Senegalese “Hendrix of the Kora” Seckou Keita and his international band, The Seckou Keita Quintet, are to round off their current UK tour, the last in their current format, with a concert organised by DrumHom and Shetland Arts at the Clickimin Centre in Lerwick on Saturday 17th October. They will be supported by local percussion ensemble Aestaewast.
Their month-long tour, which started in Cambridge on Thursday 17 September, has offered fans a final opportunity to see this uniquely talented and diverse group and hear tracks from their latest and much-revered album, The Silimbo Passage.
Seckou will stay on in Shetland for the week following the concert to participate in a range of school and public workshops as part of the national Black History Month activities; the first time the event has been celebrated in Shetland.
Whilst many great African musicians have put the Kora, a 21-string West African guitar-like harp, firmly on the map, few have seen it fashion a new style in the way Seckou has. Through his blend of traditional and contemporary influences and experimental tunings, he is one of the most innovative and creative Kora players in the world today, shifting the Seckou Keita Quintet into a music category all of its own. Counting Richard Bona, Bela Fleck and Bobby McFerrin amongst his influences, the music of Seckou Keita and his band cannot be confined to any one genre, dipping comfortably in and out of jazz, classical, Flamenco, with hints of rock and reggae contributing to their captivating, contemporary and diverse sound.
Led by Seckou himself, the international Quintet comprises Davide Mantovani from Italy on double bass, Surahata Susso from The Gambia on an eclectic assortment of percussion instruments, the distinguished sound of Samy Bishai from Egypt on violin and vocals, and the enchanting voice of the gracious Binta Suso, also from The Gambia and most recent addition to the band. The result is an entrancing authentic yet modern sound with melodies that capture the imagination and mine the rich depth of human emotion.
Of particular interest to the many Shetland fiddle players and fans is Egyptian violin player Samy Bishai whose fluid style incorporates elements of jazz, pop, electronica, classical and hip-hop. He is an active session musician who has played with luminaries including Tom Jones, Gwen Stefani, Basement Jaxx, Asian Dub Foundation and the Alexandria Chamber Orchestra.
Bryan Peterson, Shetland Arts Music Development Officer said, “This is a rare opportunity for Shetland audiences to experience one of the world’s most innovative modern Kora players, playing with a band that includes an eclectic cross section of unique and talented musicians. This really is a concert not to be missed.”
Championing ‘eco-friendliness’ through CO2 Balance UK, the Seckou Keita Quintet are minimising their carbon emissions and offsetting their unavoidable CO2 residue by producing all their marketing materials on recycled paper or paper from sustained forests. They also offset all their tour emissions by donating a portion of their ticket income towards East Africa Energy Efficiency and contribute to tree planting in the UK.
What continues to set this band apart is their powerful presence on stage and how well they work together visually, sonically and spiritually – the result of continuous hard work with over 350 shows in 20 countries, perfecting their musical rapport into an “infectious live experience”. This will be their last UK tour until their next album due out in late 2011.
Tickets are available from Shetland Box Office, Islesburgh Community Centre, Lerwick, priced £12/8. Tickets can also be purchased by phone and picked up at the event by calling 01595 745 555.
BiographiesSeckou Keita - composition/ kora/ percussion/ voice
Seckou Keita was born in Ziguinchor, Senegal on 14 February 1978 in a griot family (hereditary musicians). It was under the guidance of his uncle, Solo Cissokho, that Keita launched his international career in 1996, with appearances at Norway’s Forde Festival in a successful collaboration with Cuban, Indian and Scandinavian musicians.
In the years that followed, Keita relocated to the UK, while touring regularly in Spain, France, Portugal, Greece and Czech Republic as well as playing at festivals including Womad and Glastonbury, both as a solo musician, and in collaboration with acclaimed figures like Indian violinist Dr L Subrimaniam. He became a member of the popular world music group Baka Beyond in 1998, contributing to their well-received East To West album, and in 2000 began to record his own solo debut Baiyo (re-titled Mali for a later release through Arc Music), which encompassed his musical journey to that date, from Africa to Europe, via India.
With support slots to luminaries like Salif Keita and Youssou N’Dour, solo slots at London’s Jazz Café and at Ireland’s Sacred Music Festival, and a nomination in 2001 for BBC Radio 3’s prestigious World Music Award, it’s clear that Keita’s many collaborations have fed and extended rather than diluted the African mainspring of his music.
