2016 was a big year for Afro-Celt Sound System. Their 20th anniversary was marked by a first album in ten years, The Source. Speaking with Johnnie Kalsi, one of the founding members, we ask what the title means for a band with such diverse influences? “The Source was a new beginning to a new era with a completely new approach to recording this album. We wanted to go back to where it all began – to reconnect with people from our debut and back to the creativity that brought so many musical heritages together…so The Source was a great title that said all this in one word. It means so much to us all as we all are from such diverse backgrounds with a wide variety of traditional music in our heritage that can transpire and interweave within a song.
A split within the group recently meant that, for a time, two groups lay claim to the Afro-Celt name. Was it difficult passing the 20th anniversary milestone amidst a tense moment in the band’s history? “No is the short answer. It was a transitional period. The band’s existence was always because of Simon’s journey and the vision he had. [He] shared his idea with partners that became the band and gave that magic to the masses. The problems arise when members become distorted in opinions and belief [but] celebrating the 20 years was not distorted.”
Many people think of ACSS as the perfect festival band. What’s the difference between a theatre tour and festival sets? “Ultimately, we are a festival band. This does not mean we can’t do theatre shows. Admittedly, it’s very strange when we’re in full flow and only a few people dancing in the aisles in silhouette form. Some more conservative theatres (no names) disallow dancing; if anyone tries, they are told to sit back down. I still remember at Womad when we had foam Frisbees to throw out to the crowd that then started throwing them back at us!”
Finally, Kalsi wonders if he’s let slip of an exclusive, when asked what the future holds for ACSS, he says, “we have already been recording since May. The tracks are being passed around like a baby and everyone involved is doing their bit and passing it back. Watch This Space!”
Afro-Celt Sound System play Tramshed, Cardiff, Wed Nov 22. Tickets: £25 Info: 029 2023 5555 / www.afroceltsoundsystem.org.uk for full details.
words JOHN-PAUL DAVIES