100 Greatest Drummers of All Time

From rock thunder machines to punk powerhouses, we count down the kings and queens of slam

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Tony Allen
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33. Tony Allen

"It's incredible," Tony Allen quotes Afrobeat co-inventor Fela Kuti as saying. "The way you play one wouldn't even need a percussionist." A radically polyrhythmic groove machine, this Nigerian-Ghanaian innovator added jazz and funk to local West African genres such as highlife, apala and Nigerian mambo. Allen was playing jazz in Lagos when he met Fela, who hired him as drummer and bandleader — first in Koola Lobitos and then Africa 70 — from 1965 to 1979, when Allen left due to Fela's "dictator ideology" and distracting politics. Fela has admitted there'd be no Afrobeat without Allen, whose influence extended to Talking Heads, Gorillaz and countless afro-fusion outfits. After leaving Fela, Allen continued pushing envelopes in collaborations and hybrid solo syntheses he calls afrofunk. "I'm a cool person," he admits. "I'm playing my drums the way… I behave in life."

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