Damon Albarn is many things musically these days, but a dilettante isn’t one.
His commitment to Africa Express, which brings African and Western musicians together on even terms, has been unwavering since 2007. This launch gig for the new compilation album Maison Des Jeunes sees Albarn, Brian Eno and Mercury-nominated rapper Ghostpoet among those fielding audience questions on it. But Mali, a sonically regal but politically benighted country, dominates the music.
Albarn plays the keyboard for Bijou, a black-gloved soul singer with a throaty vocal grain. Ghostpoet follows with “Season Change”, its sense of claustrophobic dissatisfaction dissipated by the itchy rhythms of Django Django drummer Dave Maclean and Songhoy Blues bassist Oumar Toure. Helped by Albarn’s atmospheric keyboard, when Ghostpoet gawkily dances and Bijou take the mic, sparks are struck.
Songhoy Blues, a Timbuktu desert blues band formed when its members fled from the puritanical, un-Malian insurgency in the north, finish things. Their excellent guitarist Garba Toure’s long, looping lines helps them hit trancey grooves, and slow, smoky blues that could have come from London via Chicago in 1964.
Their success on their UK debut is just another stop on the Africa Express.