Africa Express (organization)

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Africa Express is a UK based non-profit organization which facilitates cross-cultural collaborations between musicians in African, Middle Eastern, and Western countries.[1][2] It seeks to help African musicians break beyond the stigmas and prejudices of the term 'world music', while presenting a positive impression of Africa to counter against common media images of war, famine, and disease.[3][4][5] Notable events that Africa Express has been involved in include performances at the 2012 Olympics, the Glastonbury Festival,[6] the BBC Electric Proms,[7][8] Denmark's Roskilde Festival,[9] a tour of Syrian refugee musicians,[10] and concerts in such places as Mali, the Congo, Ethiopia, Nigeria, South Africa, and France.[11][12][13][14][11][15][1][excessive citations]The organization has also released a number of compilations and collaborative albums along with a documentary of the 2012 Africa Express UK train tour.[8][16][17][18] Many of the established Western musicians who've participated in the organization's projects have spoken of their admiration for the musical skill levels of the African musicians involved and the influence their participation has had on them.[19][20] Over 50,000 people are estimated to have attended Africa Express events, which have received substantial global media coverage.[20]


Africa Express began out of a 2005 gathering in a Covent Garden bar where Blur and Gorillaz frontman Damon Albarn along with other musicians and music industry friends were angered by the Live 8 charity concert for Africa's inclusion of only one African artist in its line up.[1][6] Co-founding the organization with the journalist Ian Birrell,[17] Africa Express's inaugural project saw Albarn and Birrell take a number of Western musicians including Fatboy Slim, Martha Wainwright, and Jamie T, to perform at Festival au Désert in the Sahara outside of Timbuktu.[20] In the early years of Africa Express, shows would be put on semi-spontaneously in locations such as Brixton pubs, with little to no advance announcement.[1] The spirit of spontaneous collaborations between musicians of diverse cultures has carried on as the organization has grown to stage large scale events.[20]

In addition to Damon Albarn, frequent contributors to Africa Express's varied projects include Fela Kuti's drummer Tony Allen from Nigeria, Senegalese singer/guitarist Baaba Maal, the Malian duo Amadou & Mariam, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' Nick Zinner, and The Magic Numbers' Romeo Stodart.[21][14] Western musicians who've performed in the organizations events include Paul McCartney, Led Zeppelin's John Paul Jones,[8] Brian Eno,[16] Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers,[1] Scratch of The Roots,[14] De La Soul, the Super Furry Animals' Gruff Rhys, Paul Weller,[22] Martha Wainwright,[20] Fatboy Slim,[20] 3D of Massive Attack,[14] The Smiths' Johnny Marr,[7] Mick Jones and Paul Simonon of The Clash,[4] Peter Hook of New Order/Joy Division,[4] Terry Hall and Lynval Golding of The Specials, Carl Barat of The Libertines,[23] Chicago's Hypnotic Brass Ensemble,[15] Franz Ferdinand,[3] Bjork,[3] Elvis Costello,[3] Django Django's David Maclean,[20] Ghostpoet,[20] David Wootton,[3] Julia Holter,[24] and numerous others.

Alongside Tony Allen, Baaba Maal, and Amadou & Mariam, other African acts who have taken part in Africa Express projects include Nigerian Afrobeat star Femi Kuti,[3] Algerian singer/activist Rachid Taha,[11] Saharan blues group Tinariwen,[12] Somali-Canadian rapper K'Naan, Malian acts such as singer/songwriter Rokia Traoré,[23] singer Fatoumata Diawara, kora player Toumani Diabaté, Bassekou Kouyate, afro-pop artist Salif Keita,[20] singer Oumou Sangaré,[7] and the desert blues duo Songhoy Blues from Timbuktu,[5] Senegal's Wasis Diop and rap duo Daara J,[7] the Mauritanian griot Noura Mint Seymali,[22] the Congo's Jupiter Bokondji, and many more.

