Tony Oladipo Allen (born 1940 in Lagos, Nigeria) is a Nigerian drummer, composer and songwriter who currently lives and works in Paris. His career and life story have been 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.
As drummer and musical director of Fela Anikulapo Kuti's band Africa '70 from 1968 to 1979, Allen was one of the primary co-founders of the genre of Afrobeat music. Fela once stated that, "without Tony Allen, there would be no Afrobeat." He has also been described by Brian Eno as "perhaps the greatest drummer who has ever lived."
A self-taught musician, Allen began to play drum-kit at the age of eighteen, while working as an engineer for a Nigerian radio station. Allen was influenced by music his father listened to (Juju, traditional Yoruba ceremonial music), but also American jazz, and the growing highlife scene in Nigeria and Ghana. Allen worked hard to develop a unique voice on the drums - feverishly studying LPs and magazine articles by Max Roach and Art Blakey, but also revolutionary Ghanaian drummer Guy Warren (now Kofi Ghanaba - who developed a highly sought sound that mixed tribal Ghanaian drumming with bop - working with Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, and Max Roach).
Allen was hired by 'Sir' Victor Olaiya to play claves with his highlife band, the Cool Cats. Tony was able to fill the drum-set chair when the former Cool Cats drummer left the band. Allen later played with Agu Norris and the Heatwaves, the Nigerian Messengers and the Melody Makers.
In 1964, Fela Ransome Kuti invited Allen to audition for a jazz-highlife band he was forming. Kuti and Allen had played together as sidemen in the Lagos circuit. Fela complimented Allen's unique sound: "How come you are the only guy in Nigeria who plays like this - jazz and highlife?" Thus Allen became an original member of Kuti's "Koola Lobitos" highlife-jazz band.
In 1969, following a turbulent and educational trip to the United States, 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 recounts how Fela and he wrote in 1970: "Fela used to write out the parts for all the musicians in the band (Africa '70). I was the only one who originated the music I played. Fela would ask what type of rhythm I wanted to play... You can tell a good drummer because we... have four limbs... and they are... playing different things... the patterns don't just come from Yoruba... [but] other parts of Nigeria and Africa."
Allen recorded over 30 albums with Fela and Africa '70. But by the late 1970s, dissension was growing in the ranks of the Africa '70. Arguments over royalties/pay, and recognition grew in intensity. As inventor of the rhythms that underpinned Afrobeat and musical director, Allen felt especially slighted. Fela stood his ground, 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), but by 1979, Allen chose to leave Africa '70, taking many members with him. 'What makes me decide it's time to go? It's ... everything...and (his) carelessness....like he doesn't care, like he doesn't know ...he doesn't feel he's done anything (wrong). And with all the parasites around too.... there were 71 people on tour by now and only 30 working in the band....you got to ask why. Those guys were sapping Fela of his Force, of his Music.' So Tony moved on, once again in search of his own sound.'
Allen formed his own group, recording No Discrimination in 1980, and performing in Lagos until emigrating to London in 1984. Later moving to Paris, Allen recorded with King Sunny Adé, Ray Lema and Manu Dibango. Allen recorded N.E.P.A. in 1985.
Allen returned with a much anticipated new project for his thirteenth release. Recorded live in Lagos, with a full-sized Afrobeat band, Lagos No Shaking (Lagos is OK), 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. Allen appeared alongside Res, Ray Lema, Baaba Maal, Positive Black Soul and Archie Shepp on a track entitled "No Agreement."
Allen played drums throughout the 2003 album Love Trap by Susheela Raman and has also performed with her live.
He has been a featured artist on Zap Mama's albums Supermoon (2007) and ReCreation (2009), adding his voice to the tracks "1000 Ways" and "African Diamond." Tony Allen also contributed drums on "People Dansa", an afrobeat rhythm fueled track off the second album of the Brazilian singer Flavia Coelho, released in 2014.
Allen has influenced a range of artists across a number of genres. In the single Music Is My Radar (2000) Blur pay homage to Tony Allen, and the song ends with Damon Albarn repeating the phrase "Tony Allen got me dancing."
He has 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, Allen collaborated with Malian singer Oumou Sangaré for the track "Yere faga" from her album Mogoya.
