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Tony Allen, pioneering Afrobeat drummer, dies aged 79

Nigerian drummer Tony Allen performs live on stage at the Melkweg in Amsterdam, Netherlands on 11th March 1988
Tony Allen performing in Amsterdam in 1988 (Image credit: Frans Schellekens / Getty)

Tony Allen, the Afrobeat pioneer once described as "perhaps the greatest drummer that ever lived" by Brian Eno, has died in Paris, aged 79. He was taken ill suddenly, and his death is not believed to be related to coronavirus.

There would be no Afrobeat, without Tony Allen

Fela Kuti

His manager Eric Trosset confirmed the news, saying, “We don’t know the exact cause of death.

“He was in great shape, it was quite sudden. I spoke to him at 1pm then two hours later he was sick and taken to Pompidou hospital, where he died.”

Allen was born in Lagos, Nigeria in 1940. A self-taught drummer, he is credited with helping to create Afrobeat alongside longtime collaborator Fela Kuti. 

He was the musical director and drummer for Kuti's massively influential Africa 70 group during the 1970s, forging the hybrid of West African musical styles with US jazz and funk that became known as Afrobeat. As Fela Kuti said, "there would be no Afrobeat without Tony Allen".

Later in his career Allen appeared on recordings by the likes of Charlotte Gainsbourg and Grace Jones, and collaborated with Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea and Damon Albarn, before joining the latter in supergroup The Good, the Bad & the Queen.

Flea is one of many music stars paying tribute on social media this morning, recalling their "fucking heavenly" times together in an emotional post.