Stage Manager Phil Gets Ready for Africa Express
By Rob Ten
Thursday 30 Aug 2012 10:32:00
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The final preparations are now underway for next Monday’s star-studded Africa Express gig at Middlesbrough Town Hall – with stage manager Phil Saunders describing it as “the most incredible gig I’ve ever worked on.”

A jaw-dropping line-up includes Blur & Gorillaz frontman Damon Albarn, Maximo Park, former Libertine Carl Barat, Jon McClure from Reverend & The Makers, storming Brighton hip-hop duo Rizzle Kicks, East London rapper Kano, chart-topping Australians The Temper Trap, Nick Zinner from New York’s Yeah Yeah Yeahs – with modern folk pioneer Rachel Unthank the latest name to join the train.

And the African contingent boasts a mouthwatering array of international stars including Senegalese legend Baaba Maal (who has sung for Nelson Mandela and worked with U2 frontman Bono), Malian duo Amadou & Mariam (who’ve worked with Coldplay, Blur, U2, and Pink Floyd’s Dave Gilmour amongst others), Rokia Traore, (who wowed a TV audience of millions on Later with Jools Holland), inspirational Congolese singer Baloji, previous Damon Albarn collaborators Jupiter & Okwess International, and Malian songstress Fatoumata Diawara, who was discovered by UK audiences at a clutch of storming festival gigs last year.

But, despite the thought of having to keep this star-studded show – featuring a total of 80 musicians - running smoothly on the night, stage manager Phil Saunders is looking forward to what is probably the most groundbreaking gig that he’s ever had the chance to work on.

Phil said: “I’ve been with Ten Feet Tall for a good few years now, and have worked with some amazing acts along the way – from Scissor Sisters to Example, Pendulum to Charlotte Church.

I’ve never worked a show quite like this though. With 80 musicians, including some real music royalty, all jamming without much rehearsal and continually hopping on and off the stage… it’s an exciting, and of course slightly daunting, prospect.

“The spontaneous nature of the show is one of its most exciting parts, but for the stage manager… it’s going to be an interesting one for sure!

“Of course, I’m just one part of a fantastic team, and I’m sure it will all run smoothly on the night.

“As my good friend venue technician Martie Illingworth said to me the other day “Best to think of it as just another gig.” He’s right of course, but I’ve got the feeling that this show is going to be very special indeed and not one that I’ll be forgetting in a hurry.”

Five years on from their legendary 2007 Glastonbury gig, the groundbreaking collective of African and Western musicians is filling a train with more than 80 musicians for a week-long trip around the UK in September.

Rehearsing and creating new music on the train as they go, each show promises to be a complete one-off – something never to be seen again.

Africa Express began in 2006 with a trip to Mali, when co-founder Damon Albarn took Fatboy Slim, Martha Wainwright and others to play with acts such as Toumani Diabate, Salif Keita and Amadou & Mariam.

The Africa Express trip is part of the London 2012 festival and is produced in association with the Barbican.

  • Africa Express: featuring (from the West) Damon Albarn, Maximo Park, Carl Barat, Jon McClure, Rizzle Kicks, Nick Zinner, and (from Africa) Baaba Maal, Rokia Traore, Amadou & Mariam, Jupiter & Okwess International & many more.

Africa Express: Artists appearing at Middlesbrough Town Hall

African: Western:

Afel Bocoum (3 Piece) Maximo Park

Amadou & Mariam (5 Piece) Carl Barat (The Libertines)

Baaba Maal (4 Piece) Dead Prez (M1)

Bassekou Kouyate Damon Albarn

Cubain Kabeya (drums) Jesse Hackett

Diabel Cissokho (kora) Jon McClure (Reverend

Fode Lassana (balafon) & The Makers)

Hatim Bensalha from H-Kayne Kano

Jupiter & Okwess International Nick Zinner (Yeah Yeah Yeahs) 

(7 Piece) Pauli (“the PSM” drummer)

Kareem Rush (Arabian Knightz) Remi Kabaka

Krar Collective - (3 Piece) Romeo Stodart (Magic numbers

M.anifest Richard Russell (XL)

Mehdi Haddab Rye Rye

Mim Suleiman Temper Trap (4 piece)

Musa Mboob  (Percussion) Seye

Rokia Traoré (6 Piece) Terri Walker

Spoek Mathambo  Charli XCX   Kyla La Grange

Toumani Diabate Marques Toliver

Baloji Rizzle Kicks

Fatoumata Diawara Very Best Sound System

Tony Allen Afrikan Boy Rachel Unthank




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