A new album from Africa Express, called Egoli, is a joyous collaboration of various musical styles and traditions, both African and Western. In a polarised world, this collaborative work is a breath of fresh air, writes Beverly Andrews.
Africa Express, founded in 2006 to promote the concept of musical collaboration that breaks down geographical, genre and generational barriers, has generated a series of musical adventures that have won praise from artists and audiences worldwide. It has included shows in Africa, in Britain and in Europe.
These shows have included a train tour around the United Kingdom as part of the 2012 Olympic festivities, playing the New Shrine in Lagos, performing to 50,000 people on a beach in Spain, staging the first show in front of Paris's Hotel de Ville, reforming a 50-strong Syrian orchestra and recording the only African version of Terry Riley's 'Contemporary Classic In C'.
Africa Express has sought from its inception to be a musical collaboration including both African and English artists, playing in equal partnership with each other.
The inaugural event of Africa Express saw former Blur front-man Damon Albarn and journalist Ian Birrell take a group of Western musicians including Fatboy Slim, Martha Wainwright, and Jamie T to perform at the Festival au Desert in the Sahara, just outside Timbuktu. The purpose of the journey was to use music as a way to facilitate a cultural dialogue.
Subsequent performances by Africa Express saw Western and African musicians just turning up spontaneously at various cities throughout England, and playing at venues which were within walking distance of the train station--whether that was a community centre or women's shelter. They would then board the next train and travel to the next city, hence their name, Africa Express.
It was felt that these spontaneous, equal collaborations would facilitate a more mutual musical understanding between the artists. It was also hoped that Africa Express would be an important antidote to events such as Live Aid, which on the one hand successfully helped to raise much-needed money for famine-stricken Ethiopia, but which involved almost no African musicians. Some of the African artists who have collaborated with Africa Express in the past have included the legendary Baaba Maal.
This summer sees the release of their new album, called Egoli, a beautiful 18-track work featuring musicians from various parts of Africa in a joyful celebration of African...