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Femi Kuti Refutes Claim That Tony Allen Created The Beat Of Afrobeat

Tony Allen opptrer på Rockefeller under Oslo Jazzfestival 2015

Following the death of Tony Allen on 30th of April, 2020, many media houses highlighted his achievements, most especially his contribution to Afrobeat. With headlines such as “Tony Allen: ‘World’s greatest drummer’ and “Afrobeat pioneer dies” by the BBC and “Tony Allen, Drummer Who Created the Beat of Afrobeat, Dies at 79” by The New York Times, the media echoed that:

“Without Tony Allen, there would be no Afrobeat”.

That statement originally appeared 12 years ago in an interview by The Independent UK with Tony Allen. It was alleged that Fela Anikulapo Kuti himself had declared it.
“‘Without Tony Allen, there would be no Afrobeat,’ was Kuti’s assessment many years later”, Nigel Williamson of The Independent wrote.

However, yesterday, 25th of May, 2020, in an Instagram live session with Channels TV, Femi Kuti the eldest son of Fela refuted the claims that Fela never made such a statement.

Screenshot of Femi Kuti interview with Channels TV

Femi, who is himself a renown Afrobeat musician challenged the origin and purpose of the statement. “Who said it?” he asked. “Where did that statement come from? Why did they do this? Is it to destroy his legacy or to cheat his legacy? These are the questions we have to ask.”

“If Fela ever made such a statement, how come we didn’t hear of it in his lifetime? How come it was never written in any of the books? How come no press in Nigeria or abroad beat it?”

“It’s so painful because I saw my father work as a young boy.” Femi started playing the saxophone at the age of 15 and eventually became a member of his father’s band.

Femi argued that if indeed Fela ever said that there would be no Afrobeat without Tony Allen, it would have been duly recorded and a continuous discussion till date and not a subject of contention.

“I love Tony Allen, he was a great drummer but that he put those drum patterns for my father? It’s not true,” Femi Kuti said. He added that Fela was solely responsible for the creation of his music as he wrote out parts for his band members, a fact which Allen had also told the Independent UK.

“Fela used to write out the parts for all the musicians in the band,” Tony Allen said, “but I was the only one who originated the music I played.”

Fela and Allen met in 1964 when Fela was looking for a drummer for his jazz-highlife band, Koola Lobitos. Following Allen’s audition, Fela said, “How come you are the only guy in Nigeria who plays like this – jazz and highlife?” The pair worked together for about 26 years before Allen eventually left the band in 1980 due to disputes over credit and royalties.

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