Centuries ago when the first Mandikas held the first examples of the kora and the Gaelic Welsh bards embraced the harp, they had arguably never heard of each other.
Today, to meet two heirs of these traditions playing side by side with such harmony and synergy is one of the best outcomes of the so-called world music. A similar occasion could have happened in a few places and on few stages, but couldn’t avoid participating to WOMAD.
We met Catrin Finch & Seckou Keita a few hours before their late night performance in the Siam Tent, during the second day of the Festival. Or maybe, it would be better to write: few hours before one of the most emotional events of the Festival.
Rhythm Passport: It is a great pleasure to meet you. Since the first time we listened to your album we felt in love with you project and we have always wondered how such a fruitful collaboration has started. Can you explain to us how you got together and who made the first steps?
Catrin Finch: It’s quite a long story, but the very short version is that Seckou saved us. The project was happening between me and Toumani Diabate. For many different reasons he got a bit fraught at the end, and Seckou had to come and save the day by teaching me all the music. Then different people pulled that together: a theatre in West Wales called Theatr Mwldan in Cardigan, then people at Astar (a record label), and the management of Seckou. And after this, since Toumani’s thing never really went anywhere, Seckou and I, we decided we could do something together and… we did!
RP: Now it is more than a year since your project started… How do you find working together and how is it going? Were you already used to African music?
CF: Not particularly to African music, but I enjoy all kinds of music. Seckou is a very open musician, so we sat down in a room and played many ideas. It started with a lot traditional music, so a lot of Welsh music…
Seckou Keita: And mandinka music as well.
CF: Yes, we have soon discovered that, actually, the music was very similar and it could have been linked together.
RP: Even the instruments you play are different, but also similar in their own way…
CF: In a way it’s the same thing, exactly. All though very different cultures we come from, the music has joined together really well.
RP: Is this influence between each other also reflected in the way you compose your songs?
SK: Definitely, yes. I mean, even if Catrin has got a classical formation, even if she represents the classical side of it and the Welsh one, while I’m more oriented to the Senegal tradition and world music, I think the collaboration has always been really open. In a way, I’ve been experienced to know that side of her and she has got used to that side of me.
CF: We change: the more we play together, the more we learn from each other and the more free we are becoming. We’ve come up with a lot of ideas when we were on the road together, so we have started doing a lot of more writing together. We started with a lot of traditional music, and now it’s becoming more creative.
RP: What else has influenced you before starting the project? Have you looked and found other things from outside your traditional spheres?
CF: I’ve always been influenced by all kinds of music. I was always the classical musician who got involved with other types of music as well. Personally I love listening to a really broad range of music: different styles and types of music. When I met my husband, I opened my ears a little more, because he was a great fan of all kinds of music and for me it was a great introduction.
RP: So it wasn’t a problem to change…
SK: It’s the same thing for me, just open ears to the music. Every time I travel to Senegal, but also when travelling across the world, I’m always listening and collecting things. And now, I have realized that when composing something sounds a very Spanish or very…I don’t know…open minded
RP: Do you feel that this project is influencing your solo career too?
CF: I think that everything influences each other, of course. All the projects you do as a musician will have an effect on the other projects, definitely. Now, that I’m doing more writing, I find that my writing is a lot more world music influenced than it would have been, because I’m surrounded by it and of course, as a musician you take everything in. I think it has a huge influence.
SK: Same, same, same for me. I’m sure that anything that will come out after this project with Catrin, will get the influence. It’s natural and it happens to everyone: we collaborate with all the musicians and you just get inspired from them. Then, after you have done, you figure out that it comes from someone else.
RP: Your album, Clychau Dibon, has been a great success. Not only the public loved it, but also the critic have awarded you many prizes. So we have a strange question for you. Why do you think you have become so popular? Why has this collaboration become so successful and why do you work and sound so well together?
CF: It’s Seckou’s smile, it is his smile!
SK: Ah ah ah…No no, it’s Catrin’s hair…
SK: It’s hard to say this, it’s really hard…
CF: We have only been playing for a year and a half, so very short thing. But in the experience of the comment after we perform, people feel that it’s quite happy music. It’s just free, it’s quite happy and we get the reaction that once the concert starts people just fall silent, get relaxed. It’s the sound of the harp and the kora: they both have a sound that is quite hypnotic, quite dreamy. It has that natural soundscape and it is very relaxing music. You know, when everybody is so busy all day and our lives are surrounded by so much stuff… That’s why we do the late night
RP: Are you already preparing something else after this concert? Have you already got any other plans together?
CF: We have a busy summer and we have a tour in October. Then we’ll start to talk about another album: a studio one. But it has to be different from the first one.
SK: Taking time for me…
CF: Yes, we are both also doing our own albums. And, obviously, the next one together has to be better than the last.
RP: Well, in this case, we are sorry for you because that is going to be a hard task.