Seckou Keita is a special talent – a world-class musician, griot (praise singer), composer, djembe master, virtuoso and pioneer – he’s a rarity, seated in tradition whilst constantly pushing the boundaries of his art.
He’s also a bloody nice chap too… and it’s fair to say pretty busy with plenty of collaborations, solo ventures, tours, sessions, albums, singles, videos and more in the works and therefore plenty of plates spinning.
Hence us recording episode 65 of The Paul Weller Fan Podcast during a quick fire half hour break with him sat in his car on the way to the studio!
Seckou is a true master of the kora – a 22 stringed West African harp – an instrument that I liken to learning the lightsaber as a young Jedi – and he talks about being on a mission to keep the kora truly alive, fluid and changeable, like a living thing, always ready to travel and breed with other styles.
Seckou was a childhood prodigy in Southern Senegal, born of a line of griots and kings – Nicknamed Jali N’ding (the little griot), he watched and learned, accompanying his grandfather on sabar and djembédrums and picking up how to play the kora as he went along.
As a musician, he has graced the international stage since 1996, earning worldwide acclaim for his kora playing and appearing with a host of fellow artists including the subject matter of this podcast series – Paul Weller – along with the likes of Salif Keita, Damon Albarn, Youssou N’Dour, Miriam Makeba and Neil Finn.
Seckou has been described as ‘a master collaborationist, in the best sense of the word, open-minded yet culturally self-secure, generous yet exacting’.
Listen to the Podcast
EP64 – Seckou Keita – Musician – Kora Master – Griot – Pioneer – ”A melody strong, an angel‘s voice and I find myself in awe of its truth…” – Desperately Seeking Paul : Paul Weller Fan Podcast
As you would have heard on the podcast , it was whilst performing as part of the Africa Express Presents The Orchestra of Syrian Musicians in 2016, that Seckou met Paul Weller for the first time – playing a sensational version of Wild Wood as part of the concerts. You can watch the whole concert here and a performance of that song recorded during the London concert below…
Wild Wood – Paul Weller feat. the Orchestra of Syrian Musicians
Paul Weller – Rockets (Seckou Keita Remix)
After Paul topped the charts in the Summer of 2020 with yet another masterpiece – On Sunset – we were treated just a few months later with the release of an EP of remixes with five tracks from the LP, taking on a new life through five different remixers – each being handed the layered music & vocal files to craft something new from that original material.
We had James Skelly of Liverpool band The Coral (Skeleton Key) with a new take on More, Welsh synth-y songwriter Gwenno remixing Old Father Tyme, French indie pop troupe Le SuperHomard (another former podcast guest) for On Sunset and psychedelic folk star Jane Weaver offering a new take on Rockets.
It was that same track that Seckou took a pared back percussive approach to for a unique collaboration that we discuss in our podcast.
You can buy the EP here
Discography – Seckou Keita…
- 2021 – Omar Sosa & Seckou Keita – Suba
- 2019 – AKA Trio – Joy
- 2018 – Catrin Finch & Seckou Keita – Soar
- 2017 – Omar Sosa & Seckou Keita – Transparent Water
- 2015 – Seckou Keita – 22 Strings
- 2013 – Catrin Finch & Seckou Keita – Clychau Dibon
- 2012 – Seckou Keita – Miro
- 2008 – Seckou Keita Quartet – The Silimbo Passage
- 2008 – Jalikunda Cissokho – Lindiane
- 2006 – Seckou Keita Quartet – Afro-Mandinka Soul
- 2002 – Seckou Keita – Baiyo AKA Mali
Seckou Keita Solo
A Seckou Keita solo album is always a very special thing so I encourage you to dive in to his exceptional back catalogue – kicking off with 2000’s debut album Baiyo (meaning Orphan) which was re-issued in 2002 with a different title of Mali (Seckou is a descendant of the Keita family of Kings from Mali). The album represents Seckou’s journey from Africa to Europe via India.
Ten years later, on the eve of the historic Presidential elections in Senegal, there was one song that quietly took over the airwaves of every radio and TV station in the West African heartland, one song that served as the backdrop to the fall of the incumbent Abduwale Wade signaling the arrival of a new democratic era.
The song was Rewmi (‘Country’ in English), written, performed and recorded by Seckou.
Rewmi is a powerful call for Africa to unite, for fellow countrymen to stop fighting one another and instead come together to fight disease and hunger and work towards a new and positive future.
