Africa Express – Back in 2012, a specially chartered train carrying the 80-strong band of the same name – rolled into Middlesbrough station. The group had been rehearsing and creating music for the shows as they travelled. The project was conceived and led by Blur and Gorillaz frontman Damon Albarn who was joined by big names including Rizzle Kicks, Maximo Park, Carl Barat from the Libertines and a host of huge African stars like Baba Maal, Rokia Traore, Fatoumata Diawarra and Amadou Bagayoko. They all went to different parts of Middlesbrough to play community venues and busking sets before playing a great show at a packed Middlesbrough Town Hall. It was one of the big cultural projects associated with the Olympic Games.
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“This is the best project I’ve ever been involved in in my whole career” said Baaba Maal
‘The Africa Express was one of the most worthwhile and enjoyable projects I have ever been involved in. To meet and unite with people from such different ends of the musical spectrum was infinitely rewarding. The linguistic and cultural barriers were effortlessly surpassed through music, openness and sheer good will. Normally ‘jamming’ would be seen amongst my peers as an indulgence, here it was merely a doorway to something great where spontaneous music became bigger than the sum of it’s parts. A true reminder of why I started playing music in the first place free from expectation and conditioning. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.” – Carl Barat
“Africa and its’ friends were there on the train around the UK, the music was beautiful, the audience amazed..! I was elated by this extraordinary and unique adventure, which also happened to be an opportunity for me to spend time with artists that I love and I do not often get to see. I thank all the organizers for their concern about our comfort and our serenity. I miss you all!” – Rokia Traore
“I was a pleasure for me to live through this train experience. Never has a train been so musical. I loved the sense of togetherness and complicity between the artists, and I also really appreciated the ‘pop ups’ when I had the opportunity to play in hospitals and schools. Africa Express is magical every time. Thanks to everyone.” – Amadou Bagayoko (Amadou & Mariam).