All aboard the Africa Express. That was the sentiment of dozens of musicians from all over the world who piled on to platform 18 at Euston Station in London yesterday to be part of a musical odyssey curated by Blur frontman Damon Albarn.
Travelling by train, more than 80 musicians, ranging from Malian husband and wife duo Amadou & Mariam through to Australian indie rock band the Temper Trap and Albarn himself, will tour the the country under the Africa Express name as part of the London 2012 Festival.
The excitement the artists felt for the project was clear from the moment they began to appear on the platform, suitcases in hand and smiles plastered across their faces.
Many had come together before to perform with the collective at gigs in Nigeria, France, Spain and Britain over the past few years.
But as the excited chatter grew louder, in a multitude of languages, before the departure at 11.30am, it was clear that none of the musicians had done anything like this before. Ghanaian rapper M.anifest said there was "one language for which we don't need a translator and that is music". He was certain that "audiences will have an experience that won't be repeated".
The train features a carriage kitted out as a jamming and rehearsal space. For Albarn, it was a case of wanting to bring African and Western artists together and get them "talking and communicating and learning from each other and feel it in their heart" while providing an experience that "for some will change their lives".
The tour, running until next Saturday, features scheduled shows in Middlesbrough, Glasgow, Manchester, Cardiff, Bristol and London but will also include pop-up shows in cities along the way, with one of the first planned for a bandstand in Stoke.
At end of an impromptu jam session in front of the carriages, which inspried a spate of dancing among several of the group, Cubain Kabeya, a drummer with the Congolese outfit Jupiter & Okwess International approached one of the families that had been drawn in by the commotion. He handed an instrument he had crafted out of a plastic bottle to one of the children and encouraged him to play it.
Kabeya said afterwards that audiences gave him "courage" and that he hoped the tour would mean much to both the musicians and the crowds.