The making of Africa Express

As the second Africa Express album is released, we take a look at the project's journey so far

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  • The background

    Two 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 Africa

    The 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 Glasto

    Africa 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 tracks

    The 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 departure

    Last 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 album

    Brian 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.

The background

Two 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



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