The Source – Afro Celt Sound System
It’s been a long time a-coming, ten years since the last Afro Celt Sound System album, Anatomic, but the new thirteen track, seventy-seven minute album, The Source, has been well worth the wait. For this album, mixed from sessions recorded around Europe and the UK, Simon Emmerson has toned down the noodling and twiddling of the drum and bass of old and brought the sounds and instrumentation of West Africa to the fore along with the original Celtic mix. The result is a whirligig of sounds and sensations with so much to listen to and enjoy that you come across new twists and nuanes each listen.
The core of the band is Emmerson (guitar and cittern), Davy Spillane and Emer Maycock (uilleann pipe and whistles),Ronan Browne (uilleann pipes) and Moussa Sissoka (talking drums and djembe – a rope-tuned, skin covered goblet drum played with the hands. Added to the mix are singer, kora and balafon player, N’Faly Kouyate, and the wonderful dhol drummer, Johnny Kalsi. I had the experience of seeing him close up from the front of the house at an Imagined Village gig a year or so back and he is a truly talented and infectious individual.
Added to this impressive core are a host of guests including a five strong griot-speaking female group from Guinea, whose voices open the album, Robbie Harris on bodhran, Seane Davey on harp, Ged Lynch on drums, Richard Evans on bass and Gaelic vocalist and rapper – yes, rapper – Griogair Labhruid and Rioghnach Connolly on flute.
There are some bizarre ideas in the album. Some Gaelic psalm singing isn’t everyone’s bag, I’m sure, but when blended on A Higher Love, possibly the stand out track, with Kouyate’s soaring vocals, a heavy brass mix and strings, then it all kind of makes sense and creates a spell-binding track. And then we have Pal O Siadhail reading from his forthcoming book, Wonder and the Medicine Wheels, on Child of Wonder to the accompaniment of kora, harp and flutes with a blinding and mesmerising beat.
Where Two rivers Meet starts off with gentle kora and careful bodhran and then vocals and sensitive and jazzy uilleann piping before, halfway through the almost ten minute track, Irish and African strings kick in. Taladh features a beautiful duet between harp and kora and Kouyate gives full rein to his stunning vocals on The Soul of a Sister.
The album has a sense of fun and on some tracks has a live feel about it. Kalsi Breakbeat is a piece of joy and showcases Kalsi’s dhol style to good effect. And the wonderful Cascade is a breath-taking tour de force. Fusion often panders to the lowest common denominator but this album painstakingly allows all the various styles and instrumentation to shine. I will look forward to seeing them live.
The album is ethereal and uplifting and definitely one that will long remain on my personal play list. Perhaps its greater spirituality provided Emmerson with a place of refuge after he fell out with James McNally big time last year and the two sides are in a bitter dispute over rights to the ACSS name, a dispute that will only keep the lawyers happy. Emmerson has got his retaliation in first and what a retaliation it is too. If you don’t believe me, click the link and find out for yourself.