The Observer / World Music ★ ★ ★ ★
Afro Celt Sound System: The Source review – daring and triumphant
World fusions come no more eclectic than that of the Afro Celts, with their meld of west Africa and the Gaelic diaspora. The group’s first album in 10 years tones down the electronica of earlier incarnations for a more acoustic but no less propulsive approach in which the kora, balafon and chants of Guinea vie with the pipes, flutes and reels of Highland and Ireland, and the dhol drums of bhangra. It’s an often giddy mashup: nowhere else will you hear a female African chorus alongside Gaelic rap and jazz bagpipes. Yet the group also conjures moments of beauty like Mansani Cissé/Tàladh, where harp, kora and lyrical vocals entwine majestically. A daring, triumphant creation. (Neil Spencer)
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Daily Mirror ★ ★ ★ ★
Their first album in 11 years. Its loveliness shows the time hasn’t been wasted
SONGLINES ★ ★ ★ ★ Celebrating two decades by going extra large
Twenty years ago Afro Celts released a thrilling debut that remains a landmark in global dance fusion. Yet by their fifth release in 2005, the formula was strating to sound passe. A long period of silence followed and, a decade later, the return of the Afro Celts could easily have sounded like an anachronistic relic. Instead, original founder Simon Emmerson has reinvigorated the project with na influx of new blood and fresh ideas without losing the centrality of his original vision. Longtime member N’Faly Kouyate continues to provide wonderful textures on kora and balafon. But central in the band’s new ineration is Johnny Kalsi, his huge, thundering dhol drums lending unimaginable heft to the felicitous fusion of African rhythms and haunting Irish melodies. Scottish piper and Gaelic singer Griogair Ladhruidh is another major contributor, taking a more versatile role than former lead singer Larla O Lionsird, who he has effectively replaced, while guests include uillean pipers Davy Spillane, Ronan Browne and Emer Mayock, members of Shooglenifty, and a five-strong female griot vocal group from Conakry, Guinea. Old fans will find much here that is familiar. But somehow the new Afro Celts sound bigger, better and bolder than ever before. A triumph.
Financial Times ★ ★ ★ ★
“This might or might not be a new album from Afro Celt Sound System — legal proceedings are underway about who has the rights to the band’s name.
Regardless of how that turns out, The Source turns down the electronics and amps up the kora and Uillean pipes and the storm of dhol drums that were at the heart of the original band’s sound.
Many of the songs spread out and breathe, notably “Mansani Cissé/Tàladh” and “Child Of Wonder” with its eerie narrative from the novelist Pál Ó Siadhail.
Enriching, and not just for lawyers.”
Froots ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Always an unwieldy, unpredictable beast, the Afro Celts saga turned nasty last year with a dispute between various band members over the ownership of the name, with rival factions scrambling from the carnage attempting to lay claim to the great Afro Celt standard. But founder Simon Emmerson’s wing has certainly exerted energy and ingenuity in reasserting the band’s innovative soundscapes – a delirious mix of primal intensity, spiritual beauty and explosive rhythms. Uilleann pipes collide with glorious African beats, massed voices break out through the cacophony of textures, melodies and programmed effects and the pace of the intriguing tributaries it tales is relenfless.
They are – and always were – a band geared up for grand gestures and climactic tensions and with the sainted dhol drummer Johnny Kalsi, Guinean singer / kora player N’Faly Kouyate and Gaelic singer/piper/free-thinker Griogair in the ranks, Emmerson’s restyled band have plenty of inherent drama in their armoury. And boy, do they use it! Various members Of Shooglenifty have also been incorporated into the ranks along with five piece women’s singers Les Groittes and a host of other guest artists (including uilleann pipers Davey Spillnae, Ronan Browne and Emer Maycock, flautist/singer Rioghnach Connelly and Moussa Sissoko on talking Drums), so let there be no doubt Emmerson has pulled out all the stops and this is a colossus of an album.
Strong emphasis is placed on the West African elements and they sound all the scrounger for it, the competing beats and pipe melodies apply immense layers to a caboodle that rocks and rolls and sways and shimmies and struts and stretches in unexpected ways that constantly has you trying to figure out what’s going on what’s going on, becoming more and more breathless all the while with freneticism of it all.
It’s twenty years since they first launched the brave/mad/enthralling idea of blending African music with Irish and Scots, pointing a torch a the treasure chest of multi-cultural potential available to all. It’s a potential that disappointingly few others have attempted to mine in the intervening years. So their return is welcome. And, despite the long recorded absence they prove there is still plenty of gold in them there hills begging to be explored.
i The Paper ★ ★ ★ ★
This first album in ten years from Simon Emmerson’s pan-cultural crossover collective offers perhaps the most condensed distillation of the Womad vibe, with the core unit’s alliance of Celtic reeds, African kora and Indian drums bolstered by guest performers, including female vocal groups from both the Gaelic and African traditions, and the massed drums of The Dhol Foundation. After a subdued opening, the album picks up momentum when TDF join the pipes and whistles for ‘The Magnificent Seven’ and never looks back from there.
Northern Sky Magazine ★ ★ ★ ★ Read the review online HERE
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