On the afternoon of Tuesday, April 28th, I was happy to watch the live listening party and conversation that took place on YouTube with drummer Tony Allen, World Circuit Records producer Nick Gold, and Mabusha Masekela (the nephew and spokesperson for the late Hugh Masekela.) The event took place in celebration of the release of the album ‘Rejoice’ by Tony Allen and Hugh Masekela. The two had recorded together in London in 2010, but nothing had been done with the tracks until Nick Gold took up the project again in 2019 and finished it off with some added musicians. ‘Rejoice’ was just released by World Circuit in March. Watching and listening to Tony, Nick, and Mabusha talk from their separate locations about those recording sessions and having fun talking about other musical memories with Hugh Masekela and others was a real joy for me and all the other fans who had joined in around the world. Little did we know it was probably one of the last public events at which Tony Allen appeared. He died suddenly in Paris on April 30th, 2020. It was reported that his death was caused by an abdominal aortic aneurysm.
I was in the process of producing my next radio program this past Thursday when I first heard the news that Tony had died. I was stunned, and saddened. At first, I thought maybe it was related to COVID-19, but he had appeared to be in good health during the online video session on Tuesday. Then I read that his manager, Eric Trosset, reported to a French News Agency that Allen had become suddenly ill on Thursday, was taken to a hospital, and died within a few hours. The next morning I saw the news that it had been an aneurysm.
I had already planned on playing a track from that new ‘Rejoice’ album to start this week’s program, so I had to quickly rework the intro into a memorial for one of the greatest drummers on the planet. (I’ll do a full tribute to Tony Allen on the program that will air on the weekend of May 9-10.)
As one of the co-founders of the Afrobeat sound in the 1960s along with Fela Kuti, Tony Allen’s contribution to music is invaluable. He was rightly described as the heartbeat of the Africa 70 band, for which he was the musical director until he left Fela in 1979. Allen continued making solo records and collaborating with musicians from all around the world, and was still incredibly active at the age of 79. His drumbeat will be dearly missed, but it will endure with us.
Take a few minutes to watch this wonderful video of Tony performing the tune “Wolf Eats Wolf” for his 2017 album ‘The Source.’
There are many tributes and stories about Tony Allen pouring in from places all over the globe. Here are a few highlights:
Tony Allen, Afrobeat’s Foundational Drummer, Has Died At Age 79 – by Anastasia Tsioulcas, music writer for NPR.
Giants of Afrobeat: An Interview with Tony Allen and Orlando Julius – Songlines magazine has reposted this interview conducted by Nigel Williamson from their November 2014 issue.
Tony Allen, legendary drummer and Afrobeat co-founder, dies aged 79 – by Laura Snapes for The Guardian, with reports from Agence France-Presse.
Remembering Tony Allen, Afrobeat originator and Fela Kuti’s drummer – by Tom Schnabel, music writer and educator, former host of Morning Becomes Eclectic on KCRW – Santa Monica, California.
I’ll try to post links to more in depth obituaries as they appear.
Here’s a longer video of Tony performing his tune “Asiko” live in 2013.