Tony Allen got me dancing
May 1, 2020 3:42 AM   Subscribe

Tony Oladipo Allen, self-taught drummer of legend, has passed away in Paris. His meteoric path - from the creation of Afrobeat with Fela Kuti, to the distillation of Afrofunk with King Sunny Adé, Manu Dibango and Ray Lema, up to his myriad later collaborations with the likes of Susheela Raman, Sebastien Tellier, Air, Damon Albarn, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Jarvis Cocker, Flavia Coelho, Jimi Tenor, Zap Mama, Flea, Oumou Sangaré and Jeff Mills - was that, in the words of Brian Eno, of "perhaps the greatest drummer who has ever lived." Here's an hour of interview and excerpts with Allen, from Raymond Dumas' documentary "Legends of Afrobeat": Tony Allen (Paris).
posted by progosk (34 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
posted by dogstoevski at 4:11 AM on May 1

posted by SystematicAbuse at 4:49 AM on May 1

Allen continued to put out inventive music and challenge himself well into his seventies. Film of Life is an amazing album, his penultimate work, available here on YT.
posted by kolendra at 5:05 AM on May 1 [2 favorites]

posted by misteraitch at 5:12 AM on May 1

Further reading/hearing/watching:

- Allen's autobiography (goodreads)

- interviews/portraits: T. Kermeliotis, CNN, 2015 "I still want to play something impossible"; T. Jones, Guardian 2016 "Fela was right – but I detest singing militant"; N. Iwebuke, Afropop Worldwide 2017 Mind the Band: Tony Allen; U. Ikonne, Globetrotter 2017 The greatest drummer alive...yes we said it

- Raymond Dumas' half-hour music-film Dada Man, on the "the London adventures of Ginger Baker, Jack Bruce and Tony Allen, as they reunite after 30 years".

- Tony Allen's Black Series, micro-feature about the 2012 Detroit debut of his cross-cutural project with Amp Fiddler, whence tracks such as the 2016 Afro Butt

- Go Back (feat. Damon Albarn), a 2014 music video from his Afrobeat Youtube channel

- likely his last collaboration track: portuguese-brazilian collective Carapaus Afrobeat's homage-jam Do Allen | Diabo na Terra (feat. Boss AC and Oghene Kologbo), published in December 2019.

- The Best of Afrobeat: A Tony Allen playlist, published on Apple Music a mere three weeks ago...
posted by progosk at 5:20 AM on May 1 [8 favorites]

I'm in shock, I saw him play less than a year ago and he seemed in rude health.

posted by daveje at 5:24 AM on May 1

posted by allthinky at 5:38 AM on May 1

(This one somehow disappeared in the edit, above: Jeff Mills & Tony Allen @ New Morning, their 41-minute set in Paris in late 2016.)
posted by progosk at 5:46 AM on May 1 [1 favorite]

What a legend.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 6:17 AM on May 1

posted by lalochezia at 6:21 AM on May 1

posted by supermedusa at 6:54 AM on May 1

Allen continued to put out inventive music and challenge himself well into his seventies.

"Wolf Eats Wolf" (2017)
posted by ryanshepard at 6:56 AM on May 1 [1 favorite]

posted by evilDoug at 8:18 AM on May 1


what a groove
posted by philip-random at 8:18 AM on May 1

For years I have called him the Greatest Drummer Alive and I'm profoundly sad that I can no longer say that. His influence is ridiculously vast. One of my favorite things ever is that knowing his deep influence on "Remain In Light," he ended up drumming on Angelique Kidjo's version of "Houses In Motion" from her fantastic cover of the entire album, bringing it full circle.
posted by HunterFelt at 8:18 AM on May 1 [5 favorites]

Can people who are good at what they do just stop dying already?
posted by prismatic7 at 8:25 AM on May 1

posted by Hairy Lobster at 8:32 AM on May 1

posted by droplet at 9:13 AM on May 1

posted by doctor_negative at 9:16 AM on May 1

posted by metacurious at 9:34 AM on May 1

posted by metacurious at 9:38 AM on May 1


Fela was the steering wheel, Tony Allen the engine. For years I thought of the sort of thing Clyde Stubblefield did as the pinnacle of drumming -- impossibly tight grooves over extended vamps. Then, I discovered Fela, and, Tony Allen. The energy, the nuance, the drive he brought to those tracks -- Lady stands out -- it set a new bar for me. Remarkable stuff -- and from the thread it's clear I have some more recent work to catch up on.

