FolkWorld #78 07/2022
© bendigedig

Catrin Finch a Seckou Keita – Eisteddfod Gudd 2021

Two Cultures, One Musical Journey

bendigedig is delighted to announce ECHO, the third album from harpist Catrin Finch (Wales) and kora player and singer Seckou Keita (Senegal), releasing worldwide on May 27th, 2022. The album celebrates the tenth anniversary of an extraordinary partnership between two virtuosos whose previous releases include 2018's acclaimed album SOAR, and their 2013 debut Clychau Dibon, both of which garnered industry awards across the globe. ECHO marks the third part of this remarkable trilogy.

Catrin Finch

Artist Video Catrin Finch @ FROG

Seckou Keita

Artist Video Seckou Keita @ FROG

It's been ten years since Catrin Finch and Seckou Keita formed a duo. The seamless virtuosic union of the 47 strings of Catrin Finch's harp with the 22 strings on each neck of Seckou Keita's double kora – two cultures, two histories and two personalities merged into one atmospheric musical journey – has become a rare global music hit. Described by Songlines Magazine as 'one of the most popular world music acts of this decade', Finch and Keita create music that not only champions their exquisite instruments but blends elements of new and old music from the Western Classical, Celtic, folk, contemporary and West African song traditions, each echoing the other in an evolving tale of mutual discovery and delight.

Seckou Keita, Catrin Finch

Catrin Finch & Seckou Keita

Catrin Finch & Seckou Keita "ECHO", bendigedig, 2022


The harp occupies a vital place in the incredibly rich cultures of both West Africa and Wales, and both nations share a centuries-old bardic tradition of intricate oral history, expressed through music, song and verse. Theirs is a seamless union of harp and kora, Wales and West Africa, western classical and griot traditions, each echoing the other in an evolving tale of mutual discovery and delight. An atmospheric exploration that embraces the worlds of folk, non-Western and contemporary music.

The pair have garnered multiple industry critics awards from fRoots and Songlines as well as Best Duo/Band at the 2019 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards. They have topped the official Independent Music Charts as well as the Transglobal World Music Charts and World Music Chart Europe. Finch and Keita have given over 200 performances together over the past 10 years across multiple tours and appearances at leading global music festivals including WOMAD, Shambala, Sfinks, Chicago World Music Festival, Hay Festival, Lorient Interceltic Festival, Sydney Opera House and the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall.

Catrin has performed with many of the world’s leading orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic, the Royal Philharmonic, the Boston Pops, the Academy of St Martin in the Fields and the English Chamber Orchestra. She has graced the stages of A-list classical music festivals, including Salzburg, Edinburgh, Spoleto and MDR Musiksommer in Leipzig Her collaborations with Bryn Terfel, Sir James Galway, Julian Lloyd Webber and composer Karl Jenkins have appeared on Universal Records, Deutsche Grammophon, EMI and Sony Classical.

Seckou is celebrated for his ingenious tunings and virtuosity and praised as “one of the finest exponents of the kora”. Performing all over the globe as a solo artist, and with his ground-breaking quintet, he has captivated audiences at WOMAD, Hay, Glastonbury, Tokyo Jazz, Chicago World Music Festival, Sydney International and Montreal Jazz Festivals. Recent collaborations include AKA Trio, Omar Sosa and The Lost Words project. In 2019, he produced the world’s first-ever anthology of kora music notations.

Both instruments have ancient royal associations. Finch had the honour of being asked to revive the ancient tradition of Royal Harpist in the UK - last held during Queen Victoria’s reign in 1873 – becoming Harpist to H.R.H, the Prince of Wales, between 2000-04. Keita is descended from a line of griots and kings; his mother’s family have been griots (hereditary bards) and kora players for three centuries. His father was a Keita, a descendant of the great Sunjata Keita, founder of the medieval empire of Mali.

Lockdown enforced a separation, a chance to reflect and devote time to other projects, and calm the frenetic pace of the previous years of touring, totalling over 200 performances together and appearances at leading global music festivals including WOMAD, Shambala, Sfinks, Chicago World Music Festival, Hay Festival, Lorient Interceltique Festival, Sydney Opera House and the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall.

By the time they finally met again in 2021, Catrin and Seckou rediscovered their magical ability to 'blend hearts, minds and fingers’ and find their echo in each other. Snippets of tunes were drawn from the 'tune bank' the pair had accumulated during their countless soundcheck jams in pre-Covid days. Others were gleaned from side-projects, a ballet score, TV commissions, festival collaborations, works-in-progress and experimentation.

An overture Catrin had written for the ballet Giselle became a gentle ode to optimism called 'Gobaith', the Welsh word for hope. Seckou's creation of the world's first double-necked kora in 2007 opened up the ground-breaking possibility of chromatic scales, which the duo exploit beautifully in the song 'Julu Kuta' (new strings in Mandinka, Seckou's native language). A tune initially composed for the soundtrack of the BBC TV series Don't Forget The Driver, starring Toby Jones and Luwam Teklizgi, became an homage to Seckou's close friend, the Zimbabwean mbira virtuoso Chartwell Dutiro, who had recently passed away. One of Seckou’s compositions, ‘Tabadabang’, became a celebration of Lo Yiro, the game that West African parents play with their children to get them out from under their feet. The subtle addition of strings on four tracks, adds a new dimension to the distinctive Catrin and Seckou sound.

ECHO proclaims the tender triumph of an extraordinary partnership, the dissolution of opposites into one seamless musical expression of our common humanity. "With this album, it feels like we've reached our place, musically and creatively," says Catrin. This is the echo they will leave behind – the echo of dear ones now departed, of beating hearts, of music, of love. "That's what continues to travel through space and time," Seckou says, "even after the last note has been played, or the last word has been sung."

bendigedig is delighted to announce the release of ‘Dimanche’, the new digital single from Catrin Finch and Seckou Keita’s forthcoming album ECHO. Dimanche, (Sunday in French) releases on all major platforms on Friday 6th May. The song isn’t just about Sunday, but rather any day a person might choose as their weekly pit-stop for the soul. Could just as well be Monday, Wednesday or Friday, as long as it’s a day that’s eagerly anticipated and brings a little island of time on which to appreciate your inner voice of happiness, of achievement. “You know, for me, as an artist, Sunday doesn’t exist,” Seckou says, “but it can exist any other day.” Catrin and Seckou were in a hotel function room on the outskirts of Birmingham when they composed the song. It’s based on a tune that Catrin had come up with on the piano in her studio in South Wales. “In the throes of lockdown the rhythm of everyday life went completely out of sync’, says Catrin.” ‘Normal’ days lost their meaning, tunes and melodies started coming to the surface at all times of night and day. Ironically it became a productive time for me creatively and by the time we were able to play together the ‘tune banks’ were full of pent up music ready to be aired.” Seckou remembers waking up that morning thinking “I’m actually going to be writing today. Oh my God! After all this lockdown, all the travel restrictions all over the world. But I’m looking forward to going there and being creative.” And yes, that day was a Sunday. ‘Today I won’t work,’ go the lyrics, which are sung in Wolof. ‘Today, I feel like someone who will never work again in his life. So, I’ll just make the best possible use of this day, which is special for me.’

Photo Credits: (1ff) Catrin Finch & Seckou Keita (unknown/website).

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