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Music / Afro Celt Sound System

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From left to right: N'Faly Kouyate, Simon Emmerson, Johnny Kalsi, Griogair Labhruidh

Afro Celt Sound System was a world music band based in the UK. As implied by the name, they played a mix of Irish Celtic, West African, and electronic dance music.

In 1991, producer Simon Emmerson was collaborating with Afro-pop star Baaba Maal when he heard an African melody, which struck him due to its similarity to an Irish air. Emmerson’s interest in the similarities between the two traditions was piqued further when he heard a theory that the nomadic Celts had lived in Africa prior to migrating to Europe.

In 1995, Emmerson brought traditional Irish musicians and members of Baaba Maal’s backing band to jam together at Peter Gabriel’s Real World studios for a week. The experiment proved a rousing success, and the collective’s first album, Sound Magic, was released the following year. A proper band was formed from these session musicians. Live shows and more albums followed, and Afro Celt Sound System grew to become the second best-selling artist on Real World Records (second only to Peter Gabriel himself).

The band went on hiatus in 2007, then reunited in 2010 to play a series of live shows and promote their Greatest Hits Album, Capture.

  • Simon Emmerson: guitars, cittern, programming, keyboards, mandolin, bouzouki, stapletone
  • James McNally: whistles, keyboards, bodhran, accordion, piano, harmonium, programming
  • N’faly Kouyate: kora, vocals, balafon, standing n’goma drum
  • Jimmy Mahon: uilleann pipes, flute
  • Johnny Kalsi: dhol, tablas, okeido drum, Kalsi kit, other percussion
  • Ian Markin: electronic and acoustic drums
  • Moussa Sissokho: djembe, talking drum
  • Barbara Bangoura: djembe, talking drum
  • Martin Russell: keyboards, programming


  • Jo Bruce: keyboards
  • Iara O Lionárd: vocals
  • Myrdhin: Celtic harp
  • Simon “Mass” Massey: programming, keyboards
  • Emer Mayock: uilleann pipes, flute
  • Ronan Brown: uilleann pipes, flute, harmonium, mandolin
  • Ayub Ogada: vocals, nyatiti
  • Kauwding Cissokho: kora
  • Masamba Diop: talking drums

  • Volume 1: Sound Magic (1996)
    • “Sure-as-Not” single
    • “Whirl-y-Reel” single
    • Volume 1: Sound Magic promotional EP
  • Volume 2: Release (1999)
    • “Release” single
  • Volume 3: Further in Time (2001)
    • “When You’re Falling” single
    • “Life Begin Again” promotional single
  • Seed (2003)
    • “Rise Above It” promotional single
  • Pod (2004) A Remix Album.
  • Volume 5: Anatomic (2005)
    • Anatomic Radio Edit Sampler promotional EP
  • Capture: 1995 – 2010 (2010) A Greatest Hits Album.

They also composed original music for the 1999 PC game Magic and Mayhem and the 2004 film Hotel Rwanda.

Provides examples of:

  • Boléro Effect: Used numerous times. “Release” (and “Release It”, and the Rollo & Sister Bliss Remix), “Riding the Waves”, “Whirly 3 [Emmerson, McNally, and Mass Remix]”, “Rise Above It”.
  • Book Ends: Release opens with the title track, then ends with “Release It”, an instrumental mix of the same song.
  • Dead Person Conversation: “Release”, in which the deceased tells the listener to be happy for him, rather than mourning or arguing.
  • Epic Rocking: Numerous extended songs. The longest are the 10-minute songs “Eistigh Liomsa Sealad / Listen to Me / Saor Reprise”, “Mojave”, and “Rise Above It”. (And if you include the latter’s ambient intro “Rise”, then its length gets bumped up to 13 minutes.)
  • Fading into the Next Song: Several examples from Pod. In fact, everything from track 4, “Further in Time”, to track 8, “Whirly 3”, is a continuous mix.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: Note how almost all albums featuring new studio material have their title preceded with a volume number. Seed is the only exception so far, and interestingly that was also the only album where they used an Officially Shortened Title version of their name.
  • Officially Shortened Title: They billed themselves just as Afro Celts on Seed. When the new name proved confusing, they switched back to their full name.
  • Rearrange the Song: Numerous remixes and radio edits appear on their singles. Both Release and Seed end with an instrumental mix of a vocal song from the album.
  • Remix Album: Pod is a combination of older remixes by other musicians, and remixes that the Afro Celts themselves created specifically for this album.
  • Siamese Twin Songs: “Dark Moon, High Tide” and “Whirl-y-Reel 2” from Sound Magic. “Urban Aire” and “Big Cat” from Release. “Rise” and “Rise Above It” from Seed.
  • Special Guest: Peter Gabriel provides lead vocals on "When You're Falling".