FROM METRO (8/9/2012): Damon Albarn’s Africa Express goes full steam ahead with musical tour

http://www.metro.co.uk/music/911126-damon-albarns-africa-express-goes-full-steam-ahead-with-musical-tour#ixzz26S1EA1DO

There’s no silent coach on the Africa Express – and these passengers know how to make sweet music.

 

By Arwa Haider – 8th September, 2012

Africa Express Musicians get ready to board Africa Express (Picture: Simon Phipps)

‘People get ready, there’s a train coming…’ It’s midday at Jumbo Records in Leeds, and an Africa Express pop-up in-store gig has drawn a rapt crowd. The Magic Numbers’ Romeo Stodart leads a singalong through a classic 1960s cover, Malian chanteuse Rokia Traore brings gloriously soulful West African roots and Ghanaian rapper Manifest adds freestyle wordplay – all backed with acoustic kora and ngoni strings. The set is just part of the most ambitious excursion yet from Africa Express: the cross-continental music exchange sparked by Damon Albarn in 2006. Since then, Africa Express has hosted multi-genre, multi-generationa gigs around the world. This week, it charters its own railroad tour of Britain: what Manifest calls ‘a train of thought’.

Less than an hour later, these artists have assembled with more than 70 others at Leeds station. Platform 12 bustles with international music stars – ngoni virtuoso Bassekou Kouyate, Amadou, Britpop hit rappers Rizzle Kicks, shock-haired jazz drummer Seb Rochford – but the scene is notably ego free.

Congolese percussion aces Jupiter & Okwess International kick off an insistent drumming circle; a grinning Albarn plays along in the throng. Passers-by stop to dance and take snaps. Senegalese singer/musician and Africa Express veteran Baaba Maal greets his fellow passengers: ‘Bonjour, la famille!’. Maal describes this tour as ‘a train where people will arrive together in a beautiful place. The aim is to achieve people playing in harmony and to forget the term “African music” – let’s just call it music.’
Once on board the old-style Pullman, seats are swiftly filled with equipment, sociable musicians and crew who relax, chat and riff on ideas.

Rizzle Kicks
Rizzle Kicks take a break (Picture: Tom Oxley)

Traore gazes out the window as the train gathers speed: ‘Sharing this train and music for a whole week – it’s really original and unbelievable; we all feel like stars now,’ she beams, gracefully. This is her third experience of Africa Express. ‘I was interested in the concept of uniting all these African musicians who don’t get much opportunity to communicate in Africa itself,’ she says.’ You’re hearing something real and from the heart in this project.’

She excitedly shows me a vinyl Burkina Faso retrospective she bought after her Jumbo Records gig: ‘I used to listen to this music with my dad – and I had to go to Leeds to buy it. I’d like to have a store in Bamako selling records like this.’

Traore’s own music naturally fuses international genres but she points out: ‘I don’t think I modernise African music; time does that. I am the result of this contact between Africa and Western countries. Something started decades ago, when African music started to have a European audience – now it’s part of the industry, not something exotic; we expect a development.’
In the next carriage along, Rizzle Kicks’ Jordan Stephens and Harley Alexander-Sule appear both chilled and thrilled.

‘When Damon Albarn invited us on Africa Express, we were like: “Great!”’ says Stephens. ‘Harley and me used to get taken to the Womad Festival when we were kids, and this reignited that memory of African music, as well as just getting together with other musicians. Harley’s over the moon to meet Carl Barât. And we’d love it if Marques Toliver played violin on some of our songs.’

africa express
Above: Terri Walker (third left) and Jon McClure with members of Afel Bocoum’s band (Picture: Simon Phipps)

‘We love exploring different realms, from hip hop to African styles to jazz,’ nods Alexander-Sule. ‘It’s a mad creative fusion and everyone is treating it like an adventure. You stand there in awe – and then you join in.’

The Africa Express train’s rehearsal carriage really is awe-inspiring: a furiously funky jam on the move, packed with legendary names and rising talents. There’s Baaba Maal, Johannesberg rap maverick Spoek Mathambo (who notes: ‘there are so many bad-ass virtuosos on this train!’), M-1 from US hip hop pioneers Dead Prez, Afrobeat drummer/innovator Tony Allen, Albarn playing melodica, Yeah Yeah Yeahs keyboardist Nick Zinner, teen electro-rock brothers The Bots and more, all creating collective harmonies as we glide through Yorkshire cornfields.

‘I love that juxtaposition of the raging rhythms and cows chewing the cud,’ laughs Albarn, when he briefly steps away from the session. ‘It is extraordinary how everyone in Africa Express goes with the flow but that’s something I picked up during my first time in Mali; I dropped all my pretensions and just enjoyed hanging out.’

The Africa Express train is part of this summer’s Cultural Olympiad programme, and Albarn argues the timing has been right: ‘Sometimes you hit the pulse,’ he says. ‘So many of the British heroes from this Olympics have happened to be black; there’s a reimagining of what this country is – and this tour is a good metaphor for that.’

Albarn insists Africa Express shouldn’t become a ‘product’. ‘Politicians will probably realise there’s something really cool happening here and try to get involved,’ he says. ‘Unless they can play instruments, they won’t be allowed to.’ Otherwise, though, it’s an open-access trip: ‘Music draws no distinctions between people – if you’re able to express yourself, then you’re welcome.’
When Africa Express pulls into Middlesbrough, its passengers are embraced by excited crowds and they stop for chats and snaps before splintering into several further pop-up gigs. By the time they reach London today, they’ll have played cities including Glasgow, Manchester and Cardiff. Final destination: out there.

