Nearly 22 years and Afro Celt Sound System is still making the world dance with their music.
Who doesn’t love a good fusion of different styles of music from around the world? Combining electronic dance music with Irish and West African sound; this group has created a unique blend of genres, in the process, that speaks to music lovers across the globe.
Giving us insight into their world and musical passions, Afro Celt Sound System sat down with the Sherp for a candid interview. Here’s what they had to say…
The Sherp: Hey guys, we’re delighted to finally have you’ll perform in India. How would you best describe your music to a person you met for the very first time?
Afro Celt Sound System: Hi – We are equally delighted to be coming to India to present what we have loved doing for the past 20 years!
Our music is an eclectic sound of African & Celtic infused with a touch of Indian flavours. (Would probably make an interesting Stew or Curry) – But as a Sound it’s everything from chilled vocals with lush pads to full on dance tracks with banging bass lines and big beats. There’s always something for someone. Instrumentals with fast celtic reels with African Djembe, Talking Drum & Dhol – Haunting Vocals Celtic Harp and Kora Cross over. Music that is intertwined to a tapestry that is creative in colour and weave.
The Sherp: What have you heard about India? Is there anything you are looking forward to on your first visit?
Afro Celt Sound System: India is an amazing place. Its full of life, colour, excitement and Mumbai is the city among cities that never sleeps. I love the hustle & bustle of the streets and the organized chaos that somehow seems to work. Personally for me, this is not my first visit. I have been to India many times and mainly Punjab, but for The Dhol Foundation’s first album, I actually recorded 2 tracks with Salim Sulaiman Merchant. They are both very good friends of the band and came to meet us while we were recording our 3rd album in London.
For the Afro Celt Sound System, this has been a long time coming and I think it will certainly put the band on a brand new level they will not expect. This will open new doors in South Asia which is new territory for them.
For me, I love all the musical aspects of the Bollywood scene but also now with all the copycat TV shows such as “The Voice, Chak De Bache, & PTC Voice of Punjab” the talent is incredible and never ending in India. I love watching and listening to them and hope to be a guest judge someday on one of them. I would love to see some of them at SulaFest.
The Sherp: SulaFest is going to bring world musicians together on one common platform. How important is it to hold a festival of this magnitude dedicated to such varied music?
Afro Celt Sound System: We are no stranger to performing on World Stages. In fact, the most prominent stages for this band has been Womad festivals all over the world. Between 1998 & 2001 we played and headlined all the major Womad festivals around the world and gained maximum exposure. SulaFest is very important for us for the simple reason- it’s our first trip to India as a band. We are very confident that the Indian audience will be open armed for our arrival and equally accepting of the amazing talent of musicians in this band.
The Sherp: Your style of music fuses together a number of influences. What, according to you, is the vital element in creating a sweet spot where everything meets perfectly?
Afro Celt Sound System: Simon Emmerson is the main producer and the founder of Afro Celt Sound System. He is the man to say “Yes” when he hears 2 connecting instruments bring support and the typical “Afro Celt Sound” that people love, recognize and enjoy so much.
The influences are anything from a vocal line or a traditional pipe reel or a tune. It is something that can spiral off into a small tune that actually turns into a monster. Some of the tunes we do in a studio have ended up with over 100 channels of audio. Other tunes are simplistic and have space like a slow eire (air) on Uilleann pipes or a Celtic vocal line that will sing of ancestors that loved their land and country.
The Sherp: Can you give us a sneak peak into what your fans can expect at your SulaFest performance?
Afro Celt Sound System: The fans can expect something very unique and special. The talent is amazing and the music is equally moving with energy that reaches out to touch people. Performing tunes that are mainly from our latest installment, The Source! Magnificent 7 & Desert Billy features The Dhol Foundation with Dhols played in unison and a Flute Reel written by Emer Mayock from Co.Mayo in Ireland but performed by the effervescent guest singer & flute player Rioghnach Connolly. Whirly 1 & 2 were from the very first album Sound Magic. The energy remains high and people feel the beats pick up. Cascade is a traditional 6 part celtic reel that the multi-talented newest band member Griogair Labrruidh (Louwery) plays with ease as he switches from Guitar to Scottish Highland Pipes to Irish Uilleann pipes to Whistles & Electric Guitar. N’faly Kouyate from Guinea Conakry, play the West African Kora (a 22 Stringed Harp) and sings in Mandinka & Wallov. Robbie Harris who has toured with the internationally renowned Riverdance plays Bodhran (The Irish Duff). We have Simon Richmond who takes care of the Sound System and plays the Bass lines on keyboard. From the Peter Gabriel live band, we have the Drummer Ged Lynch that is the backbone holding it all down and sometimes unleashing the monster rock drummer that he actually is. On Celtic Fiddle we have Ewen Henderson from the highlands in Scotland. Simon Emmerson, on Guitars & Citern, is the band leader. Myself (Johnny Kalsi) on Percussion and Dhol Drum. Together we make a pretty good sound and on a World Stage our faces tell the story of who we are as a collective.
Afro Celt Sound System with guest performers
The Sherp: When was the last time you performed at a vineyard property? Any other special festival moment you can think of that left a lasting impression on you?
Afro Celt Sound System: Our last vineyard property performance was in Australia in 2006. Kangaroos were all around the place and at one point we were face to face with one but it just went off in another direction. One gig we had in New Zealand, there, was a large pond in front of the stage. The audience was at a distance. In the height of the excitement, a couple of the ladies took off their clothes and got into the water to get closer to the band and started dancing naked right in front of us as we performed. James always used to do this thing at the end of his Bodhran solo and he would roll it across the stage. On this particular occasion, it rolled across the stage straight into the water!
The Sherp: Any tips for budding musicians out there who want to showcase unique sounds like you have?
Afro Celt Sound System: It was a real visionary that put these two beautiful traditions together. Simon Emmerson had something that was not only traditions but subsequently history as he discovered with the help of the famous Davey Spillane. He showed Simon the geographic line from Ireland to West Africa. They talked about how instruments travelled and how the Black Celts settled in Ireland.
This was not just an idea but something that was a reality. The traditions that came together gave a spiritual energy for the music to engage into something more magical that captures the essence of what is demonstrated. People that wish to use the same strategy need to first understand about the history of the music. In all honesty, it’s for the love of the music and if budding musicians feel music in a way they feel good, then they shouldn’t rest until they complete their mission. Compassion, Drive and generally the feel good factor will ensure that the music will make people feel every emotion possible.