INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
Songlines APRIL/MAY 2015 - by Nigel Williamson
VARIOUS ARTISTS: AFRICA EXPRESS PRESENTS... TERRY RILEY'S IN C MALI
Western minimalism meets Malian musicianship
Half a century ago, the American minimalist composer Terry Riley gave the world premiere of his composition In C, an open-ended improvisational piece consisting of fifty-three patterns in the same key. Over the years it has been performed by both classical and jazz ensembles. With characteristic imagination, Damon Albarn hit upon the idea of setting an orchestra of West African instruments - kalimba, kora, balafon and ngoni - on the piece. And it proves to have been an inspired notion. Recorded in Bamako, the resulting forty-minute piece might have sounded merely gimmicky but it works a treat. There's also Albarn's melodica in there somewhere, along with some ethereal backing vocals from Brian Eno and touches of electric guitar from Nick Zinner and Jeff Wootton. But the rock stars all keep a deliberately low profile and allow the Malians to explore Riley's theme in hypnotic fashion.
They're mostly unknown names - Defily Sako and Modibo Diawara on kora, Adam Koita on kamalengoni, Kalifa Kone and Meme Kone on balafons - but under the direction of conductor/violinist Andre de Ridder they approach the task with an ecstatic joy as centuries of African ritual trance adds ancient and magical layers of wisdom to Riley's late twentieth century masterpiece.