Damon Albarn’s Africa Express pulls into King’s Cross

11:47 06 September 2012

Damon Albarn + Toumani Diabaté onstage at Africa Express in Koko

Damon Albarn + Toumani Diabaté onstage at Africa Express in Koko

Andrew Buurman

Jack Steadman of Bombay Bicycle Club and Afrikan Boy to join Blur star in Granary Square spectacular on Saturday

»Bombay Bicycle Club’s Jack Steadman isn’t quite sure what to expect from Africa Express; in fact, the north Londoner readily admits that he has never been so unprepared for a gig in all his life.

This could be construed as worrying. After all, when we spoke with him, it was only a few days away from the point when the Express train – yes, an actual train – would set off on its journey across the UK.

But this, Express veteran and grime artist Afrikan Boy assures us, is the joy of Africa Express.

“At Africa Express, you are always guaranteed a show you have never seen before. Everything we perform is always remixed, always live. Every show is one of a kind.”

Steadman added: “I don’t think I have ever got into something when I’m so unprepared in my life. But the whole idea is spontaneity.

“I guess it is something you don’t really see anymore. You kind of don’t know what to expect. I’ve read about it – they have shows that go on for six or seven hours. Especially in this day and age [of organised set lists], that is unusual.”

Damon Albarn created Africa Express mid-way through the last decade, a chance for musicians from Africa and the West to get together and perform. Since then, they have held concerts across the world.

Yet this latest string of six performances in the UK – part of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad, culminating in a performance at Kings Cross’ Granary Square on Saturday – is the first time the 80-odd acts have actually got to travel by train. That fact in itself is enough to delight Afrikan Boy – who first got involved with Express back in 2009.

“At the start of the show, I say, ‘All aboard the Africa Express train’. Now we have really got the train.”

It will be a good chance to get to know all the other artists, any of whom could end up on stage performing together at any point. Afrikan Boy, aka Woolwich-born, part-Nigerian raised Olushola Ajose, explains that people are asked to “jump in” during rehearsals as the artists create that night’s remix.

“It’s not like each artist gets their own set. It is a really collaborative effort.”

That means those who catch Africa Express on Saturday, could see Steadman joined by Afrikan Boy, with a side of the Noisettes and maybe some Baaba Maal – which is almost certainly a mix of artists you won’t see anywhere else.

n For ticket and line-up information visit www.africaexpress.co.uk.

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