In 2013 as a response to extremists banning music in the north of Mali, Albarn, Eno and others went to the country to collaborate and record with local musicians, with profits from the resultant Maison Des Jeunes album to be used to build a studio in Bamako.[21][19] The group Songhoy Blues from Timbuktu were found living in a one room shack in Bamako during the trip and the release subsequently launched an international career for the act.[5]

In addition to expanding the Western audience for African music, Africa Express projects have also influenced the artistic output of the musicians taking part.[20] The Red Hot Chili Peppers 2011 song Ethiopia was based on their member Flea's experiences in Ethiopia with Africa Express.[25][1] Brian Eno, Django Django's David Maclean, and Franz Ferdinand's Alex Kapranos have also spoken of artistic outcomes arising from their involvement.[20][26]

In 2018, UK-based musicians Petite Noir and Nabihah Iqbal shared their contracts publicly after working on an Africa Express project in South Africa. The artists complained that the contracts saw all money raised from their work going to the organization with no future royalties to be paid out to them.[27] Africa Express responded explaining that on their projects all travel, food, and accommodation costs are covered for the Western acts involved, who in turn are asked to donate their time and potential recording royalties arising from the completed work and that their contracts are negotiable. They state that the African artists involved are under different contracts where they are paid for their time, and that any profits arising go back into the artists and the promotion of African music.[2][28]

Africa Express Limited is registered at Companies House in the UK with the directors listed as Ian Birrell, Jason Walsh, Stephen Budd, Remi Kabaka Jr. (aka Russel Hobbs of Gorillaz) and Robin Aitken.[29]


Some of the organizations notable events include:[11][14]


  • Africa Express Presents... (2009)[36]
  • Africa Express Presents: Maison Des Jeunes (2013)[37][16]
  • Africa Express Presents: Terry Riley In C Mali (2014)[38]
  • Africa Express Presents: The Orchestra of Syrian Musicians (2016)[22]
  • Africa Express Presents: Molo (2019)[39]
  • Egoli (2019)[40][28][41][42]


