Damon Albarn and guests: Bassekou Kouyate

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which was founded in 1990 by the Syrian Ministry of Culture, together with the Higher Institute of Music. Issam Rafea, as then chief conductor, completely restructured the orchestra in 2003, professionalising it and giving it its current name. It has performed in Syria, Tunisia, Germany and Italy. The orchestra took part in the Damascus Opera House’s opening ceremony in 2004. As well as performing traditional Arabic music, SNOAM also performs contemporary music based on traditional forms. Whilst traditional Arabic music usually maintains a single melody, SNOAM emphasises harmony as an extra dimension in its performances, while preserving the musical and spiritual identity of the music. SNOAM performs all kinds of traditional Arabic music, for the most part vocal repertoire. The orchestra also performs lesser-known instrumental Arabic music, to which it gives its own interpretation. Adnan Fathallah currently heads the orchestra in Damascus, where it still performs. Damon Albarn is a Grammy Award winning singer, songwriter, producer and composer whose eclectic musical style and observational lyrics have made him one of the UK’s most influential and consistently interesting musicians. Best known for his work with Blur and Gorillaz, other releases include include: Mali Music (2002) recorded with local musicians in Mali; The Good, The Bad and The Queen (2007) with Paul Simon, Tony Allen and Simon Tong; Kinshasa One Two (2011) by DRC Music – recorded with Western producers and contemporary Congolese musicians in the Democratic Republic of Congo over 5 days in July 2011 to benefit Oxfam; Rocket Juice and The Moon (2012) with Tony Allen and Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Dr Dee (2012); and the critically acclaimed Africa Express presents… Maison Des Jeunes (2013) which saw Africa Express bring Western artists together with local Malian musicians to make an album in just 5 days. 2014 saw the release of Albarn’s first solo album, the Mercury Award nominated Everyday Robots. Hailed as the most revolutionary force in popular music for two decades, Africa Express brings together musicians from different cultures, genres and generations to break boundaries and offer a new perspective on Africa and its music.  Africa Express began in 2006 with a trip to Mali, when co-founder Damon Albarn took the likes of Fatboy Slim, Martha Wainwright and Jamie T to work with African legends such as Toumani Diabate, Salif Keita, Amadou & Mariam and Bassekou Kouyate. This was followed by a trial London event, the now-legendary Glastonbury 2007 show, followed by trips to Nigeria, the Congo, Ethiopia, together with shows in a Liverpool variety hall and at the BBC Electric Proms, as well as for a 25,000 strong crowd in Paris town centre and 50,000 people on a Spanish beach show. In 2012 a week-long train tour of the UK, with more than 100 artists taking part, captured global headlines.  Each event is unique, based upon on-the-spot collaboration and filled with one-off moments of magic. Past events have included Johnny Marr duelling guitars with Amadou and Mariam; Mick Jones and John Paul Jones among the stars backing Rachid Taha on Rock el Casbah, Peter Hook joining Spoek Mathambo on his cover of Control; and Paul McCartney and John Paul Jones both playing bass with Rokia Traoré, who then joined the former Beatle on Wings track Good Night Tonight at the final show of the Africa Express in September 2012.  The critically acclaimed album Africa Express presents… Maison Des Jeunes (2013) was recorded in Bamako, Mali over 7 days in October 2013. Africa Express musicians and producers, including Brian Eno, Nick Zinner, Ghostpoet and Damon Albarn, set up a temporary studio in a city youth club and worked with a new wave of contemporary Malian musicians - including Songhoy Blues, Kankou Kouyaté and Bijou - to complete the album in one week. The club, situated on the banks of the Niger river and known locally as Maison Des Jeunes, became the venue for a week of discovery, collaboration, music-making and live performances. The resulting 11-track album captures the spontaneity and excitement of a unique week in a country famed for its musical heritage, yet which saw music briefly banned in much of the nation following 2012’s coup and militant takeover in the north.  And in January 2015, to mark the 50th anniversary of Terry Riley's pioneering masterpiece In C, Africa Express released the first African version of the minimalist classic, Africa Express presents… Terry Riley's In C Mali. This new version was recorded at the Maison des Jeunes youth club in Bamako, Mali in 2013, led by contemporary conductor André de Ridder. The release followed a performance of the piece, presented by Africa Express and Tate Modern, on the Bride of the Turbine Gallery at Tate Modern, and at the Ruhrtriennale Festival of Arts in Bochum, Germany.