INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
Songlines MARCH 2015 - by Nigel Williamson
VARIOUS ARTISTS - AFRICA EXPRESS PRESENTS: MAISON DES JEUNES
Damon Albarn's Afro-indie-hiphop shindig hits the studio
It was always going to be interesting to see how Damon Albarn's Africa Express project would translate to the recording studio. The inventive project that throws together African and Western rock musicians to see what comes out has until now been an exclusively live experience, based on an unpredictable combination of spontaneity and alchemical improvisation with minimal rehearsal - not always qualities guaranteed to work in a studio. Recorded over seven days in Bamako in October 2013 by a disparate group of more than thirty musicians, the first studio manifestation of the project finds the African performers for the most part in the front line and the Westerners, including Albarn, Brian Eno and Nick Zinner of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs taking control of the production.
There are some messy moments. But it generally works surprisingly well. Standout tracks include Soubour, the first recording by the Timbuktu band Songhoy Blues, given added attack by Zinner's indie guitars and Yamore, a spacious, neo-traditional Albarn production featuring the wonderfully soulful voice of the twenty-one-year-old Kankou Kouyaté, who is the niece of Bassekou. British rapper Ghostpoet is equally impressive when he takes the mic on Season Change, backed by the talking drums of Doucoura, the fusion given sharp focus by Albarn's moody, Gorillaz-style production.