Trosset, said in tribute, “Your eyes saw what most couldn’t see.. you are the coolest person on earth. As you used to say, there is no end.”
World Circuit’s Nick Gold also shared his thoughts on the great man: “Tony is a true legend. An amazing musician and a beautiful, kind and funny man. He did the impossible while saying ‘keep it simple’. It was a joy and a privilege to know him.”
Born in Lagos in 1940, Tony Oladipo Allen was a hugely influential musical figure, most notably as the defining rhythmic engine of Fela Kuti’s sprawling Africa 70 combo – the much-celebrated lodestar of Nigerian Afrobeat.
Allen cut his teeth listening to and playing jazz from a young age. Influenced by American drummers like Art Blakey and Max Roach as well as Ghanaian percussionist Guy Warren, Tony was playing with a number of Lagos jazz and highlife bands when he made the acquaintance of Fela Kuti, whom he would accompany for the next 15 years – first as part of Fela’s Koola Lobitos, and later as part of Africa 70, for which they developed a new musical language, fusing West African rhythms, American funk and jazz into what would later be dubbed Afrobeat.
Allen’s simultaneously kinetic yet counter-intuitive drumming underpinned an extensive catalogue of superb solo works, including a series of classic afrobeat LPs produced by Fela in the 70s, his 1999 avant garde opus ‘Black Voices’, ‘Film of Life’, and his 2017 EP release, a tribute to his hero Art Blakey.
Allen remained a prodigiously engaged and much in-demand musician until the very end, having created innumerable, groove-heavy coalitions with an astonishingly diverse retinue of collaborators that include everyone from Damon Albarn (their shared adventures over the past 2 decades started with the 2002 album ‘Home Cooking’, and continued with Africa Express and The Good, The Bad and the Queen), Charlotte Gainsbourg, Sebastian Tellier, Grace Jones, Oumou Sangaré, and more recently, Detroit techno legend Jeff Mills. Allen’s latest album ‘Rejoice, which was released in late March, is a collaboration with another legend of African music, the late Hugh Masekela.
“Mother Africa has lost a legend. Tony was the heartbeat, the pulse of African music both at home and abroad. A timeless musician Tony’s legacy has paved the way for many young African musicians today in the world of Afrobeats. Tony will live on forever and we as Africans from across the continent owe him so much . Thank you for the music” – Jonathan Jules, Director of International Marketing – Africa and The Middle East @ BMG