- 15 Aug 19
All Aboard The Albarn Flyer
Africa Express apparently came about when Damon Albarn got the hump over the fact that only one African act was asked to play at 2005’s Live 8 concert. Albarn, whose name is almost always a reliable mark of quality, put his money where his gob was, taking Western musicians to play at Mali’s famed Festival au Désert. If you want to get some idea of what this event was about, seek out Dearbhla Glynn's 2008 documentary Dambé: The Mali Project. The film follows Liam Ó Maonlaí and Paddy Keenan as they head north along the river Niger from Bamako to Timbuktu towards the festival, stopping to visit with luminaries such as Afel Bocoum, Toumani Diabaté, and Tinariwen. Never mind the rain at All Together Now, here's the job to put hairs on your chest. Sadly though, due to the general instability of the region, that magical sounding event hasn’t run since 2012.
Anyway, there has been five African Express Presents albums so far including 2013’s Maison Des Jeunes which featured Brian Eno, Nick Zinner and introduced the West to the mighty Songhoy Blues. Egoli, the Xhosa word for Johannesburg which translates as “city of gold”, as you no doubt already knew, was recorded in the South African capital in seven days, capturing, it says here, “the joyous sounds of Afro-Futurism”. In short the means it’s a mash-up of electronic and African music and, for the most part, it works.
There’s some great contributions from Albarn (‘Become The Tiger’, ‘I Can’t Move’) and another familiar name in Gruff Rhys (‘Johannesburg’, ‘Taranau’). ‘See The World’ on which they both feature is one of the better things here, but tracks like ‘The River’ from Mahotella Queens, Zola & and Muzi and ‘Bittersweet Escape’ from BCUC, Nonku Phiri and Mr Jukes are equally worthy of investigation. Perhaps best of all, the lovely duet between Rhys and Zolani Mahola, lead singer of the Afro-fusion collective Freshlyground, ‘Absolutely Everything Is Pointing To The Light’, is a thing of delicate beauty.
There are misfires but it’s all at the very least interesting. They should knight Albarn, although he’d probably scoff at the very notion.