Articles review on the net, revue d'articles sur la toile

Inscription : feeds, flux :
(Atom) Gabriel Real World News

12 mai 2007

The Afro Celt Sound System: The sound of worlds colliding

The Afro Celt Sound System's unusual blend of African and Irish beats should prove a winning festival act. Pierre Perrone meets their founder, Simon Emmerson (Published: 10 May 2007)

"Afro Celt Sound System, they do exactly what it says on the tin. That's what they told the audience when we got the Radio 3 Listeners' Award five years ago," remembers Simon Emmerson. The frontman for Afro Celt Sound System says he first thought of blending together African and Celtic music while producing the Senegalese singer Baaba Maal in 1992. "He was asking me about my roots," he explains. "I realised he was just as interested in music from the British Isles as I was in what was coming out of West Africa. Later, I had Davy Spillane play this lovely Irish whistle on a track for Lam Toro, the first Baaba Maal album I did. It worked perfectly, it was sort of an epiphany for me. I became really interested in marrying the pentatonic scales from both traditions and putting them over a techno beat to see where it led. That became the basis for the Afro Celt Sound System."

With the benefit of hindsight, album sales of 1.2 million, two Grammy nominations and triumphant appearances at Womad, Glastonbury and other festivals around the world, Afro Celt Sound System seems like a natural fusion of genres and a bankable proposition. But Emmerson is convinced that, back in 1995, most record labels would have balked at the idea of bankrolling such a venture. "If I'd said to anyone else, this is what I want to do, they would have shown me the door," he says.

"Peter Gabriel gave us a week at Real World. We had Davy Spillane, several members of Baaba Maal's band, Myrdhin, from Britanny, on Celtic harp, a piper called Ronan Browne. I already knew James [multi-instrumentalist McNally] from his work with rap band Marxman. They were neighbours of mine in Hackney. Iarla [O'Lionaird, the Gaelic vocalist] was there, Martin Russell and Jo Bruce came in to play keyboards. I saw the whole thing as a one-off project. That's why we had Sound System in the name. I'd made so many albums over the years that didn't sell for one reason or another so I didn't really plan ahead."

In a previous life, as Simon Booth - "I picked the most boring pseudonym I could think of" - Emmerson had been a member of Scritti Politti. He then formed Weekend, and then the British jazz group Working Week in the early Eighties. "In Weekend, we tried to play like Brazilian musicians. With Working Week, we had Robert Wyatt singing 'Venceremos'. To me, it's all the same music."

The guitarist, bouzouki player and programmer was at the birth of acid jazz. has produced Manu Dibango and Femi Kuti and remixed Peter Gabriel. But the 1995 experiment nonetheless had a profound effect on him and McNally, O'Lionaird and Russell, the four core members of the collective. "We all look back at that as being the defining moment," Emmerson says. "We did 'Sure' ['Sure-as-Not/Sure-as-Knot'] and I got shivers down my spine. We felt this incredible responsibility because we had made this connection between Ireland and Africa."

He says the Irish musicians involved also saw the potential, as well as relative outsiders such as Jamie Reid, the graphic artist famous for his Sex Pistols artwork. "He'd decorated the studio with all these Celtic symbols and when I sent him a tape, he did a little sketch of a lion and unicorn with 'Afro Celt Sound Magic - from the light continent' incorporated into the drawing. We called the first album Volume 1: Sound Magic. Jamie Reid was really important. His paintings gave us a visual identity."

Emmerson is fond of comparing the ever-evolving line-up to the cast of Star Trek, with him not so much as Captain Kirk but "the weird-looking baldie alien. After the second album, I stood back a lot more. I'm not the leader. The others never get the credit they deserve."
While acknowledging the influence of Songhai, the late-Eighties World Music project centred around the Malian kora player Toumani Diabaté and the English bassist Danny Thompson, and drawing parallels with "fellow traveller" Jah Wobble, Emmerson is adamant that the Afro Celts have forged their own path - and avoided the blandness of Deep Forest, Sacred Spirits and other World Music-lite acts. But they have still managed to rub British critics up the wrong way. "Some journalists just wouldn't look me in the eye. This only happens here, and not in continental Europe and in the US, where we've been welcome and much better accepted," he reflects.

Indeed, the word-of-mouth success of the Afro Celts started in Germany. "We'd sold 30,000 albums before we'd even been there. Real World and Virgin [the label's distributor] had to sit up and take notice," he says. "What happened is we became a kind of monster. The last thing that I expected was to have a touring band. But it has worked, it's been incredible."
The band nonetheless struggled to follow up their debut, after the death of Jo Bruce - their keyboard player and son of legendary Cream bassist, Jack Bruce - in October 1997. "He was like a younger brother to us. Volume 2: Release was a really, really difficult album to make. But Sinead O'Connor came in and co-wrote the title track and we were away again," he says.

The band then collaborated with Gabriel and Robert Plant on Volume 3: Further in Time. Sensing a coffee-table crossover, Virgin sent Canadian rock producer Bob Ezrin to the studio. "He walked in and said: 'I've worked with Pink Floyd, I've worked with Alice Cooper, you should get a rock star to front this'," Emmerson says, in a passable impersonation. "We've always had trouble getting airplay and he felt we could have radio hits. His attitude was great but we thought: Why don't we do this ourselves? There's nothing to stop us doing four-minute songs. We got a lot of stick for it but Plant has got a big Celtic heart. You only have to listen to [Led Zeppelin song] 'The Battle of Evermore'."

In July 2001, the Afro Celts and Gabriel performed "When You're Falling" on the Late Show with David Letterman, and the track made serious progress on US radio. Following the events of 11 September, however, the title and lyrics were deemed too sensitive. The single disappeared from the airwaves and the video from television screens. Always an expensive proposition to take out on the road, the Afro Celts had no choice but to cancel their US tour. When they eventually played a concert in New York's Central Park in 2003, around the time of the release of their fourth album, Seed, the warmth of the reception took them by surprise. "They all had tickets for the cancelled concerts and here they were. It was an Irish audience, it was a World Music audience. We reflect Britain as a multicultural society so it made sense."

Unloved by critics but adored by festival-goers, the undeterred Afro Celts soldiered on to release Anatomic at the end of 2005, and continue to make occasional forays on the festival circuit. "People who don't really like us grudgingly say: Afro Celt Sound System, they're a great festival band," Emmerson says. "It's a bit of a backhanded compliment but we don't care. Other groups from the Nineties can sound really dated but, for some reason, we don't. One minute, it sounds like you're in a folk club, the next minute, it's slamming techno. We're unique. If there's a genre for us, it would be the eight-minute ambient-dub-eclectic-World fusion kind of thing. I'm surprised we got this far."

Afro Celt Sound System play the Wychwood Festival at Cheltenham Racecourse on 3 June (

Aucun commentaire: