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Damon Albarn and co in Mali

Africa Express is releasing a new album made in Mali. Maison Des Jeunes, named after the Bamako youth club-turned-makeshift studio where the musical collective set up camp, was created in just one week. Africa Express co-founder Damon Albarn invited artists including Brian Eno, Nick Zinner (Yeah Yeah Yeahs) and Ghostpoet on the trip to jam with new local artists such as soulful singer Kankou Kouyaté and her band Gambari, Bijou and Songhoy Blues. The latter, a desert blues three-piece, was formed by Garba Touré in 2012 after he was forced to flee Timbuktu during the armed Jihadist invasion of northern Mali. The militants banned music, outraging artists worldwide. The ban and invasion may be over now but the danger of civil unrest remains all too real.

Africa Express bypassed the politics to record an album full of uplifting musical collaborations and discoveries. London-based electronic music producer and Metronomy bassist Olugbenga Adelekan was also along for the ride. “There was a sense of joy and power in the room. No one was too hung up on pushing their own agenda or being cool and everything happened spontaneously,” he tells KISUA. His track Yamore with Gambari is case in point. “I’d made some beats on my laptop that I wanted them to play over. But the band were like, ‘You sing, we play,’ because that’s their culture. They played a riff, I started singing the negro spiritual song Wade In The Water and Kankou, Damon and Brian joined in. We then came up with some gospel lyrics, did one more take and that’s what’s on the album.”

Africa Express originally formed in Mali in 2006 with a mission to bring artists from all cultures together to explore and celebrate African music. It has since taken in trips to Nigeria, the Congo and Ethiopia as well toured the UK and Europe. Everyone from Paul McCartney to Baaba Maal via Franz Ferdinand, Kano, VV Brown and Amadou & Mariam have been caught up in its musical mayhem. At the album launch party in London, Brian Eno reflected on his Africa Express experience: “It was seven days of musical humiliation! The Malian artists’ skills and connections were just so strong. The roots of black music the world over stems from Mali. It’s where we all nicked our ideas from as it crossed the Atlantic.” Albarn echoed these sentiments. “After what had happened in the north, it was necessary to remind the world about Mali’s amazing music,” he said. Adding: “There should be a law passed that all albums must be made in one week! But it was only made possible by the spiritual commitment and amazing musicianship of the local artists.”

Africa Express Presents: Maison Des Jeunes is out now on Transgressive Records

Images: courtesy Africa Express and Olugbenga Adelekan


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