Afro Celt Sound System

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Afro Celt Sound System
AfroCelt Sound System.jpg
Johnny Kalsi, Iarla Ó Lionáird & the Afro Celt Sound System
Beautiful Days Festival, Devon, 21 August 2007
Background information
Also known as Afrocelts
Genres World fusion, Worldbeat, Afro beat, Celtic fusion, Celtic music, Ethnic electronica
Years active 1995–present
Labels Real World Records
Associated acts Peter Gabriel, Sinéad O'Connor, Robert Plant
Website Afro Celt Sound System website
Members Simon Emmerson
N'Faly Kouyate
James McNally
Dav Daheley
Babara Bangoura
Jimmy Mahon
Martin Russell

The Afro Celt Sound System is a musical group which fuses modern electronic dance rhythms (trip hop, techno, etc.) with traditional Irish and West African music. It was formed by Grammy-nominated producer-guitarist Simon Emmerson, and features a wide range of guest artists.[1]

Their albums have been released through Peter Gabriel's Real World Records, and frequently perform at the WOMAD concert festivals. Their sales on the label are exceeded only by Gabriel himself. They signed a contract with Real World for five albums, of which the 2005 release Volume 5: Anatomic was the last.[2]

After a number of festival dates in 2007, the band went on hiatus. In 2010, they regrouped to play a number of shows (including a return to WOMAD[3]) and compiled a retrospective titled Capture.[4]

On the 20 May 2014 the Afro Celt Sound System launched a new website and with it announced the upcoming release of a new album, Born.[5]


The inspiration behind the project dates back to 1991, when Simon Emmerson, a Grammy Award-nominated British producer and guitarist, collaborated with Afro-pop star Baaba Maal. While making an album with Maal in Senegal, Emmerson was struck by the similarity between one African melody and a traditional Irish air. Back in London, Irish musician Davy Spillane told Emmerson about a belief that nomadic Celts lived in Africa or India before they migrated to Western Europe. Whether or not the theory was true, Emmerson was intrigued by the two countries' musical affinities.

In an experiment that would prove successful, Emmerson brought members of Baaba Maal's band together with traditional Irish musicians to see what kind of music the two groups would create. Adding a dash of modern sound, Emmerson also brought in English dance mixers for an electronic beat. "People thought I was mad when I touted the idea," Emmerson told Jim Carroll of The Irish Times. "At the time, I was out of favour with the London club scene. I was broke and on income support but the success was extraordinary".[full citation needed]

Jamming in the studios at Real World, musician Peter Gabriel's recording facilities in Wiltshire, England, the diverse group of musicians recorded the basis of their first album in one week. This album, Volume 1: Sound Magic, was released by Real World Records in 1996, and marked the debut of the Afro Celt Sound System, an energetic global fusion the likes of which the music world had not yet seen.

"Prior to that first album being made, none of us knew if it would work," musician James McNally told Larry Katz of the Boston Herald. "We were strangers who didn't even speak the same language. But we were bowled over by this communication that took place beyond language."[full citation needed] McNally, who grew up second-generation Irish in London, played keyboards, piano, bodhran, and bamboo flute.

Sound Magic sold 250,000 copies. The band performed at festivals, raves, and dance clubs and had grown to include two more African musicians, Moussa Sissokho on talking drums and N'Faly Kouyate on vocals, kora and balafon.

Just as the second album was getting off the ground, one of the group's core musicians, 27-year-old keyboardist Jo Bruce (son of Cream bass player Jack Bruce), died suddenly of an asthma attack. The band was devastated, and the album was put on hold. Then Irish pop star Sinéad O'Connor came to the rescue, collaborating with the band and helping them cope with their loss. "[O'Connor] blew into the studio on a windy November night and blew away again leaving us something incredibly emotional and powerful," McNally told Katz. "We had this track we didn't know what to do with. Sinéad scribbled a few lyrics and bang! She left us completely choked up."[full citation needed] So taken was the band with O'Connor's song, "Release," that they used the name for the title of their album. Volume 2: Release hit the music stores in 1999, and by the spring of 2000 it had sold more than half a million copies worldwide.

