Tony Allen didn’t co-create Afrobeat with Fela – Lemi Ghariokwu


Famous art illustrator, Lemi Ghariokwu, has countered beliefs that the late drummer, Tony Allen, co-created Afrobeat with Fela Anikulapo-Kuti.

Allen died on April 30 in Paris, France aged 79. He was believed to have, together with Fela, formed the nucleus of the famous band Africa ’70 in the 1960-70s.  

Fela, who died in 1997, was also quoted to have once said that “without Tony Allen, there would be no Afrobeat”.

However, Ghariokwu, who designed some of Fela’s album covers, said on Facebook early Friday that Fela created his music himself but synchronised effortlessly with Allen.

“As the illustrator of 26 of Fela Kuti’s album covers from 1974 to 1992 I was privileged to witness Fela’s creative process first hand. Without fear or favour I can authoritatively attest to the fact that he normally composed his songs single handedly (and I was privy to the rationale behind many of those songs),” he wrote.

“He would usually score the music on a sheet of paper and may adjust until he is satisfied. He asks for rehearsals to be set up for the new song. There he shared out the parts to be played by every single musician in the band. For the drums and congas I did notice how he chanted out the beat pattern. I always remember in my reverie with a smile this particularly memorable chant to the rhythm he is fond of teleguiding the congarists to repeat. He goes ‘Gboloji Gboloji Gbolojiji Gboloji!!!’

“I can remember also precisely how Tony Allen was always in syncopation and quick to flow with the rhythm. He occasionally is able to present some alternative beats for Fela to choose from. I never for the life of me see Fela get upset with Tony Allen on the drums at all. Fela would chastise an erring musician on stage like an emperor. Tony was untouchably just so cool and perfect timing was his second nature. He played his drums impeccably to the master’s full satisfaction. I believe this should be the normal thing for a great team mate. Tony was a highly gifted world class drummer as he has proven himself to be on the global scale. Master drummer per excellence. No one can take that away from him.

“All said and done I do not see a rationale and need to convert Tony’s role in Fela’s band to that of a  co-creator at all. History must be served right I believe.

“This is my major reason to lend my voice to this debate. Had kept quiet until now just for reason of respect for the recent demise of Tony Allen. I knew both Fela and Tony quite well. My love, respect and admiration for both men remain unflinching. I’m further inspired for greatness by their individual accomplishments and that is what Africa needs so badly most of all!”