Awards 2016 Winner

Best Group: 2016 Winner

Africa Express
Terry Riley's In C Mali on Transgressive Records

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The notion of unleashing a group of West African musicians playing traditional instruments on the music of the American composer Terry Riley was an audacious piece of lateral thinking and arguably the most satisfying project yet to emerge under the banner of Damon Albarn's Africa Express.

Dispensing with the conceptual score and allowing the Malian musicians to interpret German conductor Andre de Ridder's violin notations as they saw fit, the results were revelatory as centuries of African trance ritual add a warm looseness to Riley's minimalist 60s composition.

Click to listenAlbarn, Brian Eno and Nick Zinner of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs represent the Western contingent but it's the African cohort on kalimba, balafon, kamelengoni and kora who provide the magic and fill the work with light and space as flutes, strings and chiming guitars join the African percussion as the ensemble reach the most thrilling of climaxes.

Although it sounds like no other version of Riley's work, it remains true to its spirit as shifting polyrhythms and tonal and timbral changes create a sense of constant evolution, even though the same base note repeats insistently throughout the performance. Riley himself was delighted with the result, enthusing that it sounded as if his composition was “taking flight with the soul of Africa.”

By Nigel Williamson