The making of Africa Express
As the second Africa Express album is released, we take a look at the project's journey so far
Mon Dec 2 2013
The backgroundTwo albums in and with countless chaotic, hypnotic and hugely popular gigs under its belt, Damon Albarn’s rollicking runaway train, Africa Express, doesn’t look like it’s in any danger of derailing. In fact, political strife in Mali makes its work more resonant than ever. As the second Africa Express album ‘Maison des Jeunes’ is released, let us take you on a whistlestop tour of the story so far.
Photo: Simon Phipps
2000: Albarn goes to AfricaThe transcontinental party train’s first departure was a trip to Mali back in 2000. The rhythms of West Africa inspired Albarn to record ‘Mali Music’, a collaborative album with Toumani Diabaté and Afel Bocoum. In 2006, he returned with Fatboy Slim, Martha Wainwright and Jamie T in tow. It was full steam ahead.
Photo: Jeff Gilbert
2007: Lasting at GlastoAfrica Express took its first tentative chugs onto British soil with an epic gig at Glastonbury 2007. Amadou & Mariam (pictured) jammed with Billy Bragg, and Fatboy Slim got funky with Tony Allen. Then Tinariwen showed up. Then Somali rapper K’Naan. Then The Magic Numbers. The whole thing eventually lasted five hours – less ‘express’, more First Great Western off-peak service.
2010: Laying down the tracksThe result of all those gigs and trips was ‘Africa Express Presents I’. This smile-inducing compilation of songs by the likes of Staff Benda Bilili (pictured), Oumou Sangare and Femi Kuti was curated by Björk, Franz Ferdinand, Elvis Costello and whole host of established Western stars, and did great work spreading the gospel of Afrobeat. But the Express didn’t stop for long…
Photo: Guillaume Aricique
2012: A new departureLast year it was all aboard for Africa Express’s most adventurous idea to date: a real-life, actual train – filled with close to 100 musicians. The potential for disaster was massive (just imagine Carl Barât and Rokia Traoré fighting over the last bread roll in the buffet car) but they pulled it off. Paul McCartney even had his ticket to ride, joining them on stage at the culminating gig outside King’s Cross station.
2013 The second albumBrian Eno (pictured) was among those helping to record emerging Malian voices for the latest Africa Express album, ‘Maison des Jeunes’. What’s the next stop? Albarn isn’t telling – but it should be a good deal more exciting than Gatwick.
Photo: Simon Phipps
The looks we'd love the chapeau connoisseur to rock at this year's BRITs
As the Oxford indie heroes prepare to play the biggest shows of their career, frontman Yannis Philippakis looks back at the London venues they rocked along the way
The co-author of 'Live at the Brixton Academy', a new book about the iconic venue's history, picks the shows that built its reputation
Say hello to the bands and artists set to seduce your ears this year
Over 600 limited-edition releases hit the racks of London's record shops for Record Store Day 2014. Here's what we'll be trying to pick up…
Forget the lightweights on the ITV show: here are this year’s cooler musical comebacks, including Pixies, Slowdive, and… All Saints!
Here are the five things you need to know about the biggest event in the Euro-pop calendar
Some of our favourite musicians picked their most-loved song by the kings of grunge – now tell us yours…
Why Robert Smith's goth-pop giants are (still) amazing