"The Osprey migrates between West Africa and Wales - harpists Catrin Finch and Seckou Keita
join its journey on their exultant, mesmeric second album, SOAR."
4* Neil Spencer, THE OBSERVER
SOAR is the new release (27 April 2018) from Welsh harpist Catrin Finch and Senegalese kora player Seckou Keita and continues their celebration of the remarkable affinities between the Welsh harp and the West African kora. Impossible to pigeon-hole, their sublime music blurs the boundaries between world music, classical, folk and traditional genres, leaping over cultural barriers and roaming in border-less musical territory. The release has been greeted with a raft of 4 and 5-star reviews from press and critics worldwide, and entered the UK Official Physical Album Charts at #77 on the first week of its release.
"They are now one of the most popular world music acts of this decade."
Tim Cumming, SONGLINES
The album takes wing on the flight of the Osprey, the magnificent raptor persecuted to extinction in Wales during the 17th century, which has recently returned home after a 400-year absence. The osprey makes its annual 3000-mile migration from the estuaries of West Wales, where Catrin grew up, to Seckou's homeland in Senegal, West Africa - an amazing natural connection which hit a resonance with the two artists.
"Like the iconic raptor, it swoops and soars to capture the bird's very essence," says Dave Haslam, in his 5* review for RnR Magazine, "SOAR is as near to perfection as it is possible". Themes of migration - natural, enforced and economic - run throughout, drawing deep on the sometimes darker history of these two great musical nations.
"an emotional demonstration of how two virtuoso musicians triumphantly bring different cultures together"
5* Robin Denselow, THE GUARDIAN (Live review, Union Chapel, 12 May 2018)
Catrin and Seckou were first introduced in March 2012, when producers Theatr Mwldan and Astar Artes called upon Seckou to stand in when a military coup in Mali had detained kora virtuoso Toumani Diabaté and prevented him from attending rehearsals for a major collaborative tour with the young Welsh harpist Catrin Finch. A series of initially unfortunate circumstances had unwittingly led to a most serendipitous meeting of musical talents, and a long-standing friendship and mutual respect was born. It was the first time Catrin, a classically trained harpist, had ever seen or heard a kora. Seckou, a kora master and Senegalese griot with Royal blood, didn't read music. Meanwhile, in Wales, another lost connection between Wales and Senegal was busy re-establishing itself. 2011 saw the first osprey chicks to hatch in the Dyfi Valley, Mid Wales, since 1604. The moment was symbolic. Hunted to extinction in Wales during the 17th century, the ospreys had finally come home after a 400-year absence.
Fast-forward five years, several awards and with over 100 concerts worldwide later, the project shows no sign of abating. In June of 2017, Catrin and Seckou went back into the recording studio and began work on their much-anticipated second album, SOAR.
"It's rare that you hear something so beautifully conceived and performed"
5* Simon Broughton, LONDON EVENING STANDARD (Live review, Union Chapel, 12 May 2018)
Catrin has won accolades the world over for her virtuosic performances with some of the world's finest orchestras. A fearless performer, she has also worked with Malian kora player Toumani Diabaté, and Colombian band Cimarrón, and switches from Bach's Goldberg Variations to traditional folk or joropo music with apparent ease.
Born into the world-famous royal Keita and griot Cissokho families, Seckou Keita from the Casamance area of Senegal has earned worldwide acclaim for his ground-breaking kora playing, and in addition to his solo career, recently winning Songlines Best Album (Africa and Middle East) for his solo album 22 Strings, Seckou has played with his uncle Solo Cissokho and Guinean master djembe player Mamady Keita, Salif Keita and Youssou N'Dour, and most recently alongside Paul Weller, Damon Albarn and Julia Holter on the Africa Express presents The Orchestra of Syrian Musicians tour.
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. Despite coming from very different musical backgrounds, Catrin and Seckou have found a huge amount of common ground and draw on their diverse traditions and transform them with remarkable synergy; Mandinka rhythms mix effortlessly with Welsh tunes, with hypnotic improvisations from both in a set which is at once exhilarating and mesmerising. "When we first started playing, Catrin was trying to write things down and score them, but eventually she just had to throw the rule book out of the window", says Seckou. "That was when thing started getting really interesting". As the two of them continued to play together it quickly became apparent that two seeming disparate nations may in fact be closer than they first appeared. "I'd be playing one of my pieces, and Seckou would say - 'I know that one'! It made us question whether in fact there was a deeper history there", says Catrin.
"Manding sway and shining harp arpeggios"
4* David Honigmann, FINANCIAL TIMES
SOAR continues the avian theme started in Clychau Dibon, highlighting another amazing connection between Wales and Senegal that has recently re-established itself. The opening track Clarach is named after the first Dyfi osprey in modern times to be born in Wales who subsequently returned from West Africa as an adult to rear her own chicks in the UK. Back in the Middle Ages, Wales had a large osprey population, but by the early 17th century it was persecuted to extinction. Their ancient presence proves that migration between Senegal and Wales is nothing new. "I like the bird's freedom to migrate to different places," Seckou says. "They soar their way, and nothing stops them, but they know where they're heading, where they'll find peace and be happy. I've been on the same journey, but in a different way."