|1969||Koola Lobitos (64-68) / The '69 Los Angeles Sessions||Fela Ransome Kuti||Barclay|
|1970||Fela's London Scene||Fela Ransome Kuti||Barclay|
|1971||Live!||Fela Ransome Kuti||Barclay|
|1971||Open & Close||Fela Ransome Kuti||Barclay|
|1972||Roforofo Fight||Fela Ransome Kuti||Barclay|
|1972||Shakara||Fela Ransome Kuti||Barclay|
|1973||Afrodisiac||Fela Ransome Kuti||Barclay|
|1973||Gentleman||Fela Ransome Kuti||Barclay|
|1974||Confusion||Fela Ransome Kuti||Barclay|
|1974||He Miss Road||Fela Ransome Kuti||Barclay|
|1975||Alagbon Close||Fela Ransome Kuti||Barclay|
|1975||Everything Scatter||Fela Ransome Kuti||Barclay|
|1975||Excuse O||Fela Ransome Kuti||Barclay|
|1975||Expensive Shit||Fela Ransome Kuti||Barclay|
|1975||Monkey Banana||Fela Ransome Kuti||Barclay|
|1975||Noise For Vendor Mouth||Fela Ransome Kuti||Barclay|
|1976||Ikoyi Blindness||Fela Anikulapo Kuti||Barclay|
|1976||Kalakuta Show||Fela Anikulapo Kuti||Barclay|
|1976||Na Poi||Fela Anikulapo Kuti||Barclay|
|1976||Unnecessary Begging||Fela Anikulapo Kuti||Barclay|
|1976||Upside Down||Fela Anikulapo Kuti||Barclay|
|1976||Yellow Fever||Fela Anikulapo Kuti||Barclay|
|1977||Fear Not For Man||Fela Anikulapo Kuti||Barclay|
|1977||J.J.D - Live at Kalakuta Republik||Fela Anikulapo Kuti||Barclay|
|1977||No Agreement||Fela Anikulapo Kuti||Barclay|
|1977||Opposite People||Fela Anikulapo Kuti||Barclay|
|1977||Sorrow Tears and Blood||Fela Anikulapo Kuti||Barclay|
|1977||Shuffering and Shmiling||Fela Anikulapo Kuti||Barclay|
|1977||Stalemate||Fela Anikulapo Kuti||Barclay|
|1977||Zombie||Fela Anikulapo Kuti||Barclay|
|1979||No Accommodation for Lagos||Tony Allen||Phonogram|
|1979||Unknown Soldier||Fela Anikulapo Kuti||Barclay|
|1979||V.I.P.||Fela Anikulapo Kuti||Barclay|
|1979||No Discrimination||Tony Allen and the Afro Messengers||Shanu Olu Records|
|1980||Music of Many Colours||Fela Anikulapo Kuti / Roy Ayers||Barclay|
|1985||Never Expect Power Always (aka N.E.P.A.)||Tony Allen with Afrobeat 2000||Moving Target|
|1986||I Go Shout Plenty||Fela Anikulapo Kuti||Afrodisia|
|1987||Too Many Prisoners||Tony Allen with Zebra Crossing||Barclay|
|1999||Black Voices||Tony Allen||Comet|
|1999||Ariya (remixes)||Tony Allen||Comet|
|1999||The Two Sides of Fela - Jazz & Dance||Fela Anikulapo Kuti||Barclay|
|1999||Racubah! - A Collection of Modern Afro Rhythms||Various Artists||Comet|
|2000||Black Voices Alternate take Featuring Mike "clip" Payne||Tony Allen||Comet|
|2000||Black Voices Remixed||Tony Allen||Comet|
|2000||Mountains Will Never Surrender||Doctor L||Jive|
|2000||The Allenko Brotherhood Ensemble Part 1||Various Artists||Comet|
|2000||The Allenko Brotherhood Ensemble Part 2||Various Artists||Comet|
|2000||The Allenko Brotherhood Ensemble Part 3||Various Artists||Comet|
|2000||Modern Answers To Old Problems||Ernest Ranglin|
|2000||Afrobeat...No Go Die!||Various Artists||Shanachie|
|2001||The Allenko Brotherhood Ensemble||Various Artists||Comet|
|2001||The Allenko Brotherhood Ensemble Part 4||Various Artists||Comet|
|2001||The Allenko Brotherhood Ensemble Part 5||Various Artists||Comet|
|2001||The Allenko Brotherhood Ensemble Part 6||Various Artists||Comet|
|2001||Psyco On Da Bus||Tony Allen, Doctor L, Jean Phi Dary, Jeff Kellner, Cesar Anot||Comet|
|2002||Homecooking||Tony Allen||Wrasse Records|
|2002||Every Season||Tony Allen||Comet|
|2002||Eager Hands & Restless Feet||Tony Allen||Wrasse Records|
|2006||Lagos No Shaking||Tony Allen||Astralwerks|
|2007||The Good, The Bad & The Queen||The Good, The Bad & The Queen||EMI|
|2009||Secret Agent||Tony Allen||World Circuit Records|
|2009||Inspiration Information 4||Jimi Tenor & Tony Allen||Strut Records|
|2012||Rocket Juice & the Moon||Rocket Juice & the Moon||Honest Jon's|
|2013||The Rough Guide to African Disco||Various Artists||World Music Network|
|2014||Film of Life||Tony Allen||JazzVillage|
|2017||A Tribute to Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers||Tony Allen||Blue Note Records|
|2017||The Source||Tony Allen||Blue Note Records|
Two Tony Allen radio shows on Red Bull Music Academy Radio (RBMA Radio)
Downloadable podcast of a lecture Tony Allen delivered to Red Bull Music Academy (RBMA) attendees