Afro Celt Sound System Capture (1995-2010) Review

Released 2010.  

BBC Review

It can almost feel all-pervasive – the soundtrack of the modern world.

John Eyles 2010

Capture compiles the best tracks from Afro Celt Sound System’s first five albums, released between 1995 and 2005. One disc, subtitled Verse, contains tracks featuring vocals; the second, Chorus, focuses on instrumentals. Together, they encapsulate the elements which have made the band popular: an irresistible blend of rhythms and lilting spirituality aimed equally at the head, heart and feet.

The band’s distinctive fusion of African and Irish music had its origins when their guitarist Simon Emmerson was working in the early 90s with Senegalese singer Baaba Maal and noticed similarities between the rhythmic triplets used in the traditional music of Africa and Ireland. From that starting point, the band recorded African drums overlaid with Irish pipes and whistles, adding electronic keyboards, programming and dance rhythms to produce music that sounded modern while staying in touch with its roots.

As Emmerson has commented, the band is not trying to photocopy African or Irish music in its pure authentic form, but to make new music out of said influences. In that, they have been successful. On its release the band’s debut, Volume 1: Sound Magic, sold well and the Afro Celts soon became regulars at music festivals. Another measure of that album’s success is that tracks from it were soon used in the soundtracks of the films Live Flesh (the track Whirl-Y-Reel) and Gangs of New York (Dark Moon).

Centered around its core of Emmerson, multi-instrumentalist James McNally, vocalist Iarla Ó’Lionáird and keyboardist-programmer Martin Russell, the band has featured many additional members, notably Irish uilleann piper Davy Spillane, Guinean vocalist and kora player N’Faly Kouyate, dhol drummer Johnny Kalsi, fiddler Eileen Ivers and Rwandan singer Dorothee Munyaneza – a list that eloquently demonstrates the eclecticism of the band’s music.

The band has also attracted one-off guest vocalists like Sinead O’Connor, Peter Gabriel and Robert Plant. Even with such distinctive vocal stylists present, the sound of the Afro Celt Sound System shines through, one that has been highly influential and much-imitated. At times, it can almost feel all-pervasive – the soundtrack of the modern world. This collection perfectly captures and conveys that feeling.

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