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CD: Africa Express Presents Terry Riley's In C | reviews, news & interviews

CD: Africa Express Presents... Terry Riley's In C

CD: Africa Express Presents... Terry Riley's In C

Minimalism and Mali: a marriage made in heaven

Percussion graces minimalist masterpiece

If humanity first emerged in Africa, so did music, that’s for sure. The continent provides an endless reservoir of sounds and rhythms that have fed into blues, gospel, rock and jazz and influenced musical culture the world over. Not surprising perhaps that a work as primal and rich in possibility as Terry Riley’s In C should work miraculously well when played and recorded in Bamako, one of Africa’s most vibrant musical cities. 

The piece is structured around repeated groups of notes and rhythms, taken up by different instruments – strings, percussion, and in this case vocals – which weave in and out of each other, creating a beautiful and dynamic tapestry of notes, timbres and harmonics that is at once mesmeric and endlessly surprising. From the start, with a single note played on the timbre-rich balafon, the piece, as interpreted in this unlikely incarnation, draws the listener in inexorably, combining the familiar crystal-clear flow of minimalism with the funky yet delicate distortions that characterize music from Africa.

The young Malians, including Adama Koita, Bijou, Cheick Diallo and Modibo Diawara are joined by Brian Eno, Damon Albarn, and the guitarists Nick Zinner and Jeff Wootton. There is so much variety in texture and atmosphere as well as inspired invention that this may well be the most exciting version of In C. This is a piece which was made open enough to avoid being fixed in a single interpretation, just as the patterns that gently unfold throughout the piece evoke the transience of reality in a seductive and magical way. There is constant movement and flow, as well as a centering focus on a succession of distinct and very present moments.

Africa Express – originally devised by Damon Albarn – has been a force for the good, one of the evolving projects that have helped "world music" evolve from ethnological purism or blatant exploitation into something immensely creative and undoubtedly rewarding for all those involved. 

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