All aboard the Africa Express! Damon Albarn’s cross-cultural locomotive, bringing together African and western artists, begins a six-date UK tour on September 3. It culminates in a concert at the Granary Square venue, in London’s King’s Cross, on September 8. In between times, the musicians are playing “pop-up” gigs in other public spaces – and, yes, the performers are actually travelling by train (hmm, I wonder if those fare hikes have kicked in yet?). Big names involved include Amadou & Mariam, Baaba Maal, Rokia Traoré, The Temper Trap, and Noisettes. Here are five of the fresher faces taking part – see www.africaexpress.co.uk for details.
“Karibu Ya Bintou” by Baloji
The Congolese-born Belgian rapper Baloji – his name means “the sorcerer” in Swahili – claims to have hated most African music until he received an unexpected letter from his mother in 2007. That inspired him to go back to his roots. “Karibu Ya Bintou” comes from his second album, Kinshasa Succursale. It mixes fierce hip-hop attitude with eerie, insistent playing by Konono No 1 – check out the video: http://vimeo.com/8907715. On September 6, he hooks up with another iconic Congolese band, Staff Benda Bilili, for a late-night Prom at the Albert Hall. That’ll be a bit different.
“You’re the One” by Charli XCX
An emerging UK electropopper, Charli XCX (aka 20-year-old Charlotte Aitchison) comes on like Katy B, Robyn or Grimes’ twisted little sister, all darkly wonky beats, highly-strung verses and a fist-pumping chorus in this, her current single. She’s one to watch for next year. Visit charlixcxmusic.com to download her latest mixtape, Heartbreaks and Earthquakes.
“Sowa” by Fatoumata Diawara
Based in France, Mali’s Fatoumata Diawara began as a backing singer for Oumou Sangare and was spotted by the man behind World Circuit records, Nick Gold. Her debut album, Fatou, became a critical favourite last year; you can hear “Sowa” and other tracks at www.myspace.com/fatoumatadiawara. But though her keening sound might be reminiscent of Rokia Traoré, it’s not all sweet West African soul music: “Boloko” is an impassioned plea against female circumcision.
“Margarita” by Jupiter & Okwess International
John Lee Hooker lookalike Jupiter Bokondji, now 48, discovered rock music in East Berlin before returning to Kinshasa in the early 1980s, intent on melding it with local Congolese rhythms. In 1990, he formed the group Okwess International; their long, long-awaited debut album, Hotel Univers, is expected this autumn. In the meantime, catch the story so far at www.youtube.com/watch?v=W2MGsWU-nxc, and hear four tracks at http://jupiter-okwess-international.com/#Audio.
“Let Them Talk” by Spoek Mathambo
“Township Tech” is how Spoek Mathambo, the Soweto-born rapper/producer, describes his style, where Afrobeat, Iggy Pop, OutKast, the South African strain of house music known as Kwaito and much more besides collide. This jittery, acid-jazzed, scary-party rocker, though, could work almost anywhere in the global village. By way of illustration, his album Father Creeper is out on venerable US label Sub Pop, while the 25-year-old lives mostly in Sweden. Listen to “Let Them Talk” and other new tracks at www.spoekmathambo.com/music.