Afro Celt Sound System

Released 24 March 2003

  1. Cyberia
  2. Seed
  3. Nevermore
  4. The Other Side
  5. Ayub's Song / As You Were
  6. Rise
  7. Rise Above It
  8. Deep Channel
  9. All Remains
  10. Green (Nevermore Instrumental)

Liner notes

It was 1996 when Afro Celt Sound System first assaulted our senses with their innovative fusion of West African rhythms, Irish traditional music and cutting-edge dance grooves. Since then, there have been many lesser imitators and the global beat movement they pioneered has entered the mainstream.

Recorded and produced in their own studio in Islington (once owned by Pink Floyd), this is an album that marks a new departure for Afro Celt Sound System in a journey which began when they came together at a Real World recording week in 1995 to make their ground-breaking debut, Volume One: Sound Magic. More organic with greater emphasis on real instruments and songcraft and with less reliance on programmed beats and grooves than before, ‘Seed’, their fourth album, was released in 2003.

“When we started, what we did was a very radical idea,” said Simon Emmerson when Seed was released. “Now everyone’s using DJs and programmed loops and ethnic samples over the top. We’ve moved on and what you hear on this album is a product of all the years of playing live and interacting with each other as musicians.”

“We’ve found our own space and it’s almost like we’re starting again,” added co-producer and multi-instrumentalist, James McNally. “We made three sound system albums. This is the first fully-developed band album. It’s called ‘Seed’ because it really does feel like a new beginning. There’s no way we could have made a record like this when we started.”

Of course, ‘Seed’ contains much that will be familiar to Afro Celts fans. The core members remained remarkably constant – Simon Emmerson (guitars), James McNally (keyboards,piano, bodhran, bamboo flute), Iarla O Lionaird (vocals), Martin Russell (keyboards, programming & co-production), N’Faly Kouyate (vocals, kora, balafon), Myrdhin (harp), Moussa Sissokho (percussion), Johnny Kalsi (dhol drum, tabla), Mass (drum programming) and Emer Maycock (uilleann pipes).

The magical process of how the band’s three producers, James, Martin and Simon, work together is the key to what Afro Celts albums are about how they bounce ideas off of and inspire each other. With three people having to find a way to interplay and connect – sometimes disagreeing and deciding to leave a track on the shelf for at least the time-being it sets a standard much higher than that which could be achieved by any one musician producing alone. It’s only after the triumvirate have set up the tracks that they call upon the spiritual and emotional impact that Iarla and N’faly bring to their songs respectively, and upon the technical ability of Mass.

As the band grew, roles subtly shifted. Mass began to take over most of the drum programming, leaving Simon free to play more guitar, mandolin and bazouki. On the title track of ‘Seed’, he even played some classic, swamp-laden slide. Iarla continued to grow in stature as a lyricist of considerable depth and feeling. James’ reputation cemented as a tour de force both in song/tune composition and with his vocal and strings arrangements. The influence of N’Faly – ‘the Jimi Hendrix of the kora’, the band called him – became more significant as he contributed more to the singing and writing. The percussion loops of Johnny Kalsi gave way to live drumming, and the band decided quite early on in the recording process that they also wished to use a real bass on the majority of tracks, with guest players including the eminent Jah Wobble.

The result is an album that sounds more natural and organic than anything previously from the Afro Celts, with more emphasis on the playing and less on the programmed beats. Musically, it was also immediately obvious that Afro Celts were still boldly expanding their horizons. The West African and Irish influences were still the bedrock of the sound. Yet within Seed’s first three tracks, we hear such diverse new elements in the meltdown as a flamenco guitar and a Brazilian vocalist. ‘Seed’ also marked the emergence of Afro Celts as fully-formed songwriters.

Among the honorary Afro Celts adding to the rich tapestry on ‘Seed’ are Irish rocker Mundy, Ms Dynamite’s backing vocalists, the Brazilian singer Nina Miranda, the Canadian flamenco guitarist Jesse Cook and the virtuoso traditional fiddlers, Martin Hayes and Eileen Ivers.


Further 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.

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