More than a decade after the non-profit music collective began, Africa Express—a U.K.-based group helmed by Damon Albarn, frontman of bands Blur and Gorillaz—return with Egoli, an 18-track album that combines the diverse styles of South African music with electro-Acholi from Northern Uganda, London Afrobeat, and melancholy Welsh vocals.
On paper, it sounds like an incoherent mash-up, but there is nothing scattershot about Egoli; all of the songs blend beautifully to create a jubilant celebration of (mostly South) African sounds. It opens with a welcome by South African legend Phuzekhemisi, a melodic nod to the heyday of Maskandi music. It’s followed by “City in Lights,” a seamless collaboration between mbaqanga trio Mahotella Queens, Ugandan electro-Acholi pioneer Otim Alpha, British multi-instrumentalist Georgia, and Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ guitarist Nick Zinner. The result is a charging electro-pop track lit up by synth stabs and glimmering vocals.
Later, South African heavyweights BCUC and Nonku Phiri collaborate with Mr Jukes on “The River” and slow burner “Bittersweet Escape.” Self-styled “future ghetto punk” queen Moonchild Sanelly lays down bars on several tracks, including the pensive pop of “Where Will this Lead Us To?,” the jazzy boom-bap of “Morals,” and the trance-inducing gqom beats of “Sizi Freaks.” “The Return of Bacardi,” featuring the late South African legend DJ Spoko, is a joyous Shangaan electro track, punctuated by tiny melodic interludes. What’s striking is how little playtime Western artists like Albarn and Zinner are given. Egoli feels like a call to broaden our musical horizons, and to open our eyes to what is going on in other parts of the world.