Afro Celt Sound System, 2005
Anatomic: concerned with anatomy, concerned with dissection,
related to the structure of an organism
It's been ten years now since Afro Celt Sound System began their journey, pioneering an expressive musical path that fused world music and electronica. With each of their albums, they've delved deeper into sound and into themselves. In that decade their four albums and a remix collection have sold a staggering 1.2 million albums and contributed to the soundtrack of the Oscar-nominated Hotel Rwanda.
Now, with Volume V: Anatomic, they've taken a profound trip into their hearts and souls and once again the Afro Celts have grown. This time six of the nine tracks began with members Martin Russell and James McNally collaborating in the studio, "with James playing the bodhran, and building from there," Russell recalls, "so things had his rhythmic interpretation on them as a base." From there the Afro Celt Magic took over as each of the band members added their unique signatures in the group's London studio. N'Faly Kouyate's kora parts interwove with Simon Emmerson's guitar and bouzouki hooks while a rhythm section combined live and programmed beats with world class dhol, tabla and talking drum, and McNally's virtuosic multi-instrumentalism layered in whistle tunes and top line pipe melodies with keyboards and guitars. Finally, with all the pieces in place, the massive tapestry of sound was bound together and brought into focus by Russell and Mass's keyboard and drum programming.
"The way we make music is by presenting an organic whole out of millions of minute parts," says Simon Emmerson. "We're very proud of this record." It has, he observes, "more of a live feel. That gives the sound a lot more air and openness, and we programme around that. There's as much drum programming as on the other albums, but it's more sympathetic to what we're playing."
Of course, they can still make a fierce, inimitable groove, as the title track and 'Dhol Dogs' (which started as one of Mass's breakbeat club tracks) demonstrate perfectly, but Anatomic also contains the most exquisite songs of the band's career - like the delicate African colours of 'Sene' and O Lionaird's caressingly lovely 'Beautiful Rain'.
"I had it written before I went to bed. We got up early and recorded it," O Lionaird remembers. "We laid down the vocal and basic rhythm track at my house, then they took it back and there was programming and some percussive elements that I thought were great. It's complete."
It's the latest step in a groundbreaking journey. Back in 1995 the idea of bringing Celtic and African sounds together with electronic dance grooves seemed revolutionary. But to producer Simon Emmerson, who'd worked with Senegalese star Baaba Maal, among many others, ex-Pogue James McNally, producer, engineer and keyboard player Martin Russell, and Irish sean-nos singer Iarla O Lionaird it was a concept bursting with possibilities that they started to explore on their debut, Sound Magic.
"When we came together we were all speaking different languages and I felt we got lucky that so many people created magic," recalls McNally. "After the first album worked, we had to figure out how we did it. That's where we had to open the can of who we were and could we work together."
Their third album, 2001's Further in Time, was a turning point for the Afro Celts. Their global, danceable grooves had already won them a worldwide audience. But they'd also become strong, sophisticated songwriters, as they showed on the number one AAA hit 'When You're Falling' with its Peter Gabriel guest vocal - which held at#1 on the US charts for weeks on end, and made their VH-1 TV debut with the imaginative video for the song.
With national TV appearances scheduled on Conan O'Brien and David Letterman, and a major tour of America lined up, the Afro Celts were set to go to the next level. Then the tragedy of 9/11 happened, and A world that had been rapidly opening up for the band suddenly shut down. The unforeseeably ironic content of the video (in part showing a person falling from the sky alongside a skyscraper) caused it to be pulled off the air at once by VH-1 - and the song pulled from play lists across the US. Yet out of misfortune came a blessing.
"If we'd had the success that seemed likely," Emmerson says, "we'd have been chasing our tails trying to write another radio hit and we'd never have made Seed."
Seed took the band in a different, more transparent direction, where confident songwriting and sparkling acoustic playing moved above subtle programming. It built perfectly on all they'd done before.
Anatomic adds another storey to that edifice. It also continues the longstanding Afro Celt tradition of cultural collaboration, bringing in two stunning vocalists - Uzbeki star Sevara Nazarkhan and Rwanda's Dorothee Munyaneza - who add their own special qualities to the disc. "We always try to do something where the track is a dialogue between two languages of different kinds," observes Russell, and Nazarkhan's duet with O Lionaird is a prime example of that - rhythmic, evocative and gorgeously shaded, with a raw, sensual edge.
Martin Russell was also responsible for bringing Munyaneza to Anatomic. He'd worked with her on the soundtrack to Hotel Rwanda, and "she stuck in my mind". When the Afro Celts had the backing tracks for the new disc, "we played her some of the ideas in progress and she came back three days later with very strong ideas", which became 'When I Still Needed You' ("one of our strongest statements as a band," says Emmerson) and 'Mother'.
"When I listened to the kora on 'Mother', immediately I saw the scenery of the song," says Munyenza, a survivor of the horrific 1994 genocide in her homeland. "When the genocide started my mother was already working in England, and I was in Kigali with my father and my siblings. On 25th July, my birthday, my mother came. It's something I never thought would happen. Just seeing her, hearing people scream with joy, knowing she was back, all was suddenly well and everything made sense. So that song is about how happy and how sad and how moving the whole event was. I wanted to convey that feeling of sheer happiness and ecstasy."
" 'Mother'," McNally points out "hits you in a place where you belong. I was almost in tears when we finally mixed it; I feel it's a truly beautiful piece of work."
