Beginning in 2002, Damon Albarn has paid frequent visits to Mali in order to collaborate with local artists. Earlier this month, the Blur singer was given the honourary title of “local king” upon his return to the West African nation to perform at the Festival Acoustik Bamako. Additionally, a classroom at a local music school was named after Albarn.
“I’m not used to this sort of thing, but it’s fantastic to see this classroom,” Albarn says. “And it’s a school dedicated to music and dance. That’s where my heart is, so my heart is here.”
Albarn’s musical history in Mali includes his 2002 album Mali Music, as well as two full lengths from African Express—Albarn’s collaboration with Brian Eno, Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Nick Zinner, and Malian musicians.
Albarn’s appearance at the festival earlier this month took place despite the country being in a “state of emergency” following a terrorist attack in November. “It’s the message of coming here and doing this that’s the most important thing,” Albarn said at the time, “and being able to keep the agenda on music. The country’s music is an inspiration for me and that’s why I’ve been here so many times.”