Kora Seckou Keita

Since arriving in the UK in 1999, Seckou Keita has been on an epic creative journey that has seen him broaden the idiomatic scope of his instrument as well as spread his wings, literally and figuratively.

Nicknamed ‘the Hendrix of the Kora’, Seckou has been celebrated for his ingenious tunings and virtuosity and praised as ‘one of the finest exponents of the kora’. Performing all over the globe as a solo artist and with his ground-breaking quintet, he captivated audiences at WOMAD, Hay, Glastonbury, Tokyo Jazz, Chicago World Music Festival, Sydney International, Montreal Jazz Festivals and many more places.

Acclaimed collaborations with numerous jazz, pop, latin, folk and classical artists allowed him to make the kora more visible on the international stages. Since 2012, this included work with Damon Albarn & the Africa Express, Welsh harpist Catrin Finch, Cuban pianist Omar Sosa, AKA trio with Italian guitarist Antonio Forcione and Brazilian percussionist Adriano Adewale and Paul Weller. More recently he was a part of the folk collective The Lost Words, Spell Songs (2019) joined by the words of Robert McFarlane and artwork of Jackie Morris. Since 2007, he also has had several opportunities to perform with classical ensembles including Orchestre National de Bretagne, which has spurred him towards his dream of developing an orchestral work specifically for the kora.

Overall, Seckou released 11 albums as a leader and co-leader. Through this work, he earned numerous accolades including three Songlines Music Awards, and several BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, including 2019 Musician of the Year. ‘I don’t know if I’m a folk musician, a jazz or a world one,’ he said at the time. ‘Forget about categories. My music is just music for the soul.’

On 26 May 2023, Seckou will release African Rhapsodies (Claves Records), a work for kora and orchestra arranged by Italian composer and bass player Davide Mantovani and recorded with BBC Concert Orchestra. Directed by Royal Northern College of Music’s head of conducting Mark Heron, Keita also invited Mantovani on double bass and his brother, Gambian percussionist (and kora player) Suntou Susso. A pride of place was given to the outstanding South African cellist and vocalist Abel Selaocoe to feature on two pieces.

African Rhapsodies is an enchanting work for kora and orchestra that celebrates Africa’s magical 22-stringed harp and gives it the position of prominence granted for centuries to the violin, piano and flute. It makes us wonder if Bach or Beethoven might have composed for kora had they travelled to Africa in their lifetime. Seckou builds on that notion by way of his own imagination, which is greatly sparked by his lengthy fascination with crossing cultural borders. The result is a majestic work showcasing a whirlwind of virtuosity, but above all a sublime poetic journey where music is pure emotion.