Africa Express Takes Over Middlesbrough
By Robert Nichols on September 6, 2012 in Music
What an honour that the Africa Express, Damon Albarn’s inspired collective of African and British musicians should have chosen Middlesbrough as the first main stop over on their whistle stop UK tour.
There was a warm welcome for the Africa Express to the north east. The sun was shining down as the 80 musicians stepped down onto the station platform before disembarking for pop up gigs and workshops throughout the town centre. It was to be the start of a momentous day really when famous names from Britain, USA and above all Africa collaborated together but also with local people to create something very special. It all culminated in a thrilling 4 hour plus showcase at Middlesbrough Town Hall. A day that will not be forgotten in a hurry.
I followed some of the music masters over to myplace, a brand new state of the art venue and activity centre for young people in the old heart of the town. We got really lucky when the mini bus doors opened to reveal Damon Albarn, Paul Smith and the Rizzle Kicks amongst the passengers. Inside there was a short performance, with Maximo Park combining with the Rizzle Kicks to present the north eastern band as never heard before. The Rizzle Kicks then took over and produced a short rap from words shouted out from the floor. “Sky” was fair enough but “barnacle” posed a problem as did Damon calling for “could,” or was that “Cud?”
How has it gone so far? Was the question Tracy Hyman put to Damon. “Brilliant. We’ve got our own train and it is a beautiful old school train where the windows pull down etc,” he enthused. Funnily enough on BBC Breakfast tv he was caught out unable to pull down the windows from the outside when demonstrating to the reporter at Leeds station.
Some of the kids that use myplace were able to get up on stage and get hands on with the drum machine and one lad named Wayne was even able to rap with the Rizzle Kicks. Wayne, stage name Coby, told me that he was nervous because he wasn’t putting words to “one of my original beats so I was just freestyling. Eventually I did break out with one of my songs. I got some of the lyrics out.” But what an opportunity to take to the stage with the Rizzle Kicks and Damon Albarn.
Africa Express Africa Express began in 2006 when co-founder Damon Albarn took a group of UK musicians to play in Mali with acts such as Toumani Diabate, Salif Keita and Amadou & Mariam. This Africa Express tour is part of the London 2012 festival, produced in association with the Barbican. At Middlesbrough Town Hall the 80 strong cast provided an incredible evening of musical fusion and collaboration from African stars included Senegalese legend Baaba Maal, Malian duo Amadou & Mariam,wonderful vocalist Rokia Traore, inspirational Congolese singer Baloji, and the incredible Jupiter & Okwess International, Malian songstress Fatoumata Diawara, and many more besides.
They traded notes and rhythms with Carl Barat, Damon, members of Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Magic Numbers, Unthanks and Maximo Park to produce some wonderfully inspiring sounds and songs. Some of which had been sketched out on that special charter train from Euston. Other songs seemed almost totally spontaneous. With it being the first night it was almost like walking a tightrope. Would it work? The whole night had that edge to it. And the answer by the way was most categorically yes.
Afterwards I asked Maximo’s Paul Smith, a Teessider by birth, how much this event meant to him. “It was special. A one off experience for me. We’ve never ever done anything like that before and hopefully it won’t be the last time. But if it is at least I’ve done it.. you know.. played with people who are amazing musicians and take your songs somewhere different.” Paul was about to hop on board the Africa Express, next stop Glasgow “It is very different and I think you’ve got try different things otherwise you just stagnate.”
“And it feels like a very amazing event to be part of really.” He shouted back through the window which he pulled down, Damon style. The musical beat of Africa Express touched the heart of Teesside.
Photo gallery provided by the wonderful Tracy Hyman
- Feature: Maxïmo Park Instore @ Sound It Out