Archive for November, 2008

November 22, 2008

Africa Express bring the party to the proms

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Africa Express –  22 October, KOKO – Camden

Most gigs you go to these days you pretty much know what to expect.  Sets usually comprise of about an hour and a half – unless its an old timer – mainly made up of songs from the last album with a splattering of hits to open and close the show.  This is repeated around the length and breadth of the country until the band/artist goes back into the studio to record again.  Not so with Africa Express.  This collaborative, evolving, collective of well-travelled musicians certainly brings the freewheeling, organic vibe to anywhere they decide to party.

Started as a brainchild of Damon Albarn after he visited the west coast of Africa several years ago it is now a seething mass of talented musicians all coming together for one reason, musical unity.  Many well-known artists will appear, disappear and reappear tonight during this 8 hour marathon of music.  Damon Albarn doesn’t even show himself properly until about two hours in, and that’s to remonstrate with the sound and lighting engineer!  Despite all the western artists, Flea, Johnny Marr, Sam Duckworth, Hard Fi, et al, tonight really belonged to the African players.  Baaba Maal started the show with his powerful timbre echoing around the Victorian arches, effortlessly balanced between soft and strident.    Afterwhich a whole glut of African artists ambled on including Rokia Troare, Tony Allen and Oummou Sangare – all sharing the stage with North London, North American and West African rappers.

The undoubted two highlights of a thoroughly entertaining and unrehearsed jam session were Amadou and Mariam – cool, laid back malian blues with the ethereal vocals of Mariam and the funky swing of Chicago’s Hypnotic Brass Ensemble – a nine, strong hip hop horn crew, entirely made up of brothers.  When they were blowing the party was swinging.  Even though it did demand a little patience from the crowd, long pauses between songs and wildy eclectic acts, it took the audience and musicians on a sonic journey that had both fans and bands alike second guessing throughout.