Afro Celt Sound System Capture 1995-2010 (Realworld/Southbound) CD REVIEW

Afro Celt Sound System are the perfect WOMAD band, which means that they represent the worst facets of the “multikulti” music industry; a group whose bland collision of African and Celtic music tropes makes for perfect festival fodder for slumming suburbanites.

In fact, they’re an apt example of the least palatable aspects of so-called world music, and here’s the double disc retrospective to prove it.

So, has time improved them? Well, yes, but I must qualify that statement. It may simply be that I have mellowed.

What’s to like about it? Well, the way they combine African influences – especially North African drumming – with dubby grooves can be immensely appealing, and when a guest vocalist like Sinead O’Connor or Peter Gabriel or Robert Plant turns out to add a little flavour, the whole thing is lifted up a notch or two. (Speaking of Plant, his vocal performance is one of the best thing’s I’ve heard from him since Zep days).

What’s not to like about it? The tracks tend to pitter-patter on and on blandly for far too long, and at their worst, they evoke Enya or even the dreaded Deep Forest. Cultural imperialism lives on in world music! But the most annoying thing about it is the endless niceness, the utter whiteness, the total lack of danger or unpredictability. (And no, I’ve got nothing against whiter-than-white music, but I do when it’s pretending to be something it’s not).

While it’s the Afro Celt Sound System are hard not to admire for their deft transpositions of musical elements belonging to different cultural traditions, ultimately, they’re impossible to listen to without imagining some patchouli-stinking hippy sweating away under the hot sun at a WOMAD festival.

Sound: This collection has been nicely mastered and all the instruments sound clear in the mix, if a little mild and without the sonic edge that would give it a lift. Ditto the bass, which lacks the heft and depth charge of real dub. GARY STEEL

Sound = 3.5

Music = 3

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