  • Africa Express – The Story So Far (2009)[3]
  • The Africa Express (2013)[18]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Hasted, Nick. "Express Delivery From Africa". The Independent. The Independent. Retrieved 20 November 2018.
  2. ^ a b Malt, Andy. "Damon Albarn's Africa Express responds to accusation of exploiting artists". Complete Music Update. Retrieved 20 November 2018.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Diarra, Lilian. "Africa Express: Damon Albarn's Ultimate Cross-Cultural Music Jam". Culture Trip. Retrieved 27 November 2018.
  4. ^ a b c Phillips, Lior. "Breaking Out Of That Box Called World Music". Consequence Of Sound. Retrieved 27 November 2018.
  5. ^ a b c d Deutsch, Ron. "All Aboard The Africa Express". Afropop. Retrieved 20 November 2018.
  6. ^ a b c Denselow, Robin. "An African Triumph For Glastonbury's Best Kept Secret". The Guardian. Retrieved 20 November 2018.
  7. ^ a b c d e "On The Right Track: Africa Express". The Independent. Retrieved 20 November 2018.
  8. ^ a b c d Griffiths, Sarah Jane. "All aboard the Africa Express". BBC News. BBC. Retrieved 31 August 2018.
  9. ^ a b Hawksley, Rupert. "Watch Damon Albarn get dragged off stage after refusing to stop performing". The Telegraph. Retrieved 20 November 2018.
  10. ^ "Damon Albarn to perform with Syrian National Orchestra for Arabic Music". BBC. BBC. Retrieved 20 November 2018.
  11. ^ a b c d e Grundy, Gareth. "Africa Express: Place de l'Hôtel de Ville, Paris". The Observer. The Guardian. Retrieved 20 November 2018.
  12. ^ a b c Hasted, Nick. "A Vibrant Celebration Of African Music On The Mersey". The Independent. Retrieved 20 November 2018.
  13. ^ a b Llewellyn-Smith, Colyn. "Africa Express in Marseille". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 November 2018.
  14. ^ a b c d e f Birrell, Ian. "Africa Express: Music From The Heart Of The Congo". The Independent. Retrieved 27 November 2018.
  15. ^ a b "Africa Express - It's Past In Pictures". The Guardian. Retrieved 20 November 2018.
  16. ^ a b c Minsker, Evan. "Damon Albarn, Brian Eno, Nick Zinner, Holy Other Detail Africa Express Album". Pitchfork. Conde Nast. Retrieved 20 November 2018.
  17. ^ a b Birrell, Ian. "About Me". Ian Birrell. Retrieved 20 November 2018.
  18. ^ a b "The Africa Express". IMDB. Retrieved 27 November 2018.
  19. ^ a b Toledo, Manuel. "World stars of Africa Express seek to revive Mali's music industry". BBC. BBC. Retrieved 27 November 2018.
  20. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Birrell, Ian. "The hip of the desert: Africa Express returns". The Independent. Retrieved 27 November 2018.
  21. ^ a b Harvey, Oliver. "Extremists banned music in Mali… we are bringing it back". The Sun. Retrieved 27 November 2018.
  22. ^ a b c d Denselow, Robin. "Africa Express presents the Orchestra of Syrian Musicians & Guests review – entertaining and emotional". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 November 2018.
  23. ^ a b Chapman, Colin. "An evening of supremely varied musical entertainment, featuring Damon Albarn and Carl Barat". The List. Retrieved 27 November 2018.
  24. ^ a b Lozano, Kevin. "Africa Express Presents... The Orchestra of Syrian Musicians & Guests". Pitchfork. Retrieved 20 November 2018.
  25. ^ "Ethiopia by Red Hot Chili Peppers". Songfacts. Retrieved 27 November 2018.
  26. ^ a b Denselow, Robin. "Collaboration with every nation". The Guardian. Retrieved 20 November 2018.
  27. ^ a b Daly, Rhian. "Damon Albarn's Africa Express project accused of unfair treatment of musicians". NME. Retrieved 27 November 2018.
  28. ^ a b Petridis, Alexis. "Africa Express presents EGOLI review – a collaboration to stir the senses". The Guardian. Retrieved 12 July 2019.
  29. ^ "Africa Express Limited". Companies House. Retrieved 6 December 2018.
  30. ^ "Ethiopia 2010". Africa Express. Retrieved 20 November 2018.
  31. ^ "Artists Announced For Africa Express: The Circus". Waltham Forest. London Borough of Waltham Forest. Retrieved 17 March 2019.
  32. ^ Mccormick, Neil. "Africa Express: how Damon Albarn brought the world to his home town". The Telegraph. Retrieved 26 April 2019.
  33. ^ Cochrane, Greg. "Damon Albarn's Africa Express live: a collaboration of diversity on what should have been Brexit day". NME. Retrieved 26 April 2019.
  34. ^ McCormick, Neil. "How Damon Albarn Brought The World To His Hometown". The Telegraph. Retrieved 12 July 2019.
  35. ^ "Africa Express: The Circus". Walthamstow Forest. Retrieved 12 July 2019.
  36. ^ "Africa Express Presents..." Discogs. Retrieved 20 November 2018.
  37. ^ "Africa Express Presents: Maison Des Jeunes". Retrieved 28 November 2018.
  38. ^ "Africa Express Presents: Terry Riley In C Mali". All Music Guide. Retrieved 27 November 2018.
  39. ^ Daly, Rhian. "Damon Albarn's Africa Express announce fifth album and release new EP 'MOLO'". NME. Retrieved 26 April 2019.
  40. ^ "EGOLI by Africa Express". Apple Music. Retrieved 12 July 2019.
  41. ^ "Africa Express: Egoli — new talent meets old school". Financial Times. Retrieved 12 July 2019.
  42. ^ Zayed, Amy. "Musikkollektiv Africa Express Organisiertes Chaos als Rezept". Deutschlandfunk. Retrieved 12 July 2019.

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