Africa Express 2012
Jack Wade (words) and Sophie Barnett (pics) witness Mr Albarn's touring party
When the Africa Express finally terminated at London’s King Cross, Granary Square was amassed in an eclectic and eccentric mixture of cultural diversity. An event that impregnated your face with a smile that was unable to abort.
The day began with a speech that emphasised the purpose of the journey made by Albarn and co, with a schoolteacher from Mali stressing repeatedly, ‘to not be greedy but give to the needy’. Albarn floated subtlety in the background as Afel Bocoum spearheaded this final leg, with John-Paul Jones sticking around after the departure to join Topley Bird and Jupiter Bokondji on ‘Crystalized’.
Jack Steadman’s afro-beat re-working of ‘Shuffle’ included Lucy Rose and, a not so familiar, Djembe drum, but wasn’t short of typical Steadman-like jittering. Carl Barat later ensued with a rendition of Libertine classic ‘Don’t Look Back Into The Sun’, with an array of help that included an unlikely collaborator in Eliza Dolittle. Damon Albarn was then joined by the fragile vocal of Rokia Traore, which brought a calming ambience on ‘Melancholy Hill’.
But once the sun descended, M1 was joined by the likes of Kano and Bashy in a rap-ridden frenzy of ‘Hip Hop’ that lifted the crowd from a laidback bunch into an air arm pulsating state. This was followed by a unison tongue-twisting chant by Gruff Rhys, who was accompanied by only two backing singers and a few signs.
After the first hour you give-up on who’s on stage, and become completely submerged in the ever-changing rhythmical prowess Even Sir Paul McCartney’s presence didn’t divert the journeys route in distracting from the cause, with the ex-Beatle initially playing a more subdued role in accompanying the likes of John Paul Jones in supporting the formidable Rokia Traore.
As the evening wore-on so did the increase of musicians on stage, with the Noisettes boasting the company of Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs guitarist, Nick Zimmerman, and an abundance of percussion that included Jack Steadman. McCartney then stepped into the familiar frontman role, leading Albarn, Rhyss and others through ‘Coming Up’ and ‘Don’t Say It’.
As the evening commenced to an end, the Live-Aid-like picturesque moment was a sight that personified the evening’s festivities. With The outright dismay of corruption and wealth, to a line-up that demanded no more adulation in significance from one act over another, the Africa Express installed a sense of togetherness and joy in every audience-goer, that consistently emphasised the importance of equality and unity.