Tag Archives: Afro Celt Sound System

Artist Profiles: Iarla O Lionáird

Iarla O Lionáird

Born in 1964 as one of 12 children, O Lionaird grew up in west County Cork in Cúil Aodha, a remote, rural Gaeltacht area where Irish was the first language spoken by the people and emigration was as common as supper.

Because I grew up in the countryside, I can understand so strongly that the only things these men had ever really heard were birds and cows and horses. So, from a familiar world of country lanes and cottages and seasonal farm work – that’s the mindscape Noel’s and Martin’s music comes from, a world of birdsong, of gentleness-all of a sudden, these people were hearing monstrous machines, Hilti guns, buses. The mind wouldn’t have the apparatus to deal with that, it could be quite a crushing experience. That was the threshold we were trying to cross…”

I spend a vast proportion of my working time in London now, but until recently I knew nothing about the London-Irish community, apart from old fellas in Cull Aodha who’d worked their whole lives as laborers and their memories were very scattered. That workman’s life in London had, and indeed has, quite an invisibility to it. A never-ending supply of young men who are dead by their early 60s...’

Although many voices and accents and experiences are brought to bear on his solo CD, many percolate. From O Lionáird’s native Cúil Aodha where the local hinterland hosts many fine poets, storytellers, fiddlers and flute-players. 0 Lionáird’s own childhood experiences with the native choir in the Cúil Aodha church tangibly influence his music. Iarla was involved with the choir until his early 20s, when he left to study literature in University College, Dublin and worked for some years as a teacher. Increasingly, however, his sean nós (literally “old style”) crooning began to pop up on recordings such as on Shaun Davey’s symphony The Pilgrim and on the great accordion-player Tony McMahon’s album with Noel Hill, AISLINGI CHEOIL Indeed. It was McMahon who coaxed O Lionáird back into singing after a two-year “sabbatical.”

Nowadays, O Lionáird spends a considerable amount of his time with the big touring outfit Afro Celt Sound System. However O Lionáird also tours his own “multi-media” solo show, backed up by projected computer-generated imagery. “It’s basically a set of 17 songs, about half of them accompanied by backing tracks from Michael Brook, like ambient poems. It’s pretty intense, but it’s a fantastic workout for me.”

I’m extremely fortunate with my solo work, in that I can indulge myself and make the work more dreamy-and more hardcore at times. I don’t have to go down the paths that people other than Real World would try and carve out for me. I’d wither away without that opportunity.”

Discography:

The Seven Steps To Mercy (Real World Records, 1997)
I Could Read the Sky (Real World Records, 2000)
Invisible Fields (Real World Records, 2005)
Foxlight (Real World Records, 2011)

With The Afro Celt Sound System:

Volume 1: Sound Magic (Real World Records, 1996)
Volume 2: Release (Real World Records, 1999)
Volume 3: Further in Time (Real World Records, 2001)
Seed (Real World Records, 2003)
Pod (Remix album) (Real World Records, 2004)
Volume 5: Anatomic (Real World Records, 2005)
Capture: 1995-2010 (Real World Records, 2010)

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Artist Profiles: Afro Celt Sound System

Early lineup of Afro Celt Sound System
Early lineup of Afro Celt Sound System

Afro Celt Sound System are widely acknowledged as one of the most innovative and pioneering groups to emerge from the increasingly eclectic cross-cultural experimentations at the cutting edge of “world music” in the 1990s.

After much soul-searching and reorganization following the sudden tragic death of keyboardist Joe Bruce, the group re-emerged with a dynamic and emotionally charged album that wed the delicacy of their acoustic instruments – harp, kora, bodhran, jembe, uilleann pipes, talking drum – with the multidimensional, layered production of Simon Emmerson and Martin Russell.

The band’s characteristic Celtic-West African fusion, inherently joyful and high-energy, was offset by a discernible bittersweet quality, darker and more melancholic than the first album’s effusive spirit expressively underscored by the performances of guest musicians Nigel Eaton on hurdy gurdy, Michael McGoldrick and Ronan Browne on uilleann pipes, Youth on bass, Dhol Foundation’s Johnny Kaisi on dhol drums & tabla, and Sinead O’Connor on vocals.

The album represents the transformation of a project – conceived at Real World’s 1996 Recording Week – into a cohesive band with a distinctive sound and style. It is the record they all wanted to make, reflecting the unique playing skills and personalities of the diverse core members – Simon Emmerson (guitars, programming, keyboards), N’Faly Kouyate (vocals, kora, bala), Iarla O Lionáird (vocals), James McNally (keyboard, whistle, bodhran, accordion), Myrdhin (Celtic harp), Martin Russell (keyboard, programming, engineering), and Moussa Sissokho (talking drum, jembe).

 

 

James McNally said “Our style of writing and playing music does not pretend to adhere to any particular traditional style except our own. Together we write Afro Celt music: music rooted in the past that’s reaching into the future – that’s it. The collaboration of the various musicians within the band was effortless, heartfelt, and very harmonious. My faith in the others was constantly rewarded with stunning contributions and performances. It’s like we can almost read each others’ mindset’s uncanny, transporting, and deeply magical.”

