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Live review: Africa Express at Cardiff University Student Union


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The new tour from the Damon Albarn led Africa Express project is both special and ambitious, bringing over 80 musicians from the Western hemisphere and and the African continent to create a unpredictable and unique musical experience. The ensemble are travelling all over the UK this week, in a custom built train - a real life (Africa) Express.

And so arriving at Cardiff University Student Union expectations were high.

One thing Africa Express certainly has is value for money. It was refreshing to cut the long hours often spent waiting for the music to start, with the first act taking to the stage at around 8pm and the music running continuously until after 11pm. It was chaotic - but an exciting and enthralling kind of chaotic, with each Western/African collaboration alternating with parts of the African ensemble performing alone.

African music undeservedly gets very little attention in the UK, and this gig demonstrated that it has more than enough talent and excitement to match up to its European counterpart.

The unplanned nature of the evening gave rise to some thrilling moments; Damon Albarn playing piano and duetting with African singer Rokia on a beautiful version of 'On Melancholy Hill' by Gorillaz, Carl Barat leading a euphoric, African-inspired version of The Libertines 'Don’t Look Back Into The Sun', local hero Gruff Rhys of Super Furry Animals making an appearance, and an electrifying ensemble version of 'Train In Vain' by The Clash.

Every single performer on stage looked like they were having the time of their lives, and the party atmosphere spread to the audience too, with everyone dancing and cheering along. This wasn’t about hits, or style, or who could play the best, it was simply about having a great time playing music, and the joy emanating off the stage was infectious. The cheers and applause continued long after the performers had left the stage, and I’m sure that like myself, the rest of the audience felt a bit sad that we couldn’t join the train ourselves.

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