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Tributes As Legendary Drummer, Tony Allen, Bows Out At 79

By Chuks Nwanne 02 May 2020   |   4:21 am

Late Allen on the drums

Tributes have continued to pour in for legendary Nigerian drummer Tony Allen, who passed on Thursday. A former drummer with the late Fela Anikulapo Kuti, Allen, according to his manager Eric Trosset, died in Paris aged 79.

Though his death was erroneously linked to COVID-19, Trosset, who spoke to NPR radio, explained that the master drummer died of a heart attack, even as AFP also stated his death had nothing to do with coronavirus.

Just last December, Ayoola Shadare, Festival Director Lagos International Jazz Festival, facilitate a homecoming concert for late Allen. Staged in partnership with The Reserve, Victoria Island, Lagos, Lagos No Shaking Homecoming Tribute Concert, which happened to be his last in Nigeria, was a prelude to his forthcoming 80th birthday, which would have been in July.

“The world just lost an authentic music icon of the Afrobeat genre. He was happy to be back amongst his people and celebrated like that; he even announced to the crowd that he wanted to do this more often. We were actually planning to bring him to the Lagos International Jazz Festival 2020, which we dedicate to him, Dr. Victor Olaiya and Manu Dibango. I’m happy I was able to celebrate him here in Nigeria, but I’m also pained because, we had just really started to get to work together on projects for what we termed the Tony Allen Afrobeat Legacy Project. We will miss him but his music lives on in our hearts,” he said.

He continued: “A fantastic soul, this legend was active with a career that spanned over six decades and was relevant on the global jazz scene right till his recent passing, having just released a posthumous album with another African Jazz Legend Hugh Masekela on Nick Gold’s world circuit records,” Shadare said.

In his tribute, veteran journalist/broadcaster, Benson Ijonije, described Allen as the pioneering drummer in Africa.

“Actually, we were together a few months ago in Lagos to honour a gig organised by Ayoola Shadare and he sounded very vibrant; he performed with an Afrobeat band. He spoke very well about his plans for the future and all that. They were actually trying to celebrate his 80th birthday, but he said he was not 80 yet and that a few months time, he would be 80. We were looking forward to it and suddenly he died; it’s very sad.”

Idonije, who actually recruited late Allen into Fela’s band, hinted, “Fela groomed him from the beginning. As a matter of fact, I was Fela’s manager from 1963 to the 70s; it was the highlife era. He was playing then with Akinsanya at Western Hotel before I recruited him into the highlife band. Tony was a very good drummer; he transformed from highlife to Afrobeat around 1964/1965 to the 70s and 80s under the tutelage of Fela.”

To Idonije, Allen’s death has created a vacuum in the music industry.

“There’s nobody like him anymore; everybody has gone digital. Today, people rely on electronics and all that, but he played live drums; he was a leading drummer. In that regards, he will be missed. He was a very loyal person when he worked with Fela. I miss his loyalty, honesty and consistency; he has been drumming since then,” he said.

To Afrobeat artiste Seun Kuti, Allen was an enigma.

“One minute, he’s a caring mentor and another a fierce competitor, but above everything was his rhythm. That rhythm was his life on and off stage and we love him for it.”

In his tribute, founder of X3M Music, Steve Babaeko described Allen as one of the greatest drummers to ever do it.

“His support role in the early days when Fela was busy creating Afrobeat as a genre is one of the rich legacies he bequeathed to the next generation of music listeners and scholars. Kayode Samuel introduced me to him when he was working on one of his collaborations with Damon Albarn of the Gorillaz fame. He was a creative force, an amazing drummer, a kind and gentle soul; he will be sorely missed,” he said.

On his part, renowned filmmaker Femi Odugbemi praised the late drummer for his gift of music to the world.

“Uncle Tony will sleep well because he gave everything of his unique musical gifting to us. If you listen with your soul to his music, you will hear the rhythms of his African identity translated in his patented shuffle beat. His collaborations with Fela to create Afrobeat will be headlines, but his body of work in France has been astounding.”

Odugbemi had spoken to the late drummer on the need to document his story in film, which he was open to, but wanted to an exhausting concert tour schedule across Europe.

“My sadness at the news of his passing really surrounds how somehow we failed to archive the thoughts and visions of this great creative spirit in his own words. The urgency of documentary cinema for Africa stares us in the face again; its purpose is beyond entertainment or information. It is about retaining the icons of our history as a people and ensuring that through the passing down generation-to-generation of their story, our heroes like Tony Allen, never die.”

