By Tamsin Davies
Published February 14, 2015
Following the critical acclaim of his award-winning collaborative project with Welsh harpist Catrin Finch, the extraordinary Senegalese kora player Seckou Keita is striking out in 2015 with a new solo album and a United Kingdom tour.
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Seckou Keita has arguably become the most influential and inspiring kora player of his generation, an exceptional and charismatic musician. In his new album, 22 Strings, Seckou Keita explores what it means to be a modern global citizen, and yet to live with seven centuries of tradition and heritage expressed through music. He gives us the kora in its purest guise, a wondrous instrument that can soothe the bloodlust of warriors and take the human spirit to a place of deep meditation, stillness and beauty.
A true master of the kora â€“ the West African harp – Seckou, from the Casamance area of Southern Senegal, was a childhood prodigy, born of a line of griots and kings. Cissokho, his motherâ€™s family name, gave life to his talent; Keita, his fatherâ€™s, gave him royal blood. Seckou has graced the international stage since 1996, earning worldwide acclaim for his kora playing and appearing with a host of fellow artists including Salif Keita, Yossou Nâ€™Dour, Miriam Makeba and Neil Finn.
The title of the album says it all. Centuries ago, when the djinns, the spirits of the African bush, gave the first ever kora to the griot Jali Mady â€˜Wulengâ€™ (Jali Mady â€˜The Redâ€™) it had 22 strings. Then, when Jali Mady died, his fellow griots took one string away in its memory. But back in its birthplace in southern Senegal and Guinea Bissau, the 22-stringed kora survives, with the extra string giving the instrument special advantages in terms of tonal reach and groove. For Seckou Keita, that one extra string represents home: the place where his heart resides.
Variously described as a â€˜griot (praise singer), composer, djembe master, virtuoso and pioneerâ€™, Seckou is a rare type of musician, seated in tradition whilst constantly pushing the boundaries of his art. His last two albums Miro and The Silimbo Passage hit No.1 in the European world music charts, and Clychau Dibon, the fruit of his collaboration with welsh harpist Catrin Finch, won fRoots Critics Poll Album of The Year 2013, Songlines Magazine Best Cross Cultural Collaboration 2014, and two BBC Radio 2 Folk Award nominations (Best Duo and Best Traditional Track) as well as a clutch of 4 and 5 star press reviews.
The 10-track 22 Strings that is released on an ARC Music Productions International Ltd in co-production with Seckou Keita & Theatr Mwldan, has a playing time of 51 minutes.