All Aboard the Africa Express

africaexpress_imageThe relationship between Africa and the greater global community has long been fraught with misunderstanding, misinformation and misconception. Post-colonial Africa has been inundated with social instability and corruption, largely attributable to the authoritarian systems of government embraced by many of its nation states, coupled with the various military dictatorships that have sprung up as the results of failed democracies. To make matters worse, existing government infrastructures offer little help to the people of Africa that face famine, a problem that has plagued various regions since the mid 20th century.

In recent years, prominent western musicians and celebrities have done their best to try to use their fame as leverage in convincing others, both private citizens and governments alike, to lend a helping hand. The most famous example of this is the formation of Band-Aid, the release and subsequent rise in popularity of the group’s 1984 Christmas smash “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” and the follow-up Live Aid concert the next year. However great the fiscal contributions may have been, these efforts have been known to be met with frustration by many Africans; while the aid is certainly appreciated, many argue that the frequent portrayal of Africa as being impoverished has created a warped perception among a misinformed public, which often fails to recognize the positive growth and evolution of the nation.

Enter Africa Express and Damon Albarn, lead singer of the UK band Blur. You may also know him as the mastermind behind a little-known animation project called Gorillaz. Much like his U2 and Boomtown Rats predecessors, Albarn wants to help. But instead of raising dollars, he prefers to collaborate and perform with the musicians in Mali, with the goal to not only empower them, but also dispel some of the negative connotations linked to life in Africa. Really, he just wants to play music with other great musicians.

Albarn started Africa Express in 2006 alongside journalist and co-founder Ian Birrell. Since then, Albarn has been back and forth to Mali thirteen times. “From the first time I came here and played with Bassekou Kouyate, sweating and very nervous, playing one note over and over again with him, I’ve definitely improved,” commented Albarn. “However you describe it, it sounds annoying coming from someone like me, but that sense of transformation is really real.”

For the first time since Africa Express’ inception, Albarn and the rest of the musicians involved (including western and Malian stars alike, such as Brian Eno, Songhoy Blues, David Maclean of Django Django, Kankou Kouyaté, Ghostpoet, and Idris Elba) are releasing an album to commemorate the seven days spent performing in Mali. The entire album was recorded at a small youth club called Maison Des Jeunes in Bamako, the capital of Mali. This cross-cultural mash-up from Transgressive Records will be available worldwide on December 9th, with an album launch event that same day at Oval Space in London. The event will feature debut U.K. performances by Songhoy Blues and Kankou Kouyaté, together with special guests and DJ sets from Ghostpoet, Olugbenga and David Maclean. In addition, you can catch the premiere of the film documenting Africa Express’ 2012 train tour.

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