Tony Allen (musician)  

From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search

"I [Tony Allen] started to gig with Fela, playing jazz, like Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, Horace Silver, and those types of things."--Tony Allen: An Autobiography of the Master Drummer of Afrobeat (2013) by Michael Veal, p. 50

Related e



Tony Oladipo Allen (12 August 1940 – 30 April 2020) was a Nigerian composer, musician and drummer. Allen was the drummer and musical director of Fela Kuti's band Africa '70 from 1968 to 1979, and was one of the co-founders of Afrobeat.

His solo work of note includes Never Expect Power Always (1984), Black Voices (1999), Tomorrow Comes The Harvest (2018, with Jeff Mills) and Sounding Lines (2018, with Moritz von Oswald).

To a general audience he is probably best-known for playing drums on "La Ritournelle" (2003) by Sébastien Tellier, a composition which has been widely used for television.


Early career

Allen was born in Lagos, Nigeria. He began playing drums at the age of 18, while working as an engineer for a radio station. Allen was influenced by music his father listened to Jùjú, a popular Yoruba music from the 1940s, but also American jazz, and the growing highlife scene in Nigeria and Ghana. Allen worked hard to develop a unique voice on the drums, feverishly studying LPs and magazine articles by Max Roach and Art Blakey, but also revolutionary Ghanaian drummer Guy Warren (later known as Kofi Ghanaba – who developed a highly sought-after sound that mixed tribal Ghanaian drumming with bop – working with Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, and Max Roach).

Allen was hired by "Sir" Victor Olaiya to play claves with his highlife band, the Cool Cats. Allen was able to fill the drum set chair when the former Cool Cats drummer left the band. Allen later played with Agu Norris and the Heatwaves, the Nigerian Messengers, and the Melody Makers.

Fela and Africa '70

In 1964, Fela Kuti invited Allen to audition for a jazz-highlife band he was forming. Kuti and Allen had played together as sidemen in the Lagos circuit. Fela complimented Allen's unique sound: "How come you are the only guy in Nigeria who plays like this – jazz and highlife?" Thus Allen became an original member of Kuti's "Koola Lobitos" highlife-jazz band.

In 1969, following a turbulent and educational trip to the United States, Fela and the newly renamed Africa '70 band developed a new militant African sound, mixing the heavy groove and universal appeal of soul with jazz, highlife, and the polyrhythmic template of Yoruba conventions. Allen developed a novel style to complement Fela's new African groove that blended these disparate genres.

Allen recounts how he and Fela wrote in 1970: "Fela used to write out the parts for all the musicians in the band (Africa '70). I was the only one who originated the music I played. Fela would ask what type of rhythm I wanted to play.… You can tell a good drummer because we… have four limbs… and they are… playing different things… the patterns don't just come from Yoruba… [but] other parts of Nigeria and Africa."

Allen recorded more than 30 albums with Fela and Africa '70. But by the late 1970s, dissension was growing in the ranks of Africa '70. Arguments over royalties/pay and recognition grew in intensity. As inventor of the rhythms that underpinned Afrobeat and musical director, Allen felt especially slighted. Fela stood his ground, stating that he would get the royalties for his songs.

Fela did support Allen's three solo recordings: Jealousy ('75), Progress ('77), No Accommodation For Lagos ('79), but by 1979, Allen chose to leave Africa '70, taking many members with him. "'What makes me decide it's time to go? It's … everything...and (his) he doesn't care, like he doesn't know ...he doesn't feel he's done anything (wrong). And with all the parasites around too.... there were 71 people on tour by now and only 30 working in the got to ask why. Those guys were sapping Fela of his Force, of his Music.' So Tony moved on, once again in search of his own sound."

Afrobeat to Afrofunk

Allen formed his own group, recording No Discrimination in 1980, and performing in Lagos until emigrating to London in 1984. Later moving to Paris, Allen recorded with King Sunny Adé, Ray Lema and Manu Dibango. Allen recorded N.E.P.A. in 1984.

Post-Fela, Allen developed a hybrid sound, deconstructing and fusing Afrobeat with electronica, dub, R&B, and rap. Allen refers to this synthesis as afrofunk.

Allen returned with a much anticipated new project for his 13th release. Recorded live in Lagos, with a full-sized Afrobeat band, Lagos No Shaking (Lagos is OK) signified Allen's return to roots Afrobeat after forays into avant-garde electronica hybrids. Lagos No Shaking was released on 13 June 2006.

Later work

In 2002, Allen appeared on the Red Hot Organization's compilation album Red Hot and Riot in tribute to Fela Kuti. Allen appeared alongside Res, Ray Lema, Baaba Maal, Positive Black Soul and Archie Shepp on a track entitled "No Agreement."

Allen played drums throughout the 2003 album Love Trap by Susheela Raman and also performed with her live.

In 2004 Allen recorded with French electronic artist Sébastien Tellier on the album Politics including the hit song "La Ritournelle".

In 2006, Allen joined with The Good, the Bad & the Queen as drummer.

Allen played drums on two tracks on the 2007 album 5:55 by Charlotte Gainsbourg: "5:55" and "Night-Time Intermission", backed by French duo Air and Jarvis Cocker of Pulp.

He also made an appearance playing the drums in the video for "Once Upon a Time" by French duo Air in late 2007.

He was a featured artist on Zap Mama's albums Supermoon (2007) and ReCreation (2009), adding his voice to the tracks "1000 Ways" and "African Diamond." Allen also contributed drums on "People Dansa", an afrobeat rhythm-fuelled track on the second album of the Brazilian singer Flavia Coelho, released in 2014.

His album entitled Secret Agent was released in June 2009 by World Circuit.

Allen collaborated with Albarn and Flea in a project called Rocket Juice and The Moon with an album released in 2012. Albarn collaborated with him again for the single "Go Back" in 2014, that is part of the album Film of Life, released in October.

Allen replaced Vladislav Delay as drummer for the Moritz Von Oswald Trio and appeared on their album Sounding Lines.

In 2017, he released A Tribute to Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers, a four-song EP on Blue Note Records featuring a reworked Afrobeat version of Art Blakey's "Moanin'".

In 2017, Allen collaborated with Malian singer Oumou Sangaré for the track "Yere faga" from her album Mogoya.

In 2018, Allen recorded E.P. Tomorrow Comes The Harvest with Jeff Mills.

In 2019, filmmaker Opiyo Okeyo released the documentary film Birth of Afrobeat about Allen's life in music.

In 2020, Allen featured on the Gorillaz track "How Far?".


On April 30, 2020, Allen died of abdominal aortic aneurysm at Georges Pompidou European Hospital in Paris. Tributes came from musicians and producers including Flea, Peter Gabriel, Jeff Mills, Nigel Godrich and Sean Lennon.