 

 

 

This entry was posted in 2012 Africa Express Train, 2012 Africa Express Train UK, Read. Bookmark the permalink.

The London African Music Festival 19th-28th Sep The 12th London African Music Festival is nearly upon us. The festival will take place from Friday 19th to Sunday 28th September 2014 across… READ MORE

Finding Fela General Release in UK Cinemas: Sep 5th Didn’t win tickets to the exclusive screening of Finding Fela? Don’t worry as the documentary by Academy award winning Alex Gibney comes to cinemas across the… READ MORE

Kinshasa Symphony Orchestra Perform at Colston Hall Sep 16th Central Africa’s only symphony orchestra Kinshasa Symphony Orchestra bring their sound to Bristol’s Colston Hall on Sep 16th. The group led by Armand Diagienda, formed in 1994 in the… READ MORE

Fela Kuti Box Set Curated by Brian Eno out Sep 30th Knitting Factory Records have chosen Brian Eno to pick seven of his favourite Fela Kuti albums for their third Box Set dedicated to… READ MORE

Salif Keita and Les Ambassadeurs Reunite at Barbican Centre Mali’s original Big Band Les Ambassadeurs (featuring Salif Keita, Amadou Bagayoko and Cheick Tidiane Seck) have reunited for a summer tour. The legendary Bamako-based group who ‘paved… READ MORE

Tinariwen and Damon Albarn To Play Latitude Fest Summer’s here, Glastonbury has just opened its gates to streams of music lovers and it’s safe to say the festival season is well and truly upon… READ MORE

Jupiter and Okwess International Summer Tour The super-band hailing from Democratic Republic of Congo, Jupiter and Okwess International have just released details of their summer tour. The group, who were part… READ MORE

New Video: ‘Deni Kelen Be Koko’ by Lobi Treore Band (prod. by Django Django’s Dave Maclean) ‘Deni Kelen Be Koko’ by Lobi Treore Band (feat. Seye on bass) was produced by Django Django’s Dave Maclean during Africa Express’ week in Bamako. Check… READ MORE

Record Store Day Exclusive Maison Des Jeunes LP We’re happy to announce the long awaited release of physical and deluxe editions of Maison Des Jeunes by Transgressive Records. In celebration of Record Store… READ MORE

Toumani and Sidiki Diabate Release New Album World renowned kora player Toumani Diabaté is set to release an album of duets with his son Sidiki. Toumani & Sidiki is the latest… READ MORE

Africa Express Presents: Maison Des Jeunes Africa Express Presents: Maison Des Jeunes Our NEW ALBUM will be release on 9th December. Africa Express Presents: Maison Des Jeunes, the album… READ MORE

See the BBC’s photos of our week in Mali Ahead of our Mali album launch, here’s a reminder of what we got up to in Bamako.  The BBC joined us there and… READ MORE

Wall Street Journal: “Africa Express Strikes the Right Note” Our recent Mali trip was covered by the Wall street Journal. Here’s what they had to say: http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304402104579147993779995238… READ MORE

Africa Express returns to Mali – BBC Coverage This piece from the BBC explains a bit more about what we’re doing in Mali.  Click here for the full story… READ MORE

Africa Express is back in Mali It’s true, we’ve returned to Bamako, Mali. The Guardian joined us for a couple of days to see what we’re up to.  We’re… READ MORE

Africa Express to headline Fiesta des Suds. Marseille, Sat 19th October Africa Express to headline Fiesta des Suds. Marseille, Sat 19th October We’re excited to announce that Africa Express will be playing at the… READ MORE

Spoek Mathambo releases ‘Escape From 85′ – a mixtape and a video game Get yourselves over to Spoek Mathambo’s website where the producer / singer-songwriter /rapper we all know and love has released Escape From ‘85 – a mixtape… READ MORE

Africa Express Train favourites Jupiter & Okwess International release debut album The Guardian says it’s “well worth the wait” and The Independent are pretty keen too…. Jupiter & Okwess International’s debut album “Hotel Univers” is out… READ MORE

M.anifest – “A whole lifetime in a week” aboard the Africa Express Mid-Morning on Sunday 2 September, I sauntered towards Euston in London with Jupiter Bokondji from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and about… READ MORE

AFRICA EXPRESS TRAIN TOUR – WHAT THE ARTISTS SAID… “This is the best project I’ve ever been involved in in my whole career” - Baaba Maal “Making music in Mali with Africa… READ MORE

Africa Express Pop-Ups in Bradford during Train Tour READ MORE

FROM THE NME: Africa Express in Glasgow, “A timely reminder of the power and joy of music” READ MORE

Ride with the Africa Express Train Watch the Video / Read Reviews / Hear the BBC 6 Music Interview Continue reading READ MORE

FROM THE INDEPENDENT: ‘My Week on the Africa Express’ by Jack Steadman http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/music/features/my-week-on-the-africa-express-8139040.html Bombay Bicycle Club’s Jack Steadman gives the inside track on what it was like to be one of the performers on Damon… READ MORE