The Source is the first new album from Afro Celt Sound System for ten years as they celebrate their twentieth anniversary and I wasn’t sure what to expect. Not, perhaps, a record that sounds as indefinably spiritual as this.
There are a huge number of musicians of this album in addition to the six core members of the band led by Simon Emmerson and the first voices we hear are those of Les Griottes, the female African group who appear on eight of the thirteen tracks. The opening track, ‘Calling In the Horses’ is a gentle sweeping piece that evokes the open land of West Africa with an accompaniment and is admirably restrained and features the Uilleann pipes and whistles of Davy Spillane and leads into ‘Beware Soul Brother’ which builds with the addition of Seaná Davey’s harp and the keyboards and bass of Richard Evans.
I like the way these two tracks morph into ‘The Magnificent Seven’ changing the mood into a decidedly Irish feel. ‘The Cascade’ finally blends the afro and the celt elements of the band completely with the modern electronica and beats for which they are probably best known. Four members of Shooglenifty appear on the track, as do The Dhol Foundation, and Griogair Labhruidh takes the lead vocal part while Les Griottes provide the African vibe. Kick Horns also join the company for this track and the next, ‘A Higher Love’, which includes the tune ‘Monkswell Road’ borrowed from Shooglenifty.
By now the styles and influences are thoroughly mixed. ‘Where Two Rivers Meet’ and ‘Mansani Cissé’ gives us a break from the excitement and N’Faly Kouyaté’s kora features here while Griogair’s pipes take the high road of the lead melody on the former. Pál Ó Siadhail reads an excerpt from his forthcoming book, Wonder And The Medicine Wheels on the Gaelic ‘Child Of Wonder’ which sounds like a waulking song and Johnny Kalsi lends his name to the final track, ‘Kalsi Breakbeat’.
The Source is a superb album and the implication of going back to the roots of the music is totally justified. This is Afro Celt Sound System, however, and there are always surprises.
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Artists’ website: www.afroceltsoundsystem.org.uk
‘The Magnificent Seven’ – live at Celtic Connections: