This gorgeously layered blend of African and Celtic music has so much drive and texture that you may want to play it for weeks on end. This is (finally) the first contender for my major musical releases of the year.
Time: 13 tracks / 78 mins
There are few bands whose names are as appropriate as Afro Celt Sound System. You could describe them crudely as 'Riverdance on safari', so well do they blend the Celtic and African roots of their sound.
What pulls this first release in ten years so powerfully together is the rhythmic drive of both elements. There is real energy here, but that is just the motor. The styling on top is equally exciting. Layer upon layer of lush, interwoven textures give this collection the feeling that you could play it for months on end and still be getting to know it better.
It often brings to mind the similar eclectic richness of Illumination, Richard Souther’s magnificent interpretation of Hildegard von Bingen’s music.
As the very generous thirteen tracks progress (and four of them last longer than seven and a half minutes) the organic Irish and African elements push and pull for the strongest influence, but they work so well together that you have to wonder why the blend is not more common.
Regular readers will know what a sucker I am for a good dose of kora and balafon, but rarely is it ever heard in such a propulsive context.
The pace slackens occasionally, such as for the widescreen opening soundscapes; the beautiful ten-minute “Where Two Rivers Meet”, its dreamy vocals floating over a stream of slightly oriental strings and bisected by a pipes solo, which, though intense, is a little repetitive; and “Mansani Cisse,” very West African in its feel.
After this comes another twist. “Child of Wonder” is essentially a high profile spoken word piece from Griogair Labhruidh, with as Scottish an accent as you’ll hear all year, leading to a Gaelic chant.
Of the lively tracks, there are too many highlights to mention, but "Cascade" seems to be the defining track and "Honey Bee" is unusual in crossing oceans and bringing in hints of America too.
This project has drawn in both recognised masters of their craft (Davey Spillane seems to have been playing Uilleann pipes since forever) and newer acts, such as Shooglenifty. The result is a heady, exhilarating, entrancing and delightful collection of tracks that will surely be a favourite for years.
Unfortunately, the official Afro Celt Sound System are disputing this release’s rights to the name, asserting that the album, “originated by departed co-founder Simon Emmerson and two other former members of this band, will never be accepted or recognised by us as a legitimate Afro Celt Sound System album.”
This is a shame, as The Source is a real achievement. It rarely takes this many months to come across my first contender for the year’s top ten releases. So far, this is well ahead of anything that 2016 has offered me.