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You couldn’t accuse Athena Andriadis of rushing her career. A couple of years ago the Thessalonikan singer released a couple of promotional EPs and toured widely, but only now is she releasing her first proper album. She will be all over the UK in February and March, promoting it. She already has one unforgettable song, “Thalassa Melania”, to her credit; its combination of Greek folksong and jazz is airy and light but with a wistful undercurrent of the deep black sea.
The African Soul Rebels tour brings three more up-and-coming African acts to the UK annually. This year’s incarnation could be the best yet. The best known is Femi Kuti, the reigning king of new-wave-of- Nigerian-Afrobeat: expect a pared-down set of a length his father Fela would have used to warm up.
Surprises should come from the Berber strummer Akli D: his unexpectedly delightful album was produced by Manu Chao, and has the master’s easy melodies without the slides into singsong. The kora griot Ba Cissokho fills the young-upstart slot usually taken by a mildly disappointing rapper, but his work is both subtler and more experimental than that. His last album, “Electric Griot Land”, played homage to Hendrix both in the title and in distorting and torturing the main instrument through a variety of effects. African Soul Rebels is all over the UK in February.
Meanwhile the misleadingly named Vieux Farka Touré, son of and sometime collaborator with the late Ali, will be touring North America in the spring. His debut CD is out on World Village early in 2007; heavyweight backing includes Toumani Diabate on kora.
An intriguing collaboration brings the Tunisian oud player and singer Dhafer Youssef together with an Estonian choir, Vox Clamantis. The project, “Sacred Voices”, will combine Youssef’s Sufi influences with the choir’s Gregorian plainchant; it will tour south-east England, loosely defined, in May.
Twisted folk has become a genre of its own, and a whole thicket of twisted folkies heads out on the road in January: Adem, Vetiver and Juana Molina are on the bill, as is Vashti Bunyan, folk’s career-break queen. Similarly ethereal sounds can be heard from the harpist Joanna Newsom: she’s reprising the orchestral sounds of this year’s Ys with a pair of symphony orchestras.
One that’s been cooking for some time is “The Imagined Village”, a project masterminded by Simon Emmerson that pairs rock and folk musicians to reimagine English traditional music. Paul Weller and Martin Carthy are together at last; Benjamin Zephaniah delivers a languorous clubland take on “Tam Lin”. The CD is out on EMI in the summer and a UK tour follows in the autumn. In the best of all possible worlds, Polly Harvey might even relent and allow her contribution to be included.
The big news for early 2007 is a new CD from Tinariwen. The Touareg nomads have risen rapidly in prominence over the past few years and on “Aman Iman: Water Is Life” (released on Independiente in March, and available for download from January) the undertow of obsessive nastiness that gives edge to their blistering live performances comes through more clearly than ever. All credit to the band for sticking to what they do best: no guest appearances from rappers, no bleep-hop remixes, just dense, intricate desert blues delivered in a low growl. They are touring Europe as well: the band are in their element late at night on a hot evening out of doors, but next best thing is the Barbican on March 23.