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Blur’s Damon Albarn curates the Honest Jon Revue at Avery Fisher Hall
Blur frontman (and Gorillaz faux-frontman) Damon Albarn is not a fan of world music—or, at least, the term. “Never call it that,” scolds the singer, calling in from London. “It’s kind of like ‘the world is flat’ sort of mentality. We musn’t ever say ‘world music.’”
Albarn is, in fact, a big fan of music from non-traditional sources (we hope that’s a fair term, Damon), including West African folk, Columbian samba and 1930s delta Blues—all released on his own record label, Honest Jon’s, named after an influential Portobello Road record shop of the same name.
With semantics out of the way, Albarn told us about the upcoming Honest Jon Revue at Avery Fisher Hall on July 12. Though unclear about the show’s specifics (“It will be a really exciting evening, something to kind of cherish”), Albarn plans to rehearse in London early in the week, play a London gig and fly everybody over for Saturday’s show. Artists scheduled to appear include Afro-beat pioneer Tony Allen, West Africa guitarist Afel Bocoum, Chicago’s Hypnotic Brass Ensemble and southern soulstress Candi Staton.
How do you bring these musicians from around the globe together to rehearse?
Everyone’s meeting up in West London at this beautiful little Ethiopian restaurant. Not everyone knows each other, so we’re going to hang out, rehearse all week and then fly to New York.
What is your role going to be in the show? I’m envisioning Count Basie…
I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m really looking forward to playing with Afel Bocoum (edit: who teamed with Albarn for 2002’s Mali Music project). And I think Tony Allen will probably play drums with us, which will give it a Nigerian twist. Candi Staton’s got a great band to play with her, so hopefully we’ll hear some beautiful soul music.
What are some of the unique instruments to be played that American audiences may not be familiar with?
There will be a lot of African instruments like the ngoni—a three-string gourd resonated instrument—and the koro, which is a 21-string harp and one of the most sort of pivotal instruments in West African music. You’ll hear djembes, which is a sort of drum. You’ll hear a calabash, which is a half gourd played on the ground with these very fine sticks. It’s a very funky instrument; if you put a mic underneath it, and you play it with the soft part of your palm it’s got a real sub-bass to it.
When did you first start shopping at Honest Jon’s?
It must have been about 1990. I probably got my first little taste of reggae there.
Was there a particular record you picked up that day that made you say “This is the best record shop in the world”?
They just don’t have bad records. This is quite a good tagline for a record shop: we don’t have bad records.
OK, onto Blur. Where was your first New York show?
My first show in New York? My oh my. Must have been…I do sort of remember it. Must have been in Midtown at one of those old theaters. That would have been 1990. I did a lot of climbing up in the roof and got very drunk and had a good time. I always have a good time in New York.
Is Blur over?
It’s very hard to say, you know, we’re all very absorbed in our own worlds, it seems.
What’s been going on with Gorillaz?
We’ve just produced an album.
What’s it like?
I’m not allowed to say, but it’s finished and ready to go and it will cause quite a stir.
What kind of stir?
I can’t say. I really can’t. Not allowed. I mean, I say everything all the time but it makes other people’s jobs really difficult if I do that.