By no means to derail, but only to give dap to another influential drummer: I just read that Hamilton Bohannon passed last Friday. Four-to-the-floor beats made his solo albums prominent in early house music, but he was also widely sampled in hip-hop.
posted by Theophrastus Johnson at 10:21 AM on May 1 [4 favorites]

Sad to hear. What a great drummer. His recent album "Rejoice" with Hugh Masekala is so great, and now they're both gone.
posted by friendlyjuan at 10:48 AM on May 1

posted by Burgoo at 11:06 AM on May 1

So much good music. RIP.
posted by Lyme Drop at 11:33 AM on May 1

posted by Kattullus at 1:37 PM on May 1

I'm sad to say I had never heard of him until today, when WFMU's John Allen did a nice farewell set.

posted by Sheydem-tants at 6:02 PM on May 1

Utter legend, really sad to hear of his passing, but that was inevitable with the size and strength of his contributions.

I know I have barely scratched the surface of his performance and collaborations and look forward to many, many years of enjoying more of his amazing work for the first time.
posted by sektah at 12:53 PM on May 2


The Guardian has a list of his "10 best" - with Spotify playlist if you roll that way - and I dunno if it's his 10 best but the playlist is bad ass.
posted by soundguy99 at 7:07 AM on May 3 [1 favorite]

I had the honor of spending an hour interviewing Tony Allen in 2018.

I have to admit, it wasn't the easiest interview I've ever done--in retrospect, since he was behind his drumset, I think he thought it was going to be a master class, while I was asking him detailed questions from his great autobiography that he did with Michael Veal. Plus, I imagine that by that point he had endured decades of interviewers only wanting to talk about Fela, when he had four decades of a career after he left Fela's band. In that light, it made sense that he was a little prickly at times.

But it was such a thrill to hear him play, and to hear him talk about his playing only a few feet away. And I loved seeing Tony's surprise when my highly skilled former student volunteered to receive Tony's coaching. Even though Tony most likely pegged my him to be a stiff metal drummer before he played, Roger busted out the right feel based on countless hours of studying Tony's playing.

I never imagined, before hearing him up close, that he would play as quietly as he did most of the time. This was part of what made his dynamic range so huge when he would open up with a earthshattering fill to mark a transition in one of Fela's tunes.

There aren't many drummers that you can point to that have so fundamentally transformed the way people move on the world's dancefloors--Tony is justifiably up there in that elite few. Like Earl Palmer, Clyde Stubblefield and Zigaboo Modeliste contributed to R n' B, rock n' roll and funk, Tony contributed to Afro-Beat.
posted by umbú at 2:18 PM on May 3 [4 favorites]

soundguy99: thanks for helping me discover his Moritz von Oswald Trio contribution - the entire album Sounding Lines is on the record label's bandcamp (PF review here) - it is... just exquisite.
posted by progosk at 3:25 AM on May 4 [2 favorites]

That Allen/Mills @ New Morning link doesn't work anymore (for me? anyway), here's a new official looking one. Mills is playing a TR909 a lot of the time which is fun to watch.
posted by disso at 4:45 PM on May 10 [1 favorite]

Benji B has a nice tribute, which is available for another 10 days, though I think it's also archived elsewhere. If you miss it, I'll see if I can dig up a link.

Thanks to that show, I learned that Tony teamed up with Gorillaz really recently (that single dropped on YouTube on May 2, 2020!)

Digging through his extensive Discogs catalog and looking for his credits, it looks like's also on Youth Meets Jah Wobble - Breaking Shells, another 2020 release.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:17 PM on May 29

And Benji's following show paid tribute to Florian Schneider (obit post) and Ty, who collaborated with Tony Allen, as heard here on The Willing.

posted by filthy light thief at 3:28 PM on May 29 [1 favorite]

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