What a great idea. A private train trundles around the UK, taking African and British musicians to different venues. Not only does it carry some of the countries’ top performers to concert halls up and down the land, but it stops at station platforms for impromptu jams. Then, at the end of the tour, it brings them to London’s King’s Cross for one big, farewell show….
The grand finale event began at around 6pm and I was there, ready to get into the groove. On stage came the flamboyant Fatoumata, Amadou and Paul McCartney, all providing a very different take on the guitar. I wondered whether 25 years ago any of the stars had ever imagined Sir Paul in their back up band, standing well behind them, strumming bass.
There were some great moments—especially when honey-voiced Rokia Traore came centre stage with her guitar. Bassekou Kouyate and Baaba Maal were other greats.
But as the evening wore on, electric sounds took over, and even began to grate. Where were the gentle, rippling melodies of the kora and ngoni? Why were all the traditional instruments often inaudible among the head-banging acid house beats?
Fusion at its best can take elements of different cultures up to a higher realm. But let’s not overwhelm African instruments with non-stop Western thrust. In the end I tired of straining to hear Africa make its presence felt. I left hoping that the vogue for “world music” won’t inadvertently result in drowning out traditional sounds.