Ayeni Adekunle, the CEO of BHM and publisher of Nigerian Entertainment Today, organisers of NECLive, said Allen was a true music pioneer.

“With his extraordinary talent, creative genius and remarkable work ethic, Tony Allen redefined contemporary African music. He also gave today’s generation of artistes a foundation upon which the industry’s productions, rhythm and soundtracks are built. He will be remembered not only for being a source of inspiration for many generations of African music stars, but also for being a champion and ambassador of African arts and culture, which he proudly introduced to millions of fans around the world.”

On the passing of Tony Allen, Afrobeat artiste Ẹdaọtọ, said, “He remains the most important person in Afrobeat after Fẹlá. His contributions generally remain ever unquantifiable. His No accommodation for Lagos album has almost the best drumming pattern ever in the Afrobeat world. Baba’s humility and fatherly relationships with younger musicians is also super. I personally will miss him,” he said.

In his tribute to Allen, singer Ade Bantu quizzed, “How do you mourn the passing of an elder when you cannot converge to celebrate his legacy, dance to his music and collectively bid your farewells? Death in these times of Covid 19 is bitter and painful.”

Bantu, who got to know about Allen’s death true a journalist friend said, “I was shocked and paralysed by confusion. Tony was a drummer, who was active for most of his life; always fit and bubbling with youthful energy. He was always on the move; either touring or recording with music greats like Damian Alban, Flea of Red Hot Chilli Pepers fame, Eryka Badu, Hugh Masakela or hurled up in his Paris studio working on his albums. His tour calendar and body of work spoke volumes about him not only as a drummer, but also as a composer and arranger.”

He continued: “Allenco, as we fondly called him, was an exceptional human being; a gifted musician who was never caught up in the hype and fame game. Always approachable, he had no airs around him. Not one to really care about your status as a musician or the politics of the music business; he was forever lending his ears, mentoring or giving advice to upcoming musicians.”

Recalling his meeting with the late drummer at a Lagos recording studio in the early 2000s, Bantu said, “He was in town working with Fatai Rolling Dollar, Yinka Davis and few other local musicians on an album project that would eventually carry the title Lagos No Shaking. Although I wasn’t directly involved, I was fortunate to have witnessed him first hand in the studio as he laid tracks and masterfully guided his crew of engineers and musicians towards musical perfection. What struck me were his humility, focus and dedication to his craft; he effortlessly brought out the best in everyone.”

A few years later, Bantu was also to experience the Tony Allen magic touch when the master drummer invited him to join him on stage in Stockholm, Sweden.

“I recall frantically begging to rehearse before the show and him telling me baritone voice, ‘Ade, don’t worry, you will be fine just follow me.’ I followed him on that cold winter night as we heated up the stage in perfectly synced rhymes and rhythmic harmony. Uncle Tony is no more but his legacy will forever live on. As the co-creator of Afrobeat (yes Fela never wrote for Tony Allen he composed all his drum patterns himself), he has been influential in not only shaping the big band sound of the genre, but in influencing everyone from rock music, to house, techno, pop and the current wave of Nigerian and African pop music. We have lost an institution, a man who fearlessly stepped out of Fela’s shadows to reinvent himself and push music to new heights,” he said.

In his brief tribute to the late drummer, Segun Adefila, the founder of Crown Troupe of Africa, said, “Great man; he gave drums a face and played his part while at it. Wish he stayed with Fela. This, however, does not diminish the stature of his contribution to authentic music.”

Broadcaster Bisi Olatilo said, “How I wish the multi-talented drummer of all times, the iconic Tony Allen, a great son of Africa and highly respected personality of the world was able to hit the almighty 80 year mark. As one of the diehard fans and lovers of Fela’s Afrobeat music that brought me to Lagos at least three times every month from my secondary school in my hometown Igbajo in Osun State, l pay a special tribute to the great inimitable Tony Allen. He was the livewire and engine of Fela’s Afrobeat music in the 26 years of their relationship, which bore more than 40 block-busting albums by which Fela’s spirit has been resonating since his demise 23 years ago. Now, the great Tony Allen has gone to join his body of all time. l join the entertainment world to celebrate Tony Allen, may God bless his.”

Tony Oladipo Allen was a Nigerian drummer, composer, and songwriter, who lived and worked in Paris, France. Allen was band Africa ‘70 from 1968 to 1979, and was one of the primary co-founders of the genre of Afrobeat.

Allen’s career and life story were documented in his 2013 autobiography Tony Allen: Master Drummer of Afrobeat, co-written with author/musician Michael E. Veal, who previously wrote a comprehensive biography of Fela Kuti.

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