Words: Jennifer Lynn
Image: Mark Allan
Unsuspecting commuters at Glasgow Central Station were treated to a taste of the exotic as the Africa Express pulled into Platform 11 at the height of rush hour on Tuesday evening. With press and paparazzi crowded behind a makeshift barrier, Damon Albarn and his motley crew were piped into the station, the mix of Western and African tunes beginning two hours ahead of their scheduled performance at The Arches.
First off the train were London-based hip hop duo Rizzle Kicks, who happily posed for photos with the young fans who seemed oblivious to Albarn’s musical prowess. The Blur frontman was mobbed by fans of a slightly older generation, as he was escorted down the station’s escalators wearing a National Rail t-shirt.
The show itself was exciting, if somewhat experimental, feeling more like we were spying on a private jam in someone’s overcrowded garage than at an actual organised event. With the collaborations thought of aboard the Africa Express itself, you could say the acts were under rehearsed, but somehow it worked… most of the time.
Albarn, on an acoustic guitar, accompanied Malian singer Afel Bocoum’s opening performance, with more musicians added into the mix as time went on. The clash of cultures worked in harmony for a version of The Libertines’ Don’t Look Back Into The Sun, including input from Carl Barat himself, but it was an impromptu rap from UK Beatbox Champion Reeps One and grime MC Afrikan Boy that really stole the show.
As the boys got into their stride more MCs were added to the mix, with American rapper Rye Rye quickening the beat and throwing plenty of words around, and Ethiopian musicians Krar Collective providing the African melodies.
Despite the audience seeming to enjoy their introduction to the little-known-in-the-UK musicians, it was better known tunes that provoked the most reaction. A rendition of Rizzle Kicks’ Down With The Trumpets went down like a house on fire, with Reverend and The Makers’ Jon McClure and soul singer Kyla La Grange amongst those joining Harley and Jordan on stage. Bombay Bicycle Club’s Shuffle was another crowd pleaser, with frontman Jack Steadman on top form as his own tune was reworked.
Aside from a litter of technical glitches throughout the night, Damon Albarn’s vision certainly shone through, with the Glasgow audience treated to sights and sounds which would never have been possible without his creative input. Although the 80-strong team of musicians meant that it was a struggle to retain the names of all the newly introduced performers, Albarn certainly opened our eyes to a whole new world of music.