Review: Catrin Finch & Seckou Keita @ Womad (July 2014)


There are instruments that seem to have been separated at birth. Despite their distant homelands and their different appearances, they speak the same language, and awaken similar feelings. The harp and the kora are one of the best examples of this instrumental kinship, which enables distant cultures to relate without undermining their authenticity. Catrin Finch and Seckou Keita are not simply two sublime virtuosos of the two chordophones, but also an enlightened embodiment of the music and cultural communion between Wales and Senegal.

Their ecstatic as well as soothing performance – selected to bring down the curtain on the second day of WOMAD – was an inspiring validation of the excellent work done in the studio and published just a few months ago under the title “Clychau Dibon”.

On stage, the duo breathed new life into the opera’s ethereal essence and lulled the audience into a dreamlike state through a sequence of triumphant arpeggios and lyrical calls-and-responses between the strings of their instruments.

The harmonies created an imaginary bridge between Cardigan’s cliffs and the Casamance’s forests: a musical bond strengthened by the strong empathy between the artists and their skills.

“Clychau Dibon” placidly flowed through the hour and a half show enriched by tales about the songs and breathtaking improvisations. Through inspiring highlights like “Genedigaeth Koring-Bato”, a tribute to Toumani Diabaté, one of the minds behind their project, the delicacy of “Bamba”, and the elegiac but also incisive “Llongau Terou-bi”, the performance demonstrated both the qualities already nurtured by their collaboration, as well as the huge potential that it has yet to realise.

The kora and the harp, in a live environment, can develop a vibrant and captivating motion otherwise constrained by the studio walls. The show allowed Catrin Finch and Seckou Keita to recall and let their own traditions work together: reviving their Gaelic and Mandinka roots, they staged an unprecedented rendezvous between a bard and a griot. Even after the final encore, with the lights on stage switched off, the elegance of “the queen of harps” and the generous smile of the heir of the royal Keita dynasty remained undimmed.

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