Tony Oladipo Allen was born August 12 1940 in Lagos Nigeria.
Allen began playing the drum kit at 18 while working for a Nigerian radio station as an engineer. His style was greatly influenced by Jùjú, popular Yoruba Music from the 1940s which his father listened to, American jazz and the growing high life scene in Nigeria and Ghana.
In 1964,Fela Kuti,who together with Allen had played as sidemen in the Lagos circuit, invited Allen to audition for a jazz-highlife band he was forming,making him an original member of Kuti’s “Koola Lobitos” highlife-jazz band.
Following a turbulent and educational trip to the United States in 1969, 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 recorded more than 30 albums with Fela and Africa ’70,however by the late 1970s tension was growing in the ranks over royalties and recognition.Allen,being the inventor of the rhythms that contributed to Afrobeat and music director felt under appreciated.However, Fela did not cave in 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).
In 1979,Allen decided to leave the band in 1979 taking many team members with him.He formed his own group, recording No Discrimination in 1980, and performing in Lagos until emigrating to London in 1984. He later moved to Paris, where he recorded with King Sunny Adé, Ray Lema and Manu Dibango. In 1985,he recorded N.E.P.A.
With his new band,he developed a hybrid sound deconstructing and fusing Afrobeat with electronica,dub, R&B, and rap,referring to this synthesis as afrofunk.
His 13th release,Lagos No Shaking, was recorded live in Lagos with a full-sized Afrobeat band.It signified Allen’s return to roots Afrobeat after forays into avant-garde electronica hybrids. Lagos No Shaking was released on 13 June 2006.
In 2002, Allen appeared on the Red Hot Organization’s compilation album Red Hot and Riot in tribute to Fela Kuti who died in 1997. He played drums for Susheela Ramans 2003 album,Love trap 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, he joined Damon Albarn, Paul Simonon, and Simon Tong as drummer for The Good, the Bad & the Queen.
On the 2007 album by Charlotte Gainsbourg,5.55, Allen played drums on two tracks: 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 and was a featured artist on Zap Mama’s albums Supermoon 2007 and ReCreation 2009 adding his voice to 1000 Ways and African Diamond.
Allen has influenced a range of artists across a number of genres. In the single Music Is My Radar (2000) Blur pays homage to him, and the song ends with Damon Albarn repeating the phrase “Tony Allen got me dancing.”
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.
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.He also 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 Techno DJ Jeff Mills.
In 2019, filmmaker Opiyo Okeyo released the documentary film Birth of Afrobeat about Allen’s life in music which screened at American Black Film Festival and won the 21st Century Fox Global Inclusion Award for Emerging Voices at the BlackStar Film Festival.
On April 30, 2020, Allen died of abdominal aortic aneurysm at Georges Pompidou European Hospital in Paris.