Egoli is the Xhosa name for Johannesburg. In English it translates as City of Gold but so far the South African city’s musical delights have remained mostly unexplored by the western audience. The latest instalment in Damon Albarn’s Africa Express project seeks to change this.
Conceived as an attempt to level the collaborative playing field between western and African artists, the collective has yielded some wonderful results since it was founded a decade ago, most often during its freewheeling, hours-long live shows. It is the first record to capture that frenetic energy and distil it into something coherent.
Early 2018 saw the the Blur frontman’s cabal descend on a recording studio in Johannesburg. The group, a selection of western players and a dozen or so artists representing the city’s varied musical heritage, laid down an impressive 18 tracks.
The record features a typically diverse cast: Albarn is joined by grime rapper Ghetts, Super Furry Animals frontman Gruff Rhys and South Africans Otim Alpha and Moonchild Sanelly among others.
The result? Egoli feels tighter that its predecessor, 2013’s Maison des Jeunes. It marries globe-trotting neo-pop with traditional South African sounds in a way that feels genuinely exciting and entirely natural.