Tony Allen discography
Year Title Artist Label
1969 Koola Lobitos (64–68) / The '69 Los Angeles Sessions Fela Ransome Kuti Barclay
1970 Fela's London Scene Fela Ransome Kuti Barclay
1971 Live! Fela Ransome Kuti Barclay
1971 Open & Close Fela Ransome Kuti Barclay
1972 Roforofo Fight Fela Ransome Kuti Barclay
1972 Shakara Fela Ransome Kuti Barclay
1973 Afrodisiac Fela Ransome Kuti Barclay
1973 Gentleman Fela Ransome Kuti Barclay
1974 Confusion Fela Ransome Kuti Barclay
1974 He Miss Road Fela Ransome Kuti Barclay
1975 Jealousy Tony Allen Soundworkshop
1975 Alagbon Close Fela Ransome Kuti Barclay
1975 Everything Scatter Fela Ransome Kuti Barclay
1975 Excuse O Fela Ransome Kuti Barclay
1975 Expensive Shit Fela Ransome Kuti Barclay
1975 Monkey Banana Fela Ransome Kuti Barclay
1975 Noise For Vendor Mouth Fela Ransome Kuti Barclay
1976 Ikoyi Blindness Fela Anikulapo Kuti Barclay
1976 Kalakuta Show Fela Anikulapo Kuti Barclay
1976 Na Poi Fela Anikulapo Kuti Barclay
1976 Unnecessary Begging Fela Anikulapo Kuti Barclay
1976 Upside Down Fela Anikulapo Kuti Barclay
1976 Yellow Fever Fela Anikulapo Kuti Barclay
1977 Progress Tony Allen Phonogram
1977 Fear Not For Man Fela Anikulapo Kuti Barclay
1977 J.J.D – Live at Kalakuta Republik Fela Anikulapo Kuti Barclay
1977 No Agreement Fela Anikulapo Kuti Barclay
1977 Opposite People Fela Anikulapo Kuti Barclay
1977 Sorrow Tears and Blood Fela Anikulapo Kuti Barclay
1977 Shuffering and Shmiling Fela Anikulapo Kuti Barclay
1977 Stalemate Fela Anikulapo Kuti Barclay
1977 Zombie Fela Anikulapo Kuti Barclay
1979 No Accommodation for Lagos Tony Allen Phonogram
1979 Unknown Soldier Fela Anikulapo Kuti Barclay
1979 V.I.P. Fela Anikulapo Kuti Barclay
1979 No Discrimination Tony Allen and the Afro Messengers Shanu Olu Records
1980 Music of Many Colours Fela Anikulapo Kuti / Roy Ayers Barclay
1984 Never Expect Power Always (aka N.E.P.A.) Tony Allen with Afrobeat 2000 Moving Target
1986 I Go Shout Plenty Fela Anikulapo Kuti Afrodisia
1987 Too Many Prisoners Tony Allen with Zebra Crossing Barclay
1998 Ariya Tony Allen Comet
1999 Black Voices Tony Allen Comet
1999 Ariya (remixes) Tony Allen Comet
1999 The Two Sides of Fela – Jazz & Dance Fela Anikulapo Kuti Barclay
1999 Racubah! – A Collection of Modern Afro Rhythms Various Artists Comet
2000 Black Voices Alternate take Featuring Mike "clip" Payne Tony Allen Comet
2000 Black Voices Remixed Tony Allen Comet
2000 Mountains Will Never Surrender Doctor L Jive
2000 The Allenko Brotherhood Ensemble Part 1 Various Artists Comet
2000 The Allenko Brotherhood Ensemble Part 2 Various Artists Comet
2000 The Allenko Brotherhood Ensemble Part 3 Various Artists Comet
2000 Modern Answers To Old Problems Ernest Ranglin Telarc
2000 Afrobeat...No Go Die! Various Artists Shanachie
2001 The Allenko Brotherhood Ensemble Various Artists Comet
2001 The Allenko Brotherhood Ensemble Part 4 Various Artists Comet
2001 The Allenko Brotherhood Ensemble Part 5 Various Artists Comet
2001 The Allenko Brotherhood Ensemble Part 6 Various Artists Comet
2001 Psyco On Da Bus Tony Allen, Doctor L, Jean Phi Dary, Jeff Kellner, Cesar Anot Comet
2002 Homecooking Tony Allen Wrasse Records
2002 Every Season Tony Allen Comet
2002 Eager Hands & Restless Feet Tony Allen Wrasse Records
2004 Awa Band Bababatteur Ekosound
2004 Live Tony Allen Comet
2006 Lagos No Shaking Tony Allen Astralwerks
2007 The Good, the Bad & the Queen The Good, the Bad & the Queen EMI
2007 5:55 Charlotte Gainsbourg Because/Vice
2009 Secret Agent Tony Allen World Circuit Records
2009 Inspiration Information 4 Jimi Tenor & Tony Allen Strut Records
2012 Rocket Juice & the Moon Rocket Juice & the Moon Honest Jon's
2013 The Rough Guide to African Disco Various Artists World Music Network
2014 Film of Life Tony Allen JazzVillage
2017 A Tribute to Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers Tony Allen Blue Note Records
2017 The Source Tony Allen Blue Note Records
2017 What Goes Up Chicago Afrobeat Project Chicago Afrobeat Project
2017 Mandela Effect Gonjasufi Warp
2018 Merrie Land The Good, the Bad & the Queen Studio 13
2020 Rejoice Tony Allen & Hugh Masekela World Circuit Records

