Africa Express in Marseille - review

Dock des suds, Marseille
The music collective rolled into town with performances from Bassekou Kouyate, Jupiter Bokondji and Damon Albarn, among many others, who kept the crowd going all night

It is a perverse measure of success, but some of the most memorable gigs that the Africa Express collective have played since Glastonbury in 2007 have ended with more musicians on stage at the close of the evening than fans left in the crowd. Shows at the Olympia in Liverpool and Koko in London the following year lasted several hours and concluded with the likes of Damon Albarn, Rachid Taha, Baaba Maal and several dozen others joined in a mass, chaotic rendition of Rock the Casbah – while those few dazed and scattered audience members remaining had to contemplate how they'd now get home at 3am.

Plus ça change for this gig in Marseille, which began with a film about the Africa Express jaunt across the UK last year – for which 100-plus musicians commandeered their own train for a week – and ended in a haze of pastis over seven hours later. Several experienced hands were on hand to steer proceedings: Albarn, drummer Tony Allen (from Nigeria), ngoni player Bassekou Kouyate (Mali), guitarist Nick Zinner (US) and singer Jupiter Bokondji (Congo) among them; but they were joined by umpteen others new to the concept, from local rock star Matthieu Chedid (aka -M-) to Kasabian (from Leicester).

Serial highlights came mid-show including Fatoumata Diawara's take on her own Salimata, thanks to the savage guitar contributions of Chedid; Django Django's version of Skies Over Cairo, featuring the amazing energy of Marseille-born guest rapper Malikah; a berserk interpretation of the Chemical Brothers' Galvanize that involved oud player Mehdi Haddab and Seye Adelekan on bass as well as assorted Kasabians; and the appearance of Portuguese producer Batida, whose outfit threw whistles into the 4,000-strong crowd and were met with a shrill wall of sound by way of return.

If the energy levels flagged thereafter it was understandable, particularly given that the 80-odd participants had enjoyed (at best) a day's rehearsals, and some including Albarn had only just returned from a week's trip to Mali to make an Africa Express record (due next month). But as the night unfurled, the excitement picked up again with a set from Rachid Taha before climaxing with Jupiter and his band plus (inevitably) dozens of others rushing the stage.

Damon Albran on stage with Africa Express
Damon Albarn on stage with Africa Express in Marseille. Photograph: Stephen Budd Photograph: Africa Express

The gig was billed as the climax of Marseille's Fiesta des Suds, an annual event given extra impetus by the city's status as this year's European Capital of Culture. And credit to the diehard Marseillais because come 3am, here they were still dancing.

Contributor

Caspar Llewellyn Smith

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Baaba Maal among leading musicians to board the Africa Express

Baaba Maal, Damon Albarn and Bombay Bicycle are among the lineup of musicians who will tour the UK by train in September

Caspar Llewellyn Smith

31, Jul, 2012 @3:34 PM

Africa Express: Paul McCartney and exclusive behind-the-scenes footage part two - video

The Africa Express tour, featuring over 80 musicians including Damon Albarn and Baaba Maal, finished its epic tour of the UK by train with a gig at Granary Square in King's Cross in London. Among the special guests on the night was Sir Paul McCartney, who joined the collective to play two old Wings songs – and you can see footage here in this exclusive film

Renaud Barret and Florent de La Tullaye

15, Sep, 2012 @11:00 AM

Article image
Africa Express – review

It's not every day Damon Albarn, Baaba Maal, Tony Allen, Carl Barât, Rokia Traoré and Joy Division's Peter Hook play a gig together, writes Caspar Llewellyn Smith

Caspar Llewellyn Smith

06, Sep, 2012 @10:36 AM

Article image
Africa Express: a magical mystery tour

Eighty musicians, one train and a string of stops across Britain. This could be the most extraordinary tour of the year, says Caspar Llewellyn Smith

Caspar Llewellyn Smith

25, Aug, 2012 @11:05 PM

Watch Africa Express at Glastonbury 2007 – video

The musical collective known as Africa Express played its first-ever proper gig at the Glastonbury festival in 2007. Here is Algerian singer Rachid Taha covering the Clash's Rock the Casbah with Damon Albarn, Billy Bragg, Baaba Maal and more

01, Sep, 2012 @10:00 AM

Article image
Damon Albarn and Baaba Maal: All aboard the Africa Express!

A collaboration of African and western musicians, Africa Express is now headlining festivals and planning a huge train tour of the UK this year. Damon Albarn and Baaba Maal explain how it came about

Caspar Llewellyn Smith

10, May, 2012 @7:30 PM

Mali hits Glastonbury: Rokia Traoré, Fatoumata Diawara and more

Andy Morgan: When music was banned in Mali, the organisers of Glastonbury festival swung into action and invited the country's top acts over. Here's what to look out for

Andy Morgan

18, Jun, 2013 @5:37 PM

Why Africa Express's Maison des Jeunes is the one album you should hear this week – video

Alexis Petridis recommends a collaborative album featuring a mix of western and Malian artists

Presented by Alexis Petridis

06, Dec, 2013 @7:30 AM

Africa Express: Maison des Jeunes – review
Africa Express's week-long trip to Mali yields some gems, writes Kitty Empire

Kitty Empire

08, Dec, 2013 @12:07 AM

Article image
Africa Express Presents: Maison Des Jeunes – review
Africa Express's mission to promote co-operation between African and western musicians continues apace on this magnificent compilation, writes Robin Denselow

Robin Denselow

05, Dec, 2013 @10:15 PM