An Interview with Catrin Finch and Seckou Keita

On paper the blend of Welsh Harp and Senegalese Kora should be a concept that does not work, but somehow, Catrin Finch and Seckou Keita manage to take their different cultural heritages and create something beautiful, wistful, exciting and unique.

On record their music is almost hypnotic in its spiralling intensity and their current album Soar, is inspired by the annual migration of the Osprey from Wales to Senegal.

Watching Catrin and Seckou play live, it’s almost impossible to work out who is playing which part, so perfectly do they complement one another, swapping lead lines and weaving melodies.

Their obvious chemistry is evident, not only musically but in conversation where they will often finish each other’s sentences and ideas. They are serious musicians who don’t take things too seriously and indeed this conversation was peppered with laughter, smiles and gentle ribbing.

Catrin and Seckou come to St Pauls Worthing this Thursday 29th November, there are some tickets still available and I would strongly recommend you grab yourself one or even two for this fantastic duos performance.

Our conversation includes us discussing how Johnny Depp is a fan and what he sent them when they played in Marrakesh, inspiration for their stunning album Soar, their plans for next year including one or two exclusives and what exactly a Kora is.

Hello Catrin and Seckou, thanks for taking the time to talk to me, how is the tour going?

Catrin: The tour is going very well and we have some really lovely audiences, great venues and every night has had its own nice thing about it really.

Seckou:  Yeah, so far so good, I love it.

How was Marrakesh?  Did they get the blend of music you make?  I was there last year and the sound, colour and smells just overloaded my senses, did being there give you any fresh ideas for new material?

C: Well, Marrakesh was a little bit chaotic if we are honest, so there wasn’t much time for being too inventive, it was more logistical (laughs) in it’s problems, making sure the harp was there and all that sort of stuff, so that kind of overshadowed the whole event really.

S: Yes it was chaotic, as they say there in Marrakesh, we have watch and they have time (laughs) so everything was running…

C: A bit late…

S: Yes a bit late, there was no time to get creative in a way but it was a beautiful place I remember.

C: And we had a lovely time and it’s a great place to visit .

I hear Johnny Depp is a fan, how did he get in touch?

C: Well he sent us an email, well he didn’t exactly but his crew did, he was there filming with Mark Rylance and yeah…they wanted to come to the concert, which we were obviously very excited about. But then he didn’t come, but they did send us some nice flowers.

S: Flowers and a really nice letter, yeah they where running late as well, (laughs) with filming so couldn’t get to the show.

I understand your coming together as artists was really by accident, during rehearsals for the Toumani Diabate tour. Did you both know at that time that together you might have something unique and special?

S: No, but we clicked from the first time we played together so there was so much potential on our whole journey together which is here now.

How does your creative process work, Seckou I understand you don’t read or write music so how do you work on arrangements together?

S: Wow, well I think we learned from each other how to take our music forward together; I don’t read or write music, Catrin does and I think it’s more that Catrin joins my world if I am honest

C: Mmhh yes, definitely.

S: Than me join her world, so here we are.

C: …And it has changed, the process has changed, we started by taking some traditional ideas I suppose as we had to start somewhere. We then developed that idea and then we moved on to creating our own music. I would say that now our influences come from all sorts of places, styles and genres, like Bach to Baisso which comes more from elements of classical music. I think that the whole process has changed in the last few years.

How much of your shows are improvised or is it the same as in rehearsals?

C: It is a bit of a mix really and I guess the more we play together the more adventurous we get, it kind of depends on a lot of different aspects in a live setting, the audience reaction and how we are feeling, but we do tend to go off piste sometimes, so we have our….

S: Structures which we follow, and it depends on the room and where we are and we get excited.

C: Yeah, how excited we get, how many beers Seckou has had (both laugh).

S: Exactly it all depends on how much alcohol I have (laughs) I wish!

I find your music beautiful but haunting, is that something you reach for or does it happen naturally?

C: That’s a very nice thing to say, yes I guess it is what we reach for, on some of the tracks and then some of them are more uplifting, but certainly we like to leave an impression with our music.

S: We do, we do.

Tell us about Soar and how it came to be produced and how you generate the idea. I would love to think that you sat down with harp and Kora and just jammed, that would be amazing to see.

C: Well it was nearly that I guess, I mean the pieces on Soar, came out of working together for 3 – 4 years and a product of jamming together at sound checks, trying things and coming up with ideas, one person playing off the other, so yes a mix of that. Then once we discover the link with the osprey, that this bird migrates from Wales to Senegal, that gave us some inspiration I suppose.

S: It fitted very well and sounds amazing.

C: And it’s nice to have an idea, a story, especially when you are releasing an album, to have that thing to latch on to, and that’s where Soar came from really, this idea of something being able to cross borders and migration and travel, no limits that’s the sort of thing.

S: Like you said I think the freedom of the birds is such an amazing context for us to be able to be free, already playing with a different background from where you come from and where I come from and still having the freedom to play together and then taking it out there to the world, it’s just perfect, it’s just perfect….

C: Just perfect.

What can we expect from the gig at St Pauls’? I expect you will be playing most of Soar but any other surprises and how do you like your audiences to be? Hushed and reverential or slightly more noisy?

C: OH we like the noisy ones.

S: Yeah noisy I like (both Laugh), especially at the end, not while we play.

