Went walking with Simon Emmerson on Maiden Castle yesterday and realised I should let friends know about the new Afro Celt album “Sources”.
I’ve been watching and listening to Simon’s music going back to Working Week – I recall a particularly great gig in Deptford many years ago. I’ve known him for over a decade and saw some great early ‘Imagined Village’ gigs in Bridport and elsewhere. The Afro Celt Sound System, which has been going some twenty years or more have reassembled for what might be their best ever album. While world music fusions are not as innovative or novel, nor the sound of the kora or uillean pipes as rare, as they were in the 1990s this takes the integration of African and Celtic music to new highs. It now melds so effortlessly that you could believe this is anchored in the traditional indigenous music of a single nation. Yet every track has a different flavour as one element or another emerges to drive the tune.
If Simon has always tended to be the ringmaster in the past, he has stepped back and both Johnny Kalsi and N’Faly Kouyate are now equal partners with new and outstanding songwriting contributions. The production is now so confident and brings together complex themes and instrumentation in a seamless whole. The spoken word is a risky addition to a music track but the words from Pal O Siadhail mellifluous Celtic voice add mystery and a different timbre. The whole of Sources is much more than the sum of the parts. There are echoes of early ACSS with Davy Spillane’s instruments and Johnny Kalsi’s explosive drums. I can hear the echo of Baaba Maal too. But there is something new and confident here too. The highlight has to be Cascades which is also the album taster on YouTube and will blow you away.
Simon’s great love is ornithology (thanks to him I now know what a Corn Bunting looks like and how to recognise its song) and the album ends appropriately with an unearthly call of a great bird in flight.