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Published on August 16th, 2019 | by voxx

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Africa Express – Egoli

Damon Albarn’s cross-cultural collective return with their best LP yet…

When Africa Express rolled up in Johannesburg last January, even those involved didn’t know quite what the result would be. Damon Albarn’s global jamboree has taken many forms since its debut in 2006, staging events in Congo, Nigeria and Ethiopia, touring the UK by train for the 2012 Olympics and, more recently, releasing a version of Terry Riley’s minimalist classic ‘In C’ recorded in Mali.

Yet their South African visit delivers the project’s most diverse and entertaining recording so far, paying tribute to both the nation’s rich musical history and dynamic new sounds such as electro-house hybrid Qqom. It also sees many of Albarn’s A-list travelling pals playing a supporting role to local talent – not least UK grime MC Ghetts, who is upstaged by rising ZA rap star Moonchild Sanelly on the marimba-enhanced hip-hop of ‘No Games’.

Drawn from a week of improvised sessions, such moments really feel like two-way traffic. Whether it’s Albarn chanting over Sibot’s thudding house beats on ‘Become The Tiger’ or the way ‘Taranau’ entangles Gruff Rhys’s Welsh lyricism with the lilting refrain of Acholi singer Otim Alpha, there’s a winning sense of collaboration and sharing out of musical ideas.

At a time when intolerance is on the rise, cross-cultural projects such as Africa Express feel more important than ever, allowing Johannesburg’s understated folk stylings to sit alongside the X-rated electro bounce of ‘Sizi Freaks’ in a way which never feels forced. Egoli translates from Xhosa as “city of gold” – a fitting title for an album that offers its riches so freely.

- By Jake White


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