C: Yeah (laughs).

S: Let’s get that clear (laughing), noisy at the end or before, but not during (laughing). We are so much looking forward to playing at St.Paul’s

C: It will be mainly music from Soar but there will be some of the old ones as well from Clychau Dibon another album we did together so yeah a bit of a mixture.

Obviously you have had a tough year Catrin, it seems to me that your music has been a real source of strength through the terrible times during chemo, how are you doing now? Touring can be very tiring.

C: It’s alright I’m doing well and very much out the other end so it’s good to be touring actually, to have that focus and all the illness seems to be something of the past thankfully.

What are the plans for future works either together or individually?

S: Now that’s a massive question, you want to go first?

C: I don’t really have any, just kind of rolling on now (both laugh), no we do have plans, we always have plans but, there is an element of going with it and next years diary is already looking busy for both of us I think, so the next few years are looking good, lots of different things going on.

S: Yeah indeed, and the future will always be there for us, after this we are still touring and next year is getting full again and things happen, other projects come up and we work on things, you do too.

C: And you have a new CD coming up.

S: Yes, Aka Trio with Italian Antionio Forcione (guitar) and Brazilian Adriano Adewale (percussion), the CD will be coming out in May, cant say the date but it will be in May, think I am allowed to say that, haha, (voices are heard whisper to Seckou) 24th of May haha, 24th for that CD and we will have some dates then but I will still be rockin with Catrin around the globe.

Seckou, we know little about the Kora here in the UK so describe its sound and what it is like to play, how the sort of music changes from region to region.

S: Wow that’s a heavy question, region to region changes on how people interpret the Kora, this could be a long answer but the short one is there are four different tuning of the Kora which are celebrated in different parts of west Africa.

Guinea Bissau which is one of the original places to use the Kora, the Casamance where I come from in the south of Senegal, Gambia and then Mali where the Kora travelled to, so those are the four moods. The sound of the Kora is sometimes “picky” sometimes “haunting and very relaxing” and it could be Groovy sometimes…

C: I am sure you will give a demo at St Pauls

S: Yes if they are really lucky and they are quiet enough (both laugh)….

C: And enthusiastic …

S: …And shout at the end, noisy at the end of every tune, I might give them some ideas about how the Kora is played.

I believe you played drums in Baka Beyond, what led you to move on other things?

S: Well other things, I have never left the drums to be honest, they are still part of my musical life since childhood and I think drumming really helps my musical life today playing the Kora, my playing has become very unique and I believe the drumming is part of that. It was an amazing experience playing with Baka Beyond experimenting with Irish music and African music and I didn’t leave the drum it is still with me when I play the Kora.

Obviously Catrin I can’t finish without asking about the whole “Harpist to the Prince of Wales” thing, I remember that being a big thing at the time and I think it brought the harp to a lot of people’s attention, made you the “Nigel Kennedy” of the harp. What did that attention mean to you and your career?

C: Oh it definitely helped my career and it came at a time when I was ready for it I suppose and led to many other things. When you get offered things like that, you have to grab them and run with them really and see where it is going to go, so its all been a great thing to have done and looking back I think those years where important times in my career certainly and everything leads to something else. It was a nice surprise and gave me lots of new openings; in general it upped my profile.

I would love to see how you guys take on some of the Scottish airs and tunes (I am a Scot) I think you could create something beautiful from that, do you have any other projects you are working on with a concept like Soar?

C: No, but talking about Scotland we are going there next June, we are doing a tour of the Highlands and Islands next year, so looking forward to that. What our next album will be is still to be discussed and agreed in the upcoming years I suppose, Soar took five years in the making after the first one so we weren’t in a rush and I am not sure we will be in a rush to do the next one, but there are always lots of ideas milling about, but as and when we get inspired we will see where the wind takes us.

S: Exactly, we will float the wind. Talking about Scotland, I love Scotland, really looking forward to get up and explore some historical parts and you never know it might be part of our next thing, you never know, we are open minded musicians, only time will tell.

Finally, who you are listening to at the moment, favourite song or artist and what do you think will be the stand out track at the St Pauls’ Gig, the real wow moment?

C: What are you listening to at the moment?

S: Catrin and Seckou? No I am lying, I am playing Catrin and Seckou but I am listening to Joy, which is honestly, the next album I am working on (laughs) with Aka so no space yet, this week to listen to anything else, if I am being honest. As for the stand out tracks at St Pauls, there are a few, but it varies from place to place and depends on the audience, there’s…

C: …1667 is usually a good one. Normally Teranga Bah picks things up….

S: Brings a bit of a smile.

C: Yeah, everything has its little place. And my song of the week is by a singer called Jorja Smith and it’s called Blue lights.

S: ooooooooh.

C: Yeah I have that running in the car at the moment.

S: I might get my hands on that one when I am done with Aka (laughs) just to refresh my ears, clear my mixing ear.

Thanks for your time guys, here’s to a great tour, see you at St Paul’s

Catrin and Seckou together: Byee, see you soon.

What a delightful, interesting couple of musicians, both clearly passionate about their music, open to new ideas and influences. Artists who come from widely differing musical backgrounds who have managed to create unique, beautiful music that demands to be heard.

Tickets are still available here, don’t miss out on a real treat. Get your self along to St Paul’s Worthing this Thursday, November 29th and be prepared to be beautifully entertained

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