sun 25/02/2024

CD: Africa Express - Egoli | reviews, news & interviews

CD: Africa Express - Egoli

CD: Africa Express - Egoli

Fresh sounds from South Africa and beyond

Damon Albarn isn’t just a national treasure but an international one. He seems to spread his reach so widely, with a mix of curiosity and boundless energy, a great deal of discernment and a vision as different as possible from the narrow-minded attitudes that feed the Brexit frenzy.

Having worked creative magic in Mali, with a range of exciting collaborations and recordings at Bamako’s Bogolan studios and elsewhere, and paid homage to various traditions on his label Honest Jon’s, Albarn has taken his ever-renewing project Africa Express into the creative maelstrom that is South Africa. He is the 21st century equivalent of Peter Gabriel, who (with a little help from his friends) dreamt up WOMAD and launched Real World Records.

Egoli is to South Africa today what the late Jumbo van Renen’s Indestructible Beat of Soweto was to the late 1970s: a treasure trove and exciting ear-opener. The difference with van Renen’s Seventies albums is that Albarn doesn’t just showcase the most exciting talent around, but acts as a conjuring facilitator, with infallible intuition when it comes to musical blind dates, connecting different South African musicians and also bringing in talent from London and elsewhere. The contagious pleasure and excitement of collaboration shines throughout the album.

The languages of house, electro, grime, rap and gqom were originally rooted in particular cities or places but now travel fast or rather, admit no frontiers. While 30 or so years ago there was a distinct Soweto sound, the mix is now dynamic and ever-changing: so there is no surprise, but delight in hearing, on “No Games”, for instance, Plaistow’s grime star Ghetts working with the London-bred St Lucian electro star Poté, and well-traveled Muzi, with the South African duo Radio 123, and immensely talented singer and rapper Moonchild Sanelly (very present throughout the album). Vocals are in English, Acholi, Sesotho and Xhosa, and the legendary Mahotella Queens, first broadcast to the world on Jumbo van Renen’s complilations of the Seventies, add vibrant backing vocals on a number of tracks.

The irrepressible energy of the music dominates – but why not, this is a party album if there ever was one. And yet there are also quieter moments, as when Gruff Rhys sings in Welsh and sweet-voiced Zolani Mahola in Xhosa on the enchanting ballad “Towards the Light”. There is much about this immensely varied album to surprise and please – and to get up and dance to. A blast of fresh medicine that makes the world seem a better place.

Albarn has taken his ever-renewing project Africa Express into the creative maelstrom that is South Africa


Editor Rating: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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