Simon Emmerson (1956–2023)

We were sorry to learn of the death of musician and record producer Simon Emmerson on 13 March 2023 after a recent illness. Here at Real World we are very happy to have been part of Simon’s musical journey — from his work with Hassan Hakmoun and Maryam Mursal to the great Afro Celt Sound System and finally The Imagined Village.

Simon’s legacy will live on in the great albums he made and the memory of some incredible performances. He brought musical revelations, great energy and commitment and a lot of fun to the process of making music — what an impact he had on our label and our lives!

Simon Emmerson at Real World Studios with David Bottrill, 2015. Photo credit: York Tillyer.

Peter Gabriel remembers Simon

“Whether hidden in the bushes, twitching or creating extraordinary music, Simon Emmerson was always passionate, excitable and ambitious. It is all of these qualities that had led him, as an artist and composer, on an amazing musical journey through acid jazz, electro-acoustic music, Afro Celt Sound System and back to his own English folk roots with The Imagined Village project. As a producer he worked with so many great artists from so many cultures and in each case found ways to connect, earn trust and help them realise all their musical ambitions; including Morocco’s Hassan Hakmoun, Maryam Mursal from Somalia, and Senegal’s Baaba Maal. In most recent years he ended up as musical director creating ambient and meditative music for LUSH.

Afro Celt Sound System - the making of the album Sound Magic

“When we had artists, writers, and producers from around the world together for our 1995 Real World Recording Week, it brought all the studio to life in a wonderful way. Simon loved the idea of mixing everything up and came up with the idea of creating a brand new group specifically to mix African and Celtic musicians, the Afro Celt Sound System. Catching them in full flight was always a real treat for any open-minded music fan.

“Simon had great breadth of knowledge of all the world of music and once he had set his passion and his heart on something, there was no dissuading him. As most who knew him well can attest, he could be an awkward and obstinate collaborator, but it was always about the mission — not about him — and his generosity and sense of humour would usually shine on through.

“Looking back from when I first met him thirty or more years ago, I can see so many ways in which his aspirations, musicality and determination have touched all of us, changed things for the better and made our lives richer.

“From all of us at Real World and WOMAD, you will always be remembered here as a fundamental part of our family Simon.

“A very big thank you.”

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The Imagined Village - Hard Times of Old England (feat. Billy Bragg)

Recommended Listening

  • Volume 1: Sound Magic

    Afro Celt Sound System

    Released 14 July 1996

    The sound of the past transforming into the future, this unique debut album was the first fruit of a collaboration between a group of the finest African musicians, their counterparts from the Celtic communities of western Europe and several of Britain's most respected dance music producers.
  • The Imagined Village

    The Imagined Village

    Released 14 October 2007

    Gathering together an array of brilliant and challenging voices, and setting them in a musical framework that honours the past while updating it with breathtaking confidence, The Imagined Village is arguably the most ambitious re-invention of the English folk tradition since Fairport Convention's Liege and Lief.
  • The Journey

    Maryam Mursal

    Released 16 March 1998

    The radiant Somalian diva Maryam Mursal lifts off with this highly charged album of vibrant pop songs. The album title refers to the journey taken by the singer and her five children when they underwent a seven-month odyssey to escape the trials and tribulations of their native Somalia.

By Online Editor

Main image: Simon Emmerson and N'Faly Kouyaté performing with Afro Celt Sound System at The Barbican in London, 2010. Photo credit: York Tillyer.

Published on Fri, 17 March 23

Further reading

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The Zawose Queens announce tour and share ‘Mapendo’ from forthcoming album Maisha

Pendo & Leah Zawose will perform at festivals including Glastonbury Festival and WOMAD.

Real World Sessions: Owen Spafford & Louis Campbell, 5 December 2023

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10 years of resistance: Les Amazones d’Afrique’s fight continues on Musow Danse

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