“Everything in music has to be honest, and the deeper meanings of the songs and melodies must be preserved”, Seckou explains. “This is why it’s important that collaborations should be right for the music, and there are connections between, say, Cuban and Indian sounds and the repertoire of the Kora that can be explored without losing the distinct flavours of the different traditions and styles”.
Seckou is an active educationalist regularly holding drumming and Kora workshops in schools, arts centres, festivals working with organisations such as Music For change, Creative Partnerships and Womad. Seckou is also a regular guest leader for Sewabeat, a company, which offers alternative training packages for Commercial Corporations.
“Seckou Keita is a brilliant live performer with stacks of charisma, and one of the few champions of the less-known and rhythmically rocking Kora repertoire from Casamance in southern Senegal where he is from.” - Lucy Duran - Radio BBC3
“an inspired exponent of the Kora that can makes the West African harp-lute sound like a small band” - Robin Denselow - Guardian
Binta Susso - Vocals
Born in The Gambia in a griot family (hereditary musicians), Binta started singing at an early age. She toured the UK in 2003 and 2004 as part of Jalikunda Cissokho’s. Then she went on an international exchange programme to study at the Sund Folk in Norway. Binta sang “Tounga” in the first Seckou Keita Quintet album. Her voice, which gives new rich colours to the band, attracted praises from press and media. In early 2006 Binta returned to her native Gambia and started working with various local musicians from traditional to hip-hop. She joined the Quartet (now quintet) in their 2006/07 Senegalese and Gambian’s tour.
Davide Mantovani - Double Bass/ Electric bass
Born in Ferrara, Italy, Davide took up the bass in 1982, after early training on piano and guitar, and in 1991 relocated to London. He has since built a formidable reputation as both performer and composer. His own jazz quintet’s Square One album was issued in 2001, and an experimental collaboration with violinist Roberto Manes led to the release of Polaris in 2004. He has also been in demand as a composer of soundtracks and incidental music, with Drawing Horizons receiving a commercial release in 2002, and commissions from artists like Shobana Jeyasingh and George Eugene. He travelled to Senegal with Seckou Keita to study Mbalah rhythms in 2002, and his double bass has been a key component of the Quartet and now the Quintet, since the start.
Samy Bishai - Violin
Samy grew up in Alexandria, Egypt, and received a classical training on the violin. He began to play professionally at 18, working with Alexandria Chamber Orchestra while maintaining a lively interest in Arabic pop and jazz. In 2000 he moved to London, and has since forged a career as a live session player in fields as diverse as jazz, pop, electronica and hip-hop. Since then, he has worked with a considerably varied number of artists and projects, including the mainstream commercial, e.g Tom Jones, Gwen Stefani and Basement Jaxx; the more ethnocentric, yet culturally diverse, e.g. Asian Dub Foundation, Natacha Atlas, Seckou Keita and Yasmin Levy; jazz e.g Zoe Rahman, Julian Joseph and the F-ire Collective; electronica, e.g Digitonal, and remixing B12; a large number of stylistically diverse acoustic/folk singer-songwriters/bands, e.g. Aquilina, Julia Biel, and Kirsty Hawkshaw. He has also done a large amount of session work on assorted film scores, documentaries, short films and commercial advert music, for both British and non-British television/radio including BBC 1&2, ITV, Channel 4, Radio 1-4, XFM, ResonanzFM, Classic Fm.
He joined Seckou Keita in 2005, stepping into the shoes of Riti player Juldeh Camara, whose inspiration on his own distinctive sound within the group he is quick to acknowledge.
Surahata Susso - Percussion
Sura is a young percussionist and Kora player from The Gambia, a member of the well-known Susso griot family and half brother of Seckou Keita himself. He has been a member of Gambia’s acclaimed Kaira Youth Band for many years, and more recently branched out with his own Fisco Band. More recently, he has worked on the new album of askewandavis, a band that combines looping and vocal experimentation.
He was invited to join Seckou Keita and his new band, right from the start in 2004, and currently divides his time between The Seckou Keita Quintet’s work, to whose sound he brings a highly distinctive blend of African and Cuban percussion styles, and his own musical projects.