INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
Songlines MARCH 2015 - by Alexandra Petropoulos
AFRICA EXPRESS ALBUM LAUNCH
Oval Space, London, December 9
Damon Albarn's Africa Express project released its first studio effort (which saw Albarn, Brian Eno and Nick Zinner travel to Bamako to record more than thirty local musicians) at the end of 2013. And thus, several of the musicians descended upon Bethnal Green's trendy Oval Space in December to officially launch the album, Maison Des Jeunes. There were performances from Kankou Kouyaté, Bijou, Ghostpoet, and Songhoy Blues, DJ sets, and a Q&A session with Albarn, Ian Birrell and Brian Eno.
Kankou Kouyaté, niece to ngoni star Bassekou, failed to grab the attention of the audience despite her soulful voice. While she's obviously a talented young artist worth keeping an eye on, her set lacked the spark necessary for these East London types. However, the evening's other female vocalist, Bijou, whose rough-and-ready voice lacked Kankou's soul and power, captured the crowd's attention if only because Albarn had jumped on drums. Ghostpoet's performance of Season Change was satisfyingly dark, enveloping the audience in a soundscape that melted into the lumbering West African percussion.
But it was the closing performance from Songhoy Blues, led by Aliou Touré, that was the highlight of the evening, injecting some much needed life and energy into the proceedings. This was the band's UK debut and the launch introduced London to their loping desert blues, which are just as connected to Ali Farka Touré as they are to Jimi Hendrix. Seemingly undaunted by the turmoil they faced at home in Mali early last year, Songhoy Blues are surely on the rise. Mark my words, this is not the last we'll hear of Songhoy Blues.