Words by Nigel Williamson
Celebrating two decades by going extra large
Twenty years ago Afro Celts released a thrilling debut that remains a landmark in global dance fusion. Yet by their fifth release in 2005, the formula was starting to sound passé. A long period of silence followed and, a decade later, the return of the Afro Celts could easily have sounded like an anachronistic relic. Instead, original founder Simon Emmerson has reinvigorated the project with an influx of new blood and fresh ideas without losing the centrality of his original vision.
Longtime member N’Faly Kouyaté continues to provide wonderful textures on kora and balafon. But central in the band’s new iteration is Johnny Kalsi, his huge, thundering dhol drums lending unimaginable heft to the felicitous fusion of African rhythms and haunting Irish melodies. Scottish piper and Gaelic singer Griogair Labhruidh is another major contributor, taking a more versatile role than former lead singer Iarla Ó Lionáird, whom he has effectively replaced, while guests include uilleann pipers Davy Spillane, Ronan Browne and Emer Mayock, members of Shooglenifty, and a five-strong female griot vocal group from Conakry, Guinea. Old fans will find much here that is familiar. But somehow the new Afro Celts sound bigger, better and bolder than ever before. A triumph.