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Fela Kuti once famously said, “Without Tony Allen, there would be no Afrobeat.”
Legendary Nigerian drummer Tony Allen, who created afrobeat along with his old bandmate Fela Kuti, passed away at the age of 79 in Paris on Thursday, his manager told AFP.
“We don’t know the exact cause of death,” manager Eric Trosset said, adding it was not linked to the coronavirus.
“He was in great shape, it was quite sudden. I spoke to him at 1:00 pm (1100 GMT), then two hours later he was sick and taken to Pompidou hospital where he died.”
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 American imports jazz and funk. Afrobeat went on to become one of the totemic genres of 20th century African music.
Over Allen’s thrilling beat, Fela laid out his revolutionary and pan-African message, which led him to become one of the abiding icons of the struggle for freedom across the continent.
Allen and Fela recorded around 40 albums together in Africa ’70, before parting ways after a mythic 26-year collaboration.
Such was the hole that Allen left in his band, Fela needed four drummers to replace him.
Allen taught himself to play drums from the age of 18, drawing inspiration from American jazz greats Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker as well as contemporary African music.
He remained hugely influential and beloved by generations of musicians.
British musician and producer Brian Eno has called Allen “perhaps the greatest drummer who ever lived”.
Allen was the drummer in the supergroup The Good, the Bad & the Queen, also featuring Blur singer Damon Albarn and The Clash bassist Paul Simonon, which released its second album in 2018.
He lived in the Paris suburb Courbevoie.
Seun Kuti, the son of late Fela, also wasted no time in paying him tribute immediately he got the news. This he shared via his Instagram handle;
Waking up to the most disastrous news. First Uncle Manu now Uncle Tony. These 2 men played together with me in my coming out concert in Dakar in 2004. Uncle Tony was always available to me and even tho we had our differences, there was never anything but love and respect. Uncle Tony was an enigma. A pure artist and fierce competitor( in his own way)! I love and miss u baba. Rest In Peace. #getthesax