The Afro Celts are . . .
Simon is a Grammy nominated producer, guitarist and visionary extraordinaire. He also happens to be an avid bird watcher and one very cool guy. Simon hails from Hackney, East London. As a kid, he went to the Forest School Camps from the age of six. They were the prototype Green awareness camps that started in the ‘20s and ‘30s as an alternative to the boy scouts. During that time, he was brought up in the English folk tradition with the Martin Carthy and Christy Moore songbooks. He claims he can even do English folk dances. Simon is also a DJ and was a member of Scritti Politti and Working Week. The idea of combining Celtic music and African music stemmed from Simon’s work producing tracks for Baaba Maal under the pseudonym “Simon Booth” while he was “running from the law.” When Simon was in Africa working with Baaba Maal and other musicians, an elder wise man that he met in the desert told him that the ancestors were returning for music and for instruments because the power of words had become corrupted and had become the power of politics and control. It was left to the power of music to get the message across. Simon brought together Jo Bruce, Ron Aslan, Ronan Browne, Davy Spillane, Ayub Ogada, Masamba Diop, Kauwding Cissokho, Myrdhin, James McNally and Martin Russell to create Volume 1: Sound Magic. What a message! The rest is history. Check out Simon's biography on the Working Week website for more information about Simon's impressive musical background.
James is a virtuoso on so many instruments that Van Morrison called him the “Master”. He was born in Ireland and grew up in London. He is classically trained on piano and piano accordion, and was all-Ireland champion on the accordion, piano and bodhrán by the age of 16. He has worked or recorded with U2, Sinead O'Connor, Depeche Mode, Ronan Keating, Marxman, Eddi Reader, Annie Lennox, Peter Gabriel, The Pogues, Big Country and Brian Kennedy. In an interview published in the New York Post on July 26, 2003, James eloquently described the Afro Celts approach to music. “If we just played Irish music, we'd have our core, just as if we just performed African music we'd find a base of people who'd love it. But we try to cross-pollinate and also use electronica to allow people to actually think about their heritage and their culture as something that's not of the past, but still very important and still evolving. Our success lies in the balance; we're not just sticking African vocals on beats and grooves - we actually move from scene to scene in our passages like a drama. We try to take people on a journey." James has a solo CD out on Windham Hill Records called "Everybreath". Check out James' biography on The Pogues website for more information about his musical accolades.
Iarla grew up in Cuil Aodha, a small Gaelic-speaking community in County Cork in the west of Ireland, and later moved to Dublin. Iarla’s been singing all his life and the guidance of composer Peadar O’Riada resulted in a recording of a song “Aisling Gheal” when he was only 14 years old. Iarla sings in the “sean nos” or old time tradition of unaccompanied singing. Iarla is much, much more than just his amazing and heavenly voice. He is also a lyricist, composer, producer and has a Master’s degree in ethnomusicology. In an interview by Anil Prasad discussing Iarla's talent as a vocalist and the distinction betwen lyrical revelation and musical revelation, Iarla observed that “I always operate on the basis that no one ever understood what I was singing about for the most part because I sing in Gaelic. So, I always asked myself ‘Why are people coming to my concerts and buying my records?’ And it’s simply because they’re hearing something else. So I’ve tended to lean towards the music and what it can say regardless of the words almost. It’s funny, at a concert recently someone suggested I should dispense of words altogether. I’d never do that though. The words and poetry of the old Gaelic songs that I sing are something I also aspire to in my own work. That simplicity and brevity is something I try to bring to the Afro Celts as well.” Iarla has three CDs out on Real World Records. Visit Iarla's site on the Real World Records' website for more information.
Johnny was born in Leeds, England after his parents emmigrated from Kenya. He is a self taught dhol drum master, and has been playing the dhol for over 16 years. His love for the dhol inspired him to continue to learn to play it even though he couldn’t find anyone to give him lessons. He joined a popular bhangra band called Alaap, which eventually led him to join forces with Trans Global Underground. Johnny soon set the gold standard for the dhol drum and began receiving requests for lessons. This led Johnny to start the Dhol Foundation, which now provides classes to students around the world. Johnny’s magnetism and charm led Peter Gabriel to dub him the “Ambassador of Love”. He joined ACSS on Volume 2: Release and invented his unique percussion set-up called the “Kalsi Kit”. Johnny and The Dhol Foundation have released two CDs. Visit the Dhol Foundation website for more information.
N'Faly was born in Guinea and now lives in Brussels, Belgium. N'Faly's natural exuberance and big smile are larger than life. As one concert reviewer wrote, "N'Faly's smile and demeanor, not to mention the kora, lit the crowd up like a bong at a Grateful Dead show." He plays the kora (a harp-lute), balafon (African xylophone) and standing n'goma drum - - all very old traditional instruments. The kora is the national symbol of culture for Gambia. His mastery of the kora and dynamic showmanship on stage have led to his recognition as the "Jimi Hendrix" of the kora. He is a descendant of the Griot storytellers of the Mandinka (West African Empire of Guinea, Mali and Gambia), the son of Konkoba Kabinet Kouyate of Siguiri in the Republic of Guinea. Konkoba is a rare grade of griot, that was acquired by him through achieving difficult tests and gaining a perfect mastery of the secrets of life, composed of its deep occult secrets and also all of the magic of the Mandingue world. Through N'Faly's success with the Afro Celts, he has managed to get electricity supplied to the school in his village. N'Faly has a CD out called "Kora Grooves" with his band Dunyakan. Visit N'Faly's and Dunyakan's website for more information.
Emer was born and raised in County Mayo in the West of Ireland. She was the youngest of five children who all played music and was immersed in traditional music and song at an early age. She has won All-Ireland Fleadh Cheoil and Slogadh titles on the tin whistle, flute and uilleann pipes. Emer also plays the fiddle, but the flute has become her main instrument. Emer moved to Dublin when she was seventeen and became involved in the music scene in Dubliln. Emer has performed and written music for theatre shows including "Farawayan" by Donal O' Kelly, The Ark's production of "The Stolen Child", "Na Pratai Lofa" by Rubato Ballet Company and was asked to contribute music to a documentary tracking the development of Peter Gabriel's charity organization Witness. Visit Emer's website for more information.
Moussa was born in Senegal and now lives in Paris. He has ten brothers and sisters, all of whom live in Senegal. He is a virtuoso percussionist on the talking drum and djembe. The talking drum or "tama" is so named because its sound copies the tonal African languages. The djembe is a drum of the Mandinka people dating back to the 12th century. Moussa's cousin, Kauwding Cissokho, plays the kora on Volume 1: Sound Magic. Moussa enjoys jazz music, is a widely sought after percussionist and plays with various musicians in Paris.
Martin Russell is the man behind the Afro Celts. He is a producer, programmer and engineer on all of the Afro Celts' CDs. Martin is the man behind Sonic Innovation. Please check out our Articles page and the rare inside look at the making of the Afro Celts' latest CD, Anatomic, authored by Martin. You can also read Martin's blogs at the Afro Celt Sound System's myspace page.
Other musicians touring with the Afro Celts in 2003 and 2004: Ian Markin (drums), Mairead Nesbitt (fiddle) and Francis Hylton (bass).