Whilst Africa Express Presents…Terry Riley’s in C Mali was released on CD back in November, it gets its CD release at the end of January, so fans of the black plastic will point out that rather than belated, this review is actually rather timely!
The original album recording of ‘In C’ by Terry Riley and Center of Creative and Performing Arts was released in 1968 (although this marks the 50th anniversary of it being written), and consists of 53 short, numbered musical phrases, lasting from half a beat to 32 beats; where each phrase could be repeated an arbitrary number of times, and each musician had control over the phrase they played. Over the years there have been many recordings of In C, in all manner of styles, instrumentation, etc. but In C Mali is the first ever African interpretation of this iconic contemporary classical piece.
This new version was recorded in Mali under the conductor André de Ridder, with musicians including up and comers Adama Koita, Bijou, Cheick Diallo, alongside Africa Express stalwarts Damon Albarn, Brian Eno, Jeff Wootton and Nick Zinner. Whilst one might imagine that contemporary classical music and traditional African instrumentation are unlikely bedfellows, this very much embodies the spirit of Africa Express. This version stays true to the spirit of the original, rather than follow it to the letter; rote repetition is alien to Malian musicians, so this sees a combination of patterns with solos over the top. The album works fantastically well, with the multi layered patterns, grooves and solos working well, giving it a breadth and depth that one might not associate with minimalism.
Whilst Terry Riley’s audience is predominantly white, middle aged, middle class, Western, well-educated, avant-garde, and so on, to have young rising stars of Malian music paint the picture with a whole new colour palette is very exciting. Also, to have this modernist music played by traditional instruments from an entirely different culture, brings new life to it, and may even bring it bang up to date.
I found this to be a fully immersive experience, one that merits a comfy chair, a decent hi-fi and your undivided attention, or better still a pair of headphones in a dark room. It would probably also be great to see it performed live at a club in Bamako, or even to have it played through a killer sound-system at a great little club in the UK. Seriously though, get a copy and lose yourself in it.
Check out the online interactive video HERE