Catrin Finch & Seckou Keita – St George’s, Bristol

Thursday 15th November, 2018

I’ve been unwell and have barely left the house, other than to buy food but I wasn’t going to let a nasty virus stop me from attending this gig. I’ve been looking forward to this one for a while. I had spotted it in the St George’s programme and couldn’t resist. Two maestro players of instruments you don’t see often, playing together. Yes this is a must attend. Then I heard Guy Garvey play one of Catrin and Seckou’s tracks on his Finest Hour show on BBC6 Music and thought, I’ve made the right choice, they sound amazing.

Come the night and I dragged myself up Park Street and the steps into St George’s to be greeted by a packed bar. A sell out gig, excellent. Once I’d slowly made it to my seat upstairs (I’m properly ill) all I was thinking was please be worth all this effort!

There was a support act, or a first act, who introduced the musicians playing with her, but not herself. So if someone can enlighten me as to her name so I can look up her music I’d be grateful as I really liked her. A  folk quartet of viola, fiddle, banjo, percussion and guitar with beautiful harmonies. Entirely the sort of music I love.

From my 2nd row perch I couldn’t see Catrin at all, but I could hear her beautiful harp in all it’s glory and I could see Seckou with the kora, which is an astonishing instrument. I’ve waited my whole life to hear a kora played live and now I’ve seen it twice thanks to St George’s as this was where I saw Sona Jobarth earlier in the year. It produces the most amazing and varied sounds, soft, loud, rhythmic and beautiful. It partners perfectly with the harp and to hear them combined was joy.

The opening track is a love letter to the Osprey. It’s migratory patterns following the journeys Catrin and Seckou have made to make music together, one Welsh, one Senegalese. If after four centuries the Osprey can make that journey again, we can perhaps hope for healing and reconciliation of human wounds too. Maybe we too can soar just like Clarach.

Anyone willing to reinterpret Bach on these instruments had better be brave, bold and know how to play. Catrin and Seckou do. I have never heard the Goldberg variations played quite like this before! It was magical. The weaving together of Baisso and western classical traditions was brilliantly and seamlessly done. Making the musical point that we have more that binds us than divides. Politics made flesh in musical notes and it was truly wonderful. 1677 even more so. Bluesy and dark, uncovering the difficult truths of our shared history.

Humans will always make music, even when they have nothing else. African slaves took song and music with them, those traditions carried down into blues, soul and gospel. R&B carried back, via Mersey Beat became modern guitar pop. Pretty much all modern Western music has its roots in West Africa. One day I would like to visit Sengal to pay debt to that. Those are other words, but music is what binds us to each other, it bears witness and it tells stories. It crosses continents and time, like Doctor Who, to reflect at us our shared pain and joy. On this day, of all days, as the UK stares at the self inflicted wound of Brexit, it felt like we needed a reminder of how healing music can be.

There were such beautiful and moving sounds coming from the stage that I couldn’t help but well up a few times. Emotions, even good ones, can become overwhelming and need release. There was such warmth and joy in this music, like being given a really good hug. You can tell when musicians play together a lot, when there is mutual respect and admiration, its evident in the sound. Catrin and Seckou have that in spades. Both wonderful musicians in their own right, there is some sort of special magic when they play together.  I hope their musical collaborations continue for many years and that I get to hear them play live again one day.

I am listening to Soar, the current album, as I write and it is every bit as beautiful as you could hope for. Get yourself a copy.

I wasn’t at all well and shouldn’t have gone to this gig but I am so glad I did.





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