The album also includes two previously unrecorded concert staples, 'Drake' - originally written for Release - and the atmospheric, spectacular 'Mojave', a tune that still affects the band "in a simplified way that a lot of other things do in a complicated way. Iarla opens up with a call, it sounds Native American, and it brought us to that wide-open vast space of Mojave. The rhythm's hard and pounding, but the tune is soft and invites you in. That one comes purely from the heart."
With Anatomic, Afro Celt Sound System continue to open up the new horizons they started exploring ten years ago. As James McNally concludes, "there's a lot of soul in this body of work."
- Their most accessible to date Afro Celt Sound System make their most accessible, entertaining, tribal/tronic connections to date on "Anatomic". A world beat album that anyone can get behind. Times Union (USA)
- A Fierce Comeback A fierce comeback for this tribe dedicated to the fusion of African, Celtic and danceclub music... Exotic spooky and stirrring. It may be this band's best. Boston Herald (USA)
- Substance along with style Anatomic provides superior chill music for those who want some substance along with style. Dirty Linen
- Most Intense Yet The Afro Celt Sound System proves once again the recipe can work, given the right chefs... It's a pleasure to find a collection of music that is not only pleasing to the ear, but mind-stimulating as well. Soundings (USA)
- A World Apart ...when it comes to cosmic global fusion, they're still a world apart from their rivals. Uncut (UK)
- Atmospheric Mix of Celtic Traditional, Dance-Groove Electronica and African Strains Anyone who savoured Afro Celt Sound System's contribution to the movie soundtrack of "Hotel Rwanda" last year will enjoy the band's hypnotically atmospheric mix of Celtic traditional, dance-groove electronica and African strains on Anatomic... Dorothee Munyaneza, a survivor of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, wraps her sultry voice around 'When I Still Needed You' and 'Mother'... Afro Celt Iarla Ó Lionáird is especially spellbinding.... Uzbekistan vocalist Sevara Nazarkhan, also enters a cross-cultural dialogue with Mr. Ó Lionáird in the moody affecting song 'My Secret Bliss'.... Afro Celt Sound System has surrounded itself with talent equal to its own, resulting in heady heartfelt music. Wall Street Journal (USA)
- Another daring sonic landscape The range of elements across these nine tracks is considerable...this is easy listening for those with ethereal inclinations but its full of great tunes, impassioned vocals and little surprises along the way www.bbc.co.uk/music/world
- The ACSS are back at their best Anatomic has a very appealing simplicity, an uncluttered tapestry of sound whether instrumental or vocal. A mellow ambience pervades the album, although there is sometimes a more urgent edge too... 'Mojave' is a beautiful number that starts out slow-paced but builds in intensity, and 'Dhol Dogs' is an exciting full-on dance excursion. The title-track packs both a powerful guitar and rhythm section and is a wonderful mix of the Celtic and African elements. Songlines
- Afro Celt Sound System: Anatomic Afro Celt Sound System have continued to expand the sonic and expressive pallette of their evolving music. Mojave, already familiar from their live shows, is a fine example of their ability to build from a gentle base to a vibrant, rhythm-driven conclusion, while songs such as Beautiful Rain and Mother exemplify a more soulful, poignant side of their work. The Scotsman (Scotland)
- CD of the Week Their job is combining all the best bits of world music-and not just trying out a particular feel or style from an area of the world, but throwing them all into a tasty ass-moving gumbo. needcoffee.com (USA)
- Compassionately Captivating Sound World ANATOMIC may be considered their "ambient" or "chill-out" album....(fusing) cyclical, sighing Irish melodies, pensive West African folk music, dance beats, echoes of Indian music, and more, creating their own abundant-as-a-rainforest, compassionately captivating sound world. TowerRecords.com (USA)
- A Pleasure From Start To Finish The sheer heaviness and thudding beats are evident from the albums first cut, "When I Still Needed You" with the mighty Dorothee Munyaneza on vocals. Sevara Nazarkhan duets with the Afro Celts' tenor, Iarla O'Lionaird, on "My Secret Bliss," a seductive, deliriously romantic track created for nocturnal listening. Texture is everything on this recording.... Ultimately, Anatomic is fresh sounding while retaining all the elements that made the Afro Celt Sound System so unique. It is a pleasure from start to finish, and may be their strongest album overall AllMusic.com (USA)
- Another genre-bursting, non-preachy, multi-culti soundscape Their debut album broke down many tediously outdated barriers. Now the Afro-Celts are back with another genre-bursting, non-preachy, multi-culti soundscape. There has never been anything bland or generic about the ensemble's output as their concept of one-world music is less color-blind than color-appreciative; in other words, they don't ignore our differences but celebrate them. Anatomic continues an ongoing pilgrimage of respectful collaboration, wherein Western studio mastery abuts Irish flutes and percussion, harp-like West African koras, keening bagpipes, and gutty Greek bouzoukis, all presented over a resonant, crunchy bottom with beats and electronica for days. Iarla Ó Lionáird sings in English and Gaelic, sitting in with Sevara Nazarkhan from Uzbekistan (who is lovely if disembodied on "My Secret Bliss") and Dorothee Munyaneza, a genocide survivor whose soulful pipes made such a strong impression on the soundtrack to Hotel Rwanda. As always, Simon Emmerson's guitar fulfills dual roles as a melodic vector and tireless rhythmic powerhouse. Amazon (UK)