Damon Albarn, Red Hot Chili Peppers‘ Flea and The Smiths‘ Johnny Marr were among those who helped Africa Exprez kick off the 2008 BBC Electric Proms with seven hours of live music last night (October 22).
Following on from March’s concert in Liverpool, the show at London‘s KOKO saw Western and African musicians collaborating together despite only been introduced to each other early in the evening.
However despite the concert’s length, which ran from 8.30pm (BST) until 3am, such was variety of talent on show – including The Magic Numbers, Baaba Maal, Hard-Fi, Amadou And Mariam, Tony Allen and Reverend And The Makers – that few acts played sets longer than three songs.
Welcoming the sold-out audience Albarn, who spent much of the night at the side of the stage orchestrating on the spot collaborations, explained: “We are making it up as we go along, so we can’t tell you what’s coming up, but I hope you enjoy yourselves!”
The night’s centrepiece proved to be a coming together of two guitar legends from different backgrounds.
Having performed their opening track with backing from The Magic Numbers‘ Romeo Stodart, Albarn and former Fela Kuti drummer Tony Allen, Amadou And Mariam welcomed former Smiths guitar hero Johnny Marr to the stage – he then added his distinctive chiming sound to the blind singer and guitarist’s songs.
The pair – whose single Albarn has recently produced – were then joined by the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, before ending with a stripped down song, initally backed only by the Blur man, to loud applause.
Earlier Hard-Fi were joined by Algerian artists Rachid Taha covering The Cure‘s ‘Killing An Arab’ together, before recruiting a host of musicians and MCs for a storming take of The Chemical Brothers‘ ‘Galvanize’.
“You’re set for a very good and very long night,” frontman Richard Archer told the crowd at the end of his set. “We did a similar thing in Liverpool and it went on until four in the morning, hope you haven’t got anything to do tomorrow morning.”
The Aliens followed on later, with keyboard player John Maclean telling NME.COM beforehand: “I don’t know who we’re playing with yet: anyone and everyone, we’re on in half-an-hour!”
As it turn out Albarn lent a hand on keys, while oud player Mehdi Haddab and several MCs joined in on the band’s ‘Caravan’ and ‘Rox’.
Albarn was then busy again, jamming on his melodica with Red Hot Chili Pepers’ Flea on trumpet. The funk man then turned “house bassist”, providing backing for several of the night’s acts, including a later extended set from the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble.
He also backed Baaba Maal and Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly on a cover of Fela Kuti‘s ‘Water Get No Enemy’ and a frenetic version of Hot Chip‘s ‘Over And Over’.
Later Bjork-collaborator, Malian kora player Toumani Diabate, was enthusiastically introduced to the stage by Albarn as he gathered together as many of the African vocalists for a long jam he called the Africa Allstars.
Leading the night towards its climax, Reverend And The Makers joined a Senegalese band they met on a Africa Exprez trip to Lagos last week on one of their songs, accompanied by Babyshambles bassist Drew McConnell, before the group were joined by a Palestinian and Iraqi rapper on their own ‘Open Your Window’.
Watch footage of the artists who performed for Africa Express preparing for their Electric Proms appearance during the trip to Lagos.
For more on Africa Exprez, including broadcast details head to bbc.co.uk/electricproms/2008/.
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