In 2000 the group was nominated for a Grammy Award in the Best World Music category. The band, composed at the time of eight members from six countries (England, Senegal, Guinea, Ireland, France and Kenya), took pride in its ability to bring people together through music. "We can communicate anywhere at any corner of the planet and feel that we're at home," McNally told Patrick MacDonald of The Seattle Times. "We're breaking down categories of world music and rock music and black music. We leave a door open to communicate with each other's traditions. And it's changed our lives".[full citation needed]

In 2001 the group released Volume 3: Further in Time, which climbed to number one on Billboard's Top World Music Albums chart. Featuring guest spots by Peter Gabriel and Robert Plant, the album also incorporated a heightened African sound. "On the first two records, the pendulum swung more toward the Celtic, London club side of the equation," Emmerson told the Irish Times's Carroll. "For this one, I wanted to have more African vocals and input than we'd done before."[full citation needed] Again the Afro Celt Sound System met with success. Chuck Taylor of Billboard magazine praised the album as "a cultural phenomenon that bursts past the traditional boundaries of contemporary music."[full citation needed] The single "When You're Falling", with vocals by Gabriel, became a radio hit in the United States.

In 2003, for the Seed album, they temporarily changed their name to the simpler Afrocelts (this is now viewed by the band as having been a mistake) ; reverting on their latest albums, Pod, a compilation of new mixes of songs from the first four albums, and their fifth studio album, Volume 5: Anatomic, to the longer and familiar form.

They played a number of shows to promote Volume 5: Anatomic in 2006 and summer 2007, ending with a gig in Korea,[6] before taking an extended break to work on side projects, amongst them The Imagined Village featuring Simon Emmerson and Johnny Kalsi. Starting in the summer of 2010, the band performed a series of live shows to promote a new 2-CD album, Capture Afro Celt Sound System 1995-2010, released on 6 September 2010 on Real World Records. Further performances continue to the present day, and a new album-in-progress, Born was announced on their website in 2014.

Band members[edit]

When Afro Celt Sound System began their musical journey in the mid-1990s during the Real World Recording Week, the difference between a guest artist and a band member was virtually non-existent. However, over time, a combination of people became most often associated with the name Afro Celt Sound System (while Volume 5: Anatomic only lists Emmerson, McNally, Ó Lionáird and Russell as regulars):

  1. Simon Emmerson (guitar, production)
  2. James McNally (whistle, Keyboards, Bodhrán, accordion, production)
  3. N'Faly Kouyate (kora, balaphon,vocals)
  4. Ian Markin ([Acoustic and Electronic Drums)]
  5. Babara Bangoura (djembe, talking drum)
  6. Dav Daheley (Dhol, Tablas, Percussion)
  7. Jimmy Mahon (uillean pipes, tin whistle, flute)
  8. Demba Barry ([Senegalese Dancing])
  9. Martin Russell (keyboards, producing, engineering, programming)

Other musicians who have performed with Afro Celt Sound System include: Iarla O'Lionaird, Peter Gabriel, Robert Plant, Pete Lockett, Sinéad O'Connor, Pina Kollar, Dorothee Munyaneza, Sevara Nazarkhan, Simon Massey, Jesse Cook, Martin Hayes, Eileen Ivers, Mundy, Demba Barry, Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh and Ciarán Tourish of Altan, Ronan Browne, Michael McGoldrick, Myrdhin, Shooglenifty, Mairead Nesbitt, Davy Spillane, Jonas Bruce, Heather Nova, Julie Murphy and Ayub Ogada.


  1. Volume 1: Sound Magic (1996)
  2. Volume 2: Release (1999)
  3. Volume 3: Further in Time (2001)
  4. Seed (2003)
  5. Pod (Remix album) (2004)
  6. Volume 5: Anatomic (2005)
  7. Capture Afro Celt Sound System 1995-2010 (2010) (compilation)

They also recorded the soundtrack for the PC game Magic and Mayhem, released in 1998.


  1. ^ Harris, Graid. "Afro Celt Sound System Biography". Retrieved 18 November 2010. 
  2. ^ Mann, Ian. "Review of Capture". Retrieved 18 November 2010. 
  3. ^ "News » Real World Records - World music label". Real World Records. 2013-09-19. Retrieved 2014-07-15. 
  4. ^ "World music label". Real World Records. 2013-09-19. Retrieved 2014-07-15. 
  5. ^ "Afro Celt Sound System". Afro Celt Sound System. Retrieved 2014-07-15. 
  6. ^ "Afro Celt Sound System Fan Website - ACSS News". Retrieved 2014-07-15. 

External links[edit]