Rio Ferdinand: 'I love the rawness in African music'

The Manchester United star explains why he's supporting Africa Express, which features 80 musicians on one train as it makes a string of stops across the UK

The Manchester United player grew up in Peckham, south London. He has worked on football projects in Africa and has a keen interest in African music.

How did you get involved in Africa Express?

I'd heard about it through a friend and said I'd love to be involved. I'm a music fan so it was great to meet Damon Albarn and to hear about his trips to Africa and what he's learned there.

Are you a fan of African music?

I'm across a lot of the Afrobeat music that's really popular in the UK at the moment – a lot of the young kids are listening to it. But some of it is very commercial so I've enjoyed digging a bit deeper and seeing who's influenced the new guys like D'Banj. I love the rawness. I'll take any chance to be enlightened and educated about different kinds of music. With the influx of African players into English football, it's all the more important.

Have you had much exposure to African culture?

I've got a soccer school in Kampala in Uganda, and I've been to Malawi and to Lagos in Nigeria. As a footballer it's not easy to get out and explore much of the culture, – either you're training or you're playing – but you do get a sense of how much football means to them there: it's absolutely crazy. In Lagos I was struck by the extremes of wealth. It's embarrassing to say you come from a ghetto in England once you've seen some of the poverty there – but then we visited someone who had plasma TVs hanging off every wall in the house. The opulence was unbelievable. There's a lot of money there, I just don't know if it's shared the way it should be – but then that's everywhere, isn't it?

What do you hope your involvement will bring to Africa Express?

I went to Lagos to promote a local soccer campaign: it was a chance for kids to get scouted by bigger teams. I suppose that what's I'm doing with Africa Express: it's about getting exposure for artists, and if I can help that in any way, I'll be there. I'll be talking about it on Twitter, and when the train arrives in Manchester I'm hoping to get some footballers involved. We might even stage an event there.

Will your colleagues be receptive?

Who doesn't like music? The gaffer [Sir Alex Ferguson] loves music. All the lads like music. But they won't all know these artists so it's my job to introduce them to it. I came in fresh, too. I love the idea of mixing different genres of music, and if anything I can do gets more eyes on it and ears listening to it then that's my job done.


Interview by Caspar Llewellyn Smith

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