"...their playing takes to the air and scales the thermals of mutual improvisation and melodic invention"
Tim Cumming, SONGLINES
Another track, Téranga Bah, touches on the importance of hospitality and welcoming strangers. Téranga means 'hospitality' in Wolof, and Bah means 'great' in Mandinka, both West African languages spoken by Seckou. So 'Téranga Bah' means 'great hospitality'. "For Senegalese people, hospitality isn't just about being nice," Seckou says. "It's a BIG ritual…You'll find someone who doesn't have a penny to live on, but when a stranger arrives, they'll do anything to make them feel happy and welcome." In the song, Seckou sings the words "open the gate, open the gate". He's urging the world to accept Senegalese hospitality and offer the same hospitality in return.
"Hypnotic and ethereal, SOAR is a unique marriage of cultures"
Neil Spencer, THE OBSERVER ****
Yama Ba is Catrin and Seckou's reinterpretation of a track written by Seckou's Uncle, Solo Cissokho in the 1990's, in a mark of gratitude to a Fulani woman called Yama Ba who helped him to buy the equipment needed to amplify the kora. The heart of the piece is embodied in the melody played by Catrin, which was originally interpreted by bassist Kevin Willoughby who played with Solo back in the late 1990's.
Other tracks featured include Bach to Baïsso, the result of blending two highly revered pieces from two very different classical traditions. "That aria [an excerpt from Bach's Goldberg Variations] is probably one of the most famous pieces of music out there," says Catrin. "Bach himself was someone who was always experimenting. That's the reason he's respected in the way he is." Bach on the kora? "I'm not sure it's ever been done before," adds Seckou. "The melody is fascinating, how the key changes go round and round, and I was curious because the kora is limited when it comes to playing those key changes. I needed to work on it, and I wanted to learn through Catrin." Baisso is one of the oldest tune types in the Senegambian kora repertoire.
"....an exquisite album"
5* Robin Denselow, SONGLINES
Themes of colonialization and enforced migration are explored in the track 1677, named after the year Vice-Admiral Jean II d'Estrées stormed the Dutch fort on the Island of Gorée off the coast of Senegal, and captured it in the name of his master, Louis XIV of France. The date marks the beginning of French rule in the region, and over the next century, Gorée was to become one of the most infamous slave trading emporia on the west coast of Africa. "[The piece] is kind of blues sounding, dancey, but also dark," Seckou says. "That sound, going back and forth between us, made me think about the rocking boat, about the people who could only express themselves through music, even over the waves."
"Listen To The Grass Grow is a gentle little idea for a song that I wrote a couple of years ago," Catrin says. "Just two or three chords. It was the idea of lying down in a field and listening to life. I think music does that. It's very, very, gentle, very peaceful…a little interlude of stillness."
"a classy, joyful and life-affirming set"
5* Robin Denselow, THE GUARDIAN, Live review, Union Chapel (12 May 2018)
Those who have seen the duo play live will recognise the electrifying piece Hinna Djulo. In Mandinka, hinna means 'soul' and djulo means 'strings'; 'Soul Strings'. "It's a prime example of a piece that we've been playing since the beginning," Catrin says. "Over the last three or four years it's morphed into this really brilliant song. Every time we kept playing it, we played it slightly differently. We'd add something, and it's become such a charged piece now."
"oh my God, incredible… you're witnessing a state of rapture, it's entrancing"
Toby Jones, actor
Cofiwich Dryweryn was written by Catrin to commemorate one of the defining moments in Welsh political history. The words mean 'remember Tryweryn' and they're daubed on a wall (now a protected national monument) next to the A487 between Cardigan and Aberystwyth. The graffiti laments the flooding of the Tryweryn valley in north Wales in 1965 to create the Llyn Celyn reservoir that supplied water to the city of Liverpool. The Welsh-speaking village of Capel Celyn was abandoned to the waters, its inhabitants forced to leave their homes. The anger felt in Wales lead to huge protests, acts of sabotage and a rise in support for Plaid Cymru and other Welsh nationalist groups. "I wrote this piece a long time ago," Catrin says. "The Welsh language was disappearing fast. It wasn't being taught in schools, and then this happened and fuelled everybody's anger. It was an iconic moment."
"This ingenious duo have let fly with their second set and released a remarkable album of such texture and prowess that at points its scope, concentrated into the workings of two masters of their instruments, takes the breath away."
Glenn Kimpton, FOLK RADIO UK
Their debut album Clychau Dibon won the prestigious fRoots' Critics Poll Album of the Year 2013, Songlines' Best Cross-Cultural Collaboration Award 2014, and two nominations for the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards 2014 (Best Duo and Best Traditional Track for Les Bras De Mer) with UNCUT Magazine's Neil Spencer describing it as "intricate, ethereal and entrancing, an elaborate pas-de-deux...remarkable". The Guardian's Robin Denselow gave their live London debut at Bush Hall a 5* review, describing it as "...one of the classic concerts of the year....magnificent". Their track Future Strings, written by Seckou and performed by the duo on Clychau Dibon, was recently sampled by Robbie Williams on his album The Heavy Entertainment Show.
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 over the past five years. A very equal paring of musical talent with huge respect for each other, their joyful championing and celebration of their cultures and differences has a real resonance with their audiences. Black, white, girl, boy, different cultures, different musical disciplines, Wales, Senegal. In this project, there are differences aplenty.
But musically, Catrin and Seckou soar as one.
For more information on Catrin Finch visit www.catrinfinch.com
For more information in Seckou Keita visit www.seckoukeita.com