Catrin Finch and Seckou Keita - Crucible Studio Theatre, Sheffield. 15/5/2018
by Nicky Crewe
published: 29 / 6 / 2018
Nicky Crewe watches harpist Catrin Finch and Senegalese kora player Seckou Keita play a haunting set in Sheffield to promote their second album ‘Soar’, which takes its inspiration from the flight of the osprey, a bird recently reintroduced to Finch’s native Wales.
Sheffield Chamber Music Festival’s Music in the Round series included an inspirational performance by Catrin Finch and Seckou Keita, based on their new collaboration ‘Soar’. Catrin Finch is an internationally renowned harpist. Brought up in the Welsh tradition, she revived and held the position of Royal Harpist from 2002 until 2004. In 2013 she collaborated with Senegalese kora player Seckou Keita on an album ‘Clychau Dibon’. Seckou Keita has royal connections too. Of Senegalese royal blood on his father’s side, he is descended from griots on his mother’s side. The griot tradition of kora playing and storytelling through traditional music can be traced back to the thirteenth century. In recent times musicians brought up in this fascinating tradition have sought collaborations with musicians from America and Europe, drawing attention to the links between their music and the blues, and in this case between classical and Welsh traditional harp music. The kora is a 22-stringed West African harp played in Senegal, Gambia and parts of Nigeria. The classical harp has developed from a folk tradition, said to have been introduced to the West through gypsy migrations and then adapted to become the instrument we recognise today. Following on from their earlier collaboration, their new album ‘Soar’ takes inspiration from the flight of the osprey, a bird recently reintroduced to Wales. An osprey’s migration takes it on a 3,000 mile migration from Senegal to the estuaries of Wales. This epic journey transcends boundaries, as does the music Catrin Finch and Seckou Keita perform together. It also links their birthplaces. The concert was part of a World of Strings series for Music in the Round. The Crucible Studio is a small and intimate space, with its stage area at its centre. The event had sold out and there was a real buzz of excitement in the room. Starting with a recorded spoken piece about the osprey’s return to Wales, the musicians prepared to play. There is something deeply emotional about the sound made by both of these stringed instruments. Harp strings can certainly play our heart strings. It wasn’t simply a celebration of the courageous flight of the osprey, Catrin Finch came to the stage wearing a defiant and dramatic feather headdress. She’s having treatment for cancer. The music was wonderful, beyond expectations in the intimacy of the room. What was also wonderful was the conversation, even banter, between the two musicians. There were conversations through words and conversations through music as the performance progressed. They have a deep connection through their talent and backgrounds. This is a meeting of bard and griot. The concert finished with an informal Q&A session which was both fascinating and revealing. Both musicians were introduced to their instruments as children. Catrin got highest marks in music exams and awards. Seckou’s training was very different. In his griot tradition he was given a part of the instrument by his grandfather. He was expected to take care of and be responsible for it, building up a knowledge of the instrument first before he learnt to play the music. He continues to work in an oral tradition. Music is learned by heart, not written down. There was some teasing about the way they started collaborating. Catrin came with pen and paper and had to be encouraged to throw it away. They both talked about finding melodies from their own traditions that worked beautifully together, They also talked about their collaborations having developed to the point that neither is sure who is playing which parts in performance! Catrin has introduced Seckou to Bach. The tunes they have written together celebrate the stories of reintroduced species and drowned Welsh valleys. Could these be a modern interpretation of the griot tradition of sharing histories? Both admitted that they couldn’t play one another’s instruments, though they had tried! It was an emotional evening, spent with two musicians who are soaring as high as any osprey. There are no boundaries to a bird’s migration and their music is without boundaries too.
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