"Afro Celt Sound System, they do exactly what it says on the tin. That's what they told the audience when we got the Radio 3 Listeners' Award five years ago," remembers Simon Emmerson. The frontman for Afro Celt Sound System says he first thought of blending together African and Celtic music while producing the Senegalese singer Baaba Maal in 1992. "He was asking me about my roots," he explains. "I realised he was just as interested in music from the British Isles as I was in what was coming out of West Africa. Later, I had Davy Spillane play this lovely Irish whistle on a track for Lam Toro, the first Baaba Maal album I did. It worked perfectly, it was sort of an epiphany for me. I became really interested in marrying the pentatonic scales from both traditions and putting them over a techno beat to see where it led. That became the basis for the Afro Celt Sound System."
With the benefit of hindsight, album sales of 1.2 million, two Grammy nominations and triumphant appearances at Womad, Glastonbury and other festivals around the world, Afro Celt Sound System seems like a natural fusion of genres and a bankable proposition. But Emmerson is convinced that, back in 1995, most record labels would have balked at the idea of bankrolling such a venture. "If I'd said to anyone else, this is what I want to do, they would have shown me the door," he says.
"Peter Gabriel gave us a week at Real World. We had Davy Spillane, several members of Baaba Maal's band, Myrdhin, from Britanny, on Celtic harp, a piper called Ronan Browne. I already knew James [multi-instrumentalist McNally] from his work with rap band Marxman. They were neighbours of mine in Hackney. Iarla [O'Lionaird, the Gaelic vocalist] was there, Martin Russell and Jo Bruce came in to play keyboards. I saw the whole thing as a one-off project. That's why we had Sound System in the name. I'd made so many albums over the years that didn't sell for one reason or another so I didn't really plan ahead." Read More
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