Linking in

Afrobeat, Gorillaz, Jeff Mills, World music, Hugh Masekela, Celia Cruz, List of drummers, Music of Nigeria, Vladislav Delay, Ishmael Reed, Fela Kuti, Archie Shepp, Danger Mouse (musician), Baaba Maal, Paul Simonon, Newport Jazz Festival, Angélique Kidjo, Fatou, Ernest Ranglin, Cedric Bixler-Zaval, Rencontres Trans Musicales, Honest Jon's, Orchestra Baobab, Antibalas, Sébastien Tellier, Isaiah "Ikey" Owens, Tony Allen, Simon Tong, Res (singer), Africanism All Stars, Ty (rapper), Late Night Tales: Nightmares on Wax, Moritz von Oswald, List of Nonesuch Records artists, Stockholm (Jean-Louis Aubert album), Carl Hancock Rux, Like Water for Chocolate (album), Music Is My Radar, Red Hot Organization, Red Hot + Riot: The Music and Spirit of Fela Kuti, Susheela Raman, Eurockéennes, Jeff Tamarkin, Cultureshock at the 2002 Commonwealth Games, Funky Elephant, The Good, the Bad & the Queen (album), Party til You Puke, Jimi Tenor, Vieilles Charrues Festival, Songlines (magazine), Copenhagen Jazz Festival, 5:55, Herculean (song), Kingdom of Doom, Try Whistling This, Cheltenham Jazz Festival, Positive Black Soul, Expensive Shit, Wrasse Records, Pocket Symphony, Ray Lema, Live! (Fela Kuti album), Green Fields, Free Moral Agents, Zap Mama, Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, The Good, the Bad & the Queen (song), Rockin' Squat, Simone White, Red Bull Music Academy, Jamie Records, I'm Fine, Golden Plains Festival, Chopteeth, Politics (Sébastien Tellier album), Adé Bantu, Wax Poetics, Afrodizz, Roskilde Festival 2009, La Ritournelle, Kokolo Afrobeat Orchestra, The Invisible (band), Flea (musician), Chris Franck, Mawazine, Muntu Valdo, List of Red Bull Music Academy lecturers, Skepta, Stuart Bogie, Victor Olaiya, Glastonbury Festival 2010, Field Day (festival), Dele Sosimi, Martin Meissonnier, Ariya Astrobeat Arkestra, Peter Madsen (pianist), Ghazi Abdel Baki, Nonesuch Records discography, Dr Dee, Ivor Guest, 4th Viscount Wimborne, Chicago Afrobeat Project, Forward Music, Rocket Juice & the Moon, M.anifest, Paul Randolph (musician), Catman (musician), Confusion (album), Black Jesus Experience, Dave Okumu, Love Supreme Jazz Festival, The Rough Guide to African Disco, Andrew Ashong, Leave-Taking, No Agreement, Stalemate (album), Sorrow Tears and Blood, Shuffering and Shmiling, Unknown Soldier (Fela Kuti album), Why Black Man Dey Suffer, Fela's London Scene, Open & Close, Shakara (album), Roforofo Fight, Afrodisiac (Fela Kuti album), List of Nigerian musicians, John Dolphin (music producer), List of songs recorded by Snoop Dogg, Relentless (2010 film), List of Nattjazz artists, Pauli Lovejoy, Andre Foxxe, Justin Thurgur, List of musical supergroups, Bantu (band), Lekan Babalola, Laolu Senbanjo, The Source (Tony Allen album), Ray Lugo, Gizmo Varillas, DJ-Kicks: Deetron, Agberos International, Africa Express (organization), Merrie Land, Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost – Part 1, Mogoya, Mandela Effect (album), Afrobeats, Stephen Sedgwick (mix engineer), Jowee Omicil, 2020 in African music, Sounding Lines, Blo (band)

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Tony Allen (musician)" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

Personal tools