Afro Celts are firmly rooted in some of the oldest musical traditions on earth, yet colliding head on with cutting-edge electronica. Iarla is among the foremost performers of West Ireland’s ancient unaccompanied sean nos vocal style. Myrdhin plays an ancestral Breton harp, and both N’Faly and Moussa are venerated jalis from West Africa’s esteemed bardic schools of master musicianship. Conversely, Simon comes from the context of experimental dance music, and James’ background was with the Pogues and the Irish hardcore hip-hop group Marxman. From these far ends of the musical spectrum comes the entity that stormed the stage at the Cambridge Folk Festival, played to a full-on dance crowd at Tribal Gathering, and played to a widely enthusiastic crowd of 20.000+ MTV rockers at Holland’s Lowlands Festival.

Simon Emmerson said “It’s very difficult to get across… that what we’re doing is rooted in my neighborhood in East London. Our studio is based in the same building as Fat Man Sound System – one of London’s oldest Club Dog are also there my neighbor runs Jah Youth Sounds. Zion Train live up the road, as does Adrian Sherwood’s On U Sound System. Within a two-mile radius of my house there’s been Talvin Singh’s club, the first drum &bass sessions, the Whirl-Y-Gig, and countless other similar clubs. This is my musical environment.”

Afro Celt Sound System returned in 2010 with Capture, a career-spanning double CD, released by Real World. Selected from the collective’s five acclaimed studio albums, the 25 tracks are divided into songs (Verse) and instrumentals (Chorus). The songs were re-mastered to lend the sound a new warmth and allow the dynamics to emerge as originally intended.

Capture includes Afro Celt Sound System’s collaborations with Sinead O’Connor, Peter Gabriel, Robert Plant, Dorothee Munyaneza and others. It also includes pieces featured on soundtracks including Gangs of New York and Hotel Rwanda.

In 2016, a version of Afro Celt Sound System led by Simon Emmerson released an album titled The Source. This was a controversial move since the remaining founders of Afro Celt Sound System, James McNally and Martin Russell, expressed in a press release that this was not the real Afro Celt Sound System.

The Source included Simon Emmerson on guitars, cittern, bass programming, electronica; Griogair on vocals, rap, highland pipes, whistles, electric guitar; Johnny Kalsi on dhol drums, percussion, beats and programming; N’Faly Kouyaté on kora, balafon, percussion, calabash and kirin; Mass on keyboards, beats and
electronica; Moussa Sissokho on talking drum, jembe and calabash. Jamie Reid handled artwork and visuals. Guests included members of Scottish band Shooglenifty.

Discography:

Volume 1: Sound Magic (Real World Records, 1996)
Volume 2: Release (Real World Records, 1999)
Volume 3: Further in Time (Real World Records, 2001)
Seed (Real World Records, 2003)
Pod (Remix album) (Real World Records, 2004)
Volume 5: Anatomic (Real World Records, 2005)
Capture: 1995-2010 (Real World Records, 2010)
The Source (2016)

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Real World Gold, Real World Records to Reissue 10 Classic World Music Albums

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan – Mustt Mustt

Iconic world music label Real World Records announced a new initiative called Real World Gold. The project focuses on reissues of essential recordings that have been unavailable for a number of years. The series will deliver the reissued albums in batches of ten. The first installment of the series, scheduled for release in Europe on May 21st, ranges from recordings by crucial Real World artists (musicians like the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Afro Celt Sound System, Sheila Chandra and the Blind Boys of Alabama) to those of lesser celebrated partnerships, such as Lama Gyurme and Jean-Philippe Rykiel.

There are some wonderful albums in the catalog that still haven’t gone out as far in the world as we’d like them to,” says Real World Records founder Peter Gabriel. “I think there’s a different generation being exposed to world music now. We hope this will be an opportunity for the older listener to check out this music – rediscover old gems – and maybe first time discoveries for the younger folk!

First set of releases:

Afro Celt Sound System – ‘Volume 1: Sound Magic‘ (CDRWG61)
Afro Celt Sound System – ‘Volume 2: Release‘ (CDRWG76)
The Blind Boys Of Alabama – ‘Higher Ground‘ (CDRWG107)
Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan – ‘Mustt Mustt‘ (CDRWG15)
Sheila Chandra – ‘Moonsung: A Real World Retrospective‘ (CDRWG77)
Papa Wemba – ‘Emotion‘ (CDRWG52)
Geoffrey Oryema – ‘Exile’ (CDRWG14)
Lama Gyurme & Jean-Philippe Rykiel – ‘Rain Of Blessings: Vajra Chants‘ (CDRWG85)
The Drummers of Burundi – ‘Live at Real World‘ (RWMGI)
The Imagined Village – ‘The Imagined Village‘ (CDRWG147)

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