Put a lot of musicians in a room over the course of a week, and you may end up with a whole lot of jamming and not much more. Maybe that happened during the seven days that a couple dozen stars — African, English, American — spent at a pop-up studio in Bamako, Mali, in October 2013, for sessions sponsored by the Damon Albarn-led Africa Express, a cultural-exchange project founded eight years earlier. But if anything they recorded that week was aimless, it didn’t make its way onto this sparkling collection.
Where its 2009 predecessor, Africa Express Presents, presented uncut older African tracks chosen by several of the involved US/UK stars, Maison des Jeunes is full of interaction between them. Thus, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Nick Zinner and Nigerian drummer Remi Kabaka co-produced the delicious guitar shred of Songhoy Blues’s “Soubour.” Lil Silva, a British producer of UK funky, a style heavy on Afrobeat as well as house and garage, offers “Bouramsy,” an intricate mix of programming and playing that thins the line separating them. And David Maclean, of London synth-pop-gone-psych unit Django Django, drenches the late Lobi Traoré’s grinding “Deni Kelen Be Koko” with judiciously placed echo. It’s both reverent and playful, a guiding principle of the collection as a whole.