From the start, the music was different--disarmingly, almost frighteningly so. Here was the sound of African drums, a doudouk, some wicked cool synth drones and an Irish voice straight out of the netherworld all wrapped up in one spooky dirge called "Inion/Daughter." And it didn't sound kitschy or forced like some of the other "world fusion" music that had emerged in the early 90s. The sound was something beautiful, like the invention of a new language.
It was the spring of 1996, and the first Afro Celt Sound System song was making its debut on a sampler disc called Realworld Notes #2. By the time the debut album (Sound Magic
) was released in July, it was clear that there was no stopping this spontaneous collective of musicians. Singles were released, remixes were commissioned, and the rave reviews started pouring in. Not bad for an album that had zero English-language vocals on it and a track list that had to be subtitled just to make it pronounceable to the average record buyer.
The runaway success of SOUND MAGIC took everyone by surprise, perhaps even the band members themselves. Additional albums were planned and a new contract was signed posthaste for what had become the biggest-selling act (outside of Peter Gabriel himself) on the Realworld Records label. With the passage of time, English-language vocals started to appear alongside the African and Irish verses. Famous Guest Artists also got on board, most notably Sinead O'Connor (on Volume 2: Release
), Peter Gabriel, Altan and Robert Plant (all on the pan-global behemoth Volume 3: Further In Time
). New musical flavors entered the mix as well: dhol drums, tablas, and so on. Yet even while reaching for a wider audience, the Afro Celt Sound System never felt watered-down. With each new recording (which, in addition to the first three albums, included 2003's Seed
, 2005's Anatomic
and the 2004 remix project Pod [CD + DVD
]), the band seemed to reinvent the wheel in terms of what was possible in the melding of traditional music and electronica.
Speaking of which, it must be said that club/dance music is just as integral to the Afro Celts' identity as the cultural influences from Africa, Ireland and beyond. Seriously, I defy you to find another dance/electronic act--The Prodigy, Orbital, Massive Attack, Royskopp-- that can do keyboards and programming with as much freshness and originality as Simon Emmerson, Martin Russell and their ACSS bretheren. Thank goodness they have resisted the urge to "go acoustic" or embrace straight "roots music." Techno might be newer to the scene than the traditional instruments, but it is no less a part of the band's DNA.
This new collection, CAPTURE, seeks to sum up the glorious history of the Afro Celt Sound System in 2 ½ hours. While I would have liked them to have found room for gems like "North" and "Whirly 3," there's no denying that what's here is a fantastic summary of the band's achievements to date. You get all the hits, several of the 8+ minute instrumental epics (including the jaw-dropping "Mojave"), and a few unreleased gems thrown in for good measure (the previously unreleased version of "Dark Moon" from Gangs of New York, a new cue from the Hotel Rwanda soundtrack, and several new edits of album tracks). Plus, in an age when record companies are ditching physical releases in favor of downloads, it must be said that the packaging for CAPTURE is sublime, with beautiful artwork and a nice glossy booklet with photos and commentary. Don't bother with an mp3 version of this one... seek out the real thing! Really, I can't recommend this collection highly enough. The only thing that would be better for your music collection than buying this set would be to spring for all of the original ACSS CDs and call it good.