Six months on, Rewmi became the opening track of his 2012 album release, Miro (meaning ‘Positive Thought’). The album takes a lyrical and musical journey across continents with contributions from musicians of Senegal, Gambia, Burkina Faso, Cuba, Colombia, Madagascar, Guinea Conakry, Mali and Spain. Trust me when I say that the results are truly magical.
And after listening to those two beauties make your way to 2015’s 22 Strings – which is right up there with his very best work.
Seckou 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. 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 ‘Wuleng’ (Jali Mady ‘The Red’) it had 22 strings. Then, when Jali Mady died, his fellow griots took one string away in his 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.
I mentioned collaborations earlier on and there are plenty worth checking out starting with…
Catrin Finch & Seckou Keita
The sublime, critically acclaimed and multi award-winning collaboration between two adventurous virtuoso musicians – Welsh harpist Catrin Finch and Senegalese kora player Seckou Keita – delivers a stunning exhibition of world-class musicianship. Drawing deep on their own diverse traditions and transforming them with remarkable synergy, Catrin and Seckou have built a formidable reputation for their extraordinary performances.
Following the success of their debut album Clychau Dibon in 2013, their second album SOAR released five years later resulted in the pair winning ‘Best Duo/Band’ at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards 2019 (a year when Seckou also won ‘Musician of the Year’).
Thematically inspired by the osprey – the magnificent raptor recently returned to Wales after its persecution to near extinction 400 years ago – and its annual migrations between Europe and Africa, the album’s intoxicating, often improvised synergy captures a magical meeting of minds and talents within a borderless musical landscape.
SOAR went on to win the prestigious fRoots Critics Poll Album of The Year 2018 (an award Catrin and Seckou received previously for Clychau Dibon in 2013) along with Songlines Music Award for Best Fusion Album 2018, Best Transregional Album in the Transglobal World Music Charts 2018, and it was nominated for Best Album in the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards 2019.
The album was also named as one of MOJO and Songlines Magazines Top Ten Albums of the Year 2018.
Find out more at catrinfinchandseckoukeita.com
Omar Sosa & Seckou Keita
Another amazing collaboration has Seckou partnering with seven-time GRAMMY-nominated pianist-composer-bandleader Omar Sosa from Cuba. Created with the help of several other cosmopolitan artists, the two musicians released Transparent Water in 2017 to enormous critical acclaim and a worldwide tour – an innovative album on which freedom and improvisation are the keys to a profoundly spiritual brand of music. Full of serenity and a sense of gentle elation, it also comes across as an antidote to the turmoil of the world.
A second album called SUBA (meaning ‘sunrise’ in Mandinka) was written and recorded in 2020 during the global lockdown. SUBA is a hymn to hope, to a new dawn of compassion and real change in a post-pandemic world, and a visceral reiteration of humanity’s perennial prayer for peace and unity. They are again accompanied on this tour and album by Venezuelan percussionist Gustavo Ovalles.
Find out more at seckoukeita.com/omar-sosa-seckou-keita
Described as ‘a joyful, uplifting and life-affirming musical collaboration’ – AKA Trio is an international musical summit meeting of three world-renowned virtuosos: Antonio Forcione, Seckou Keita and Adriano Adewale.
Coming from three different continents – Europe, Africa and South America – Antonio, Seckou and Adriano grew up in three different landscapes, speaking three different languages, and were formed by three different cultures and musical traditions. All these differences converged in AKA Trio, and the first product to be released was 2019’s album JOY.
I’ve been lucky enough to see Antonio on a few occasions supporting the comedian Boothby Graffoe and to say that he is a wizard on the guitar is an understatement.
Find out more at seckoukeita.com/aka-trio
Seckou Keita Quartet
Back in 2004, Seckou formed the Seckou Keita Quartet and went on to perform over 400 concerts worldwide. With his quartet formation, Seckou made a significant contribution to kora music with his original tunings.
“There are four basic traditional tunings,” he explains, “which are linked to the different regions in Senegal, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau and Mali where the kora is played. Each region has its own distinct tuning. My own approach has been to put all these tunings together in the same instrument, so while still rooted in tradition, the sound is quite different to what people are used to hearing, and the range of material I can perform is greatly extended.”
Afro-Mandinka Soul was released in 2006 with a follow up two years later called The Silimbo Passage
The quartet later expanded into the Seckou Keita Quintet.
In 2003, Seckou founded Jalikunda Cissokho, comprising members of his family, and released an album called Lindiane after the suburb of Ziguinchor where he grew up. It’s an explosive cocktail of spiritual Afro Mandika music inspired by the rhythms and melodies of Casamance.