Africa Express Presents… The Orchestra of Syrian Musicians with Damon Albarn and Guests

with Damon Albarn & guests

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The Orchestra of Syrian Musicians is led by conductor Issam Rafea and features current and former members of the Syrian National Orchestra of Arabic Music.

Songwriter and producer Damon Albarn first played with Syrian conductor Issam Rafea and SNOAM musicians at the Damascus Opera House in 2008. Albarn later worked with Rafea and members of the orchestra when they appeared on the Gorillaz track ‘White Flag’ – which debuted at an Africa Express concert in Paris. The musicians, together with Rafea, later joined Gorillaz on their 2010 Escape to Plastic Beach World Tour which included shows at the 11th century Citadel in Damascus, Syria, as well as dates in Lebanon and across Europe and North America.

As a result of the on-going conflict, many Syrian musicians - including Issam Rafea - have been forced to leave the country. This special concert will see musicians who previously worked with Albarn, travelling from both inside and outside Syria, to reunite for an orchestral performance alongside Albarn and other guest performers. The event will highlight and celebrate the remarkable music culture of Syria, providing a more positive perspective than events currently seen in the news.  In addition to the Amsterdam show, Africa Express presents… The Orchestra of Syrian Musicians will play London’ Southbank Centre as well as festival dates across Europe including: Glastonbury, Istanbul and Roskilde Festival.

Paul Weller, Bassekou Kouyaté, Bu Kolthoum, Eslam Jawaad, Faia Younan, Malikah, Mounir Troudi, Noura Mint Seymali, Rachid Taha and TALA who will join Damon Albarn as guests when The Orchestra of Syrian Musicians.



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Background information

Festival focus: Edges of Europe

During the first six months of this year the Netherlands holds the Presidency of the European Union. But what is left of the dream of European unity? At the Holland Festival international artists present a series of performances focusing on current European issues and exploring this changing continent. 

The festival’s opening performance by Estonian directors Ene-Liis Semper and Tiit Ojasoo Die Stunde da wir nichts voneinander wußten shows the diversity and tensions of modern Europe. And in their film Ash and Money they focus on the phenomenon of political populism. Directors Milo Rau (The Dark Ages), Joël Pommerat (Ça ira (1) Fin de Louis), Wael Shawky (Cabaret Crusades: The Secrets of Karbala) and Ukrainian band DakhaBrakha delve into Europe’s past, exploring the effect of some of its history’s darkest chapters. From the heart of Europe, the collective God’s Entertainment stages a test about chauvinism, which is causing the European dream of unity to falter. The Dutch theatre company Wunderbaum responds to European issues in its project The New Forest. A large Syrian orchestra for Arabic music will reunite for a special concert in Africa Express Presents… The Orchestra of Syrian Musicians with Damon Albarn and Guests. Artists may not be able to change the world, but they can change the way we look at it.



Africa Express

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.



Africa Express
co-commissioned by
14-18 NOW,
Holland Festival

This performance was made possible with support by