Music Q&A: Afro
Celt Sound System

Ahead of their gig at Manchester RNCM on 23 Nov, the worldbeat collective's founder member Simon Emmerson talks about their new album, politics and a misplaced wish to eat a famous Japanese composer

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What informs your music and songwriting?
We are probably at our most politically active phase as a band. Rioghnach Connolly, our singer, is from Armagh in Northern Ireland and grew up during the Troubles. She has been working for Music Action International, a charity that takes care of victims of war and torture. Through this work we have been collaborating with Stone Flowers and the Amani Choir who are based in the refugee community of Manchester.

Griogair, our Scottish off-grid Highland piper and singer, is a political activist working to restore the ancient Gaelic language of his ancestors to independent Scottish culture. N’Faly Kouyaté is an African activist who campaigns tirelessly to improve the conditions of his people.

I’m a punk veteran and was part of the Rock Against Racism/Anti-Nazi League movement that drove racism and fascism off the streets and football terraces, at least for a brief period before it re-surfaced in the 1980s. I was on the first Red Wedge Tour with my then band, Working Week. Johnny Kalsi is an Indian Sikh who grew up fighting the National Front on his streets of West London .

For me and the others in the band too, I think, music has always been a way to show people that a better world is possible. The Afro Celts are a genuine and positive example of how multiculturalism can thrive and survive in these troubled times. We are about breaking down walls and borders, not building them. Our mantra comes from one of our founding members, the punk artist and activist Jamie Reid: love, light and unity .

How have you evolved as a band over the years?
We have returned to our routes as an open, creative collective of like-minded souls who share the same core values and ethics. We are more interested in walking the walk these days than talking the talk!

What are you up to at the moment artistically?
We’re heading out on our third major UK tour in three years, after a hiatus of over 10 years. We have a new album out called Flight on 23 November, by ECC Records.

What’s on your rider?
Real ales, fresh veg, houmous, wraps. Lots of fibre. Lots of vitamins. Oh, and did I mention a bottle of single malt for Rioghnach? We are also partial to a nice smelly bath bomb – Lush. All the good stuff that keeps you regular!

Tell us your most embarrassing or surreal moment.
Embarrassing and surreal, mostly just embarrassing though. I was asked what I thought of famed Japanese composer Ryuichi Sakamoto live on the national Japanese TV news channel and I replied, in all honesty: “I haven’t tried it but I love Japanese food so I’m sure it’s delicious.” He later joined us for dinner and kept giving me very worried looks.

What song do you wish you’d written?
Any track from the Trouble Man album and film score by Marvin Gaye .

What’s your worst lyric – yours or others?
My old band Working Week did a cover of Marvin Gaye’s classic Inner City Blues and I wrote this rap in the middle which still makes me cringe. Great track, great cover but avoid the extended 12 inch mix with the rap at all costs.

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