Volume 5: Anatomic

Afro Celt Sound System

Released 03 October 2005

  1. When I Still Needed You
  2. My Secret Bliss
  3. Mojave
  4. Sené (Working The Land)
  5. Beautiful Rain
  6. Anatomic
  7. Mother
  8. Dhol Dogs
  9. Drake

Liner notes

Anatomic: concerned with anatomy, concerned with dissection, related to the structure of an organism.

In 2005 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. From 2005 – 2015 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 playlists 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.”

Listen

Reviews

  • 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 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)
  • When it comes to cosmic global fusion, they're still a world apart from their rivals. Uncut (UK)
  • Another daring sonic landscape BBC Music (UK)

Further Listening

  • Volume 3: Further In Time

    Afro Celt Sound System

    Released 18 June 2001

    On Further In Time, voices from African and Celtic traditions blaze into a future informed by pop craft and dance euphoria; thunderous Indian rhythms engage in dialogue with the African talking drum; where the sounds of Morocco and Eastern Europe are woven through psychedelic club soundscapes and disarmingly sharp, disciplined songwriting.
  • The Imagined Village

    The Imagined Village

    Released 15 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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