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Out Of Africa
Kinshasa One Two might seem like just another of Damon Albarn’s side-projects, but for the Congolese musicians who play on the record, it’s a rare chance to have their music heard overseas. Celina Murphy meets two of the LP’s producers, Kasabian collaborator Dan The Automator and XL Records boss Richard Russell.
Celina Murphy, 11 Oct 2011
In July of this year, a genre-spanning team of producers set out for sweltering Kinshasa, with the intention of capturing the electricity of Congolese music. After just five days in the nation’s capital, they would present a 14-track LP to Oxfam to use as part of their ongoing efforts in the area. The project was the brainchild of – who else? – pop’s busiest creative force Damon Albarn, who masterminded the trip in between writing an Elizabethan opera, forming a new supergroup with Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea and finally committing his first proper solo album to wax.
On paper, they mightn’t seem ideal conditions for making a record, but according to producer Richard Russell, it didn’t take long for everything to fall into place.
“I suppose the word is ‘serendipity’,” proffers Russell whose XL label is currently home to Adele, Radiohead and MIA. “I think there was some magic to it, you know? I never felt any doubt that it was getting done. There was just so much momentum.”
Case in point, just 30 minutes after setting down in N’djili Airport, the group had already found the beat for the album’s lead track, the aptly-named ‘Hallo’.
Russell remembers; “We got off the plane, got told, ‘Your luggage has disappeared forever’, and went off to have a drink. We went to a club and this band called Tout Puissant Mukalo were playing, so we recorded them and that became the loop that we based ‘Hallo’ on. There was absolutely no intention that we were going to be recording that quickly.”
Of course, the group did not leave everything to fate. Albarn drafted in filmmakers Florent de la Tullaye and Renaud Barret, best known for their award-winning documentary about local band Staff Benda Bilili, to introduce them to the real sound of the Congo.
“They’re in the thick of it, so they know all the best musicians,” Russell recalls. “They’re the difference between this record taking a week to record and taking years to record.”
Kasabian producer Dan The Automator reckons connecting with local talent was the fun part.