Photo Credit: Siobhan Bradshaw
Funnily, Seckou Keita wasn’t someone I was familiar with at all until a few hours before his headline show at Jazz Café August 18th. With a strong love for music originating from Africa, having unintentionally grown up listening to Ghanaian highlife and gospel for early parts of my teenage years. I’ve recently wanted to delve into music originating from other parts of the continent, listening to music outside of popular Afrobeats or Highlife which I’ve grown so used to, and step out of my comfort zone.
Learning of Seckou’s nearly 20-year long career in music I thought his headline show would bring in crowds from different generations, so I found myself taking in his performance as much as the company around me. It was a great to be around people so absorbed and engrossed to a man truly at one with his instrument, playing with nothing but pure joy and appreciation.
Seckou Keita is one of some Kora players in the world. A beautifully crafted wooden instrument with 22 tightly stretched strings. The delicate sounds radiating from Seckou’s Kora had the crowd completely stunned to a pensive silence for moments throughout the evening. The tone of the Kora can be best compared to the Harp, perhaps unassuming to some but can definitely stir some deep emotion to any listener.
‘If Only I Knew’ was the first time Seckou had the chance to exercise his vocals. Sung in his native tongue, Seckou explained the song to be inspired by a message his grandfather and mentor said to him when he was young, after a dream of his future he didn’t understand. Nostalgia seemed to ooze feeling into his music, from his voice to the melancholic sounds of the Kora.
Photo credit: Siobhan Bradshaw
However, the graceful transition to one of Seckou’s most notable tracks, ‘1677’ stirred a different kind of sentiment in the crowd. Influenced by the tragic and fatal war between the Goa people and the Portuguese during the period of colonisation in Senegal during the 1600. With that in mind, the eerie breaks in between the jolting, elevating tempo build from the Kora was even more touching throughout the song as the crowd collectively held to a heart-wrenching silence.
Approaching the last half hour of his set, Seckou’s closed with Gambian Multi-Instrumentalist, Suntou Susso who played alongside him with a makeshift Congo sounding drum. Suntou’s quick hands on the drum brought a liveliness, and added a subtle tenor underlay to Seckou’s previously unaccompanied Kora. The two were in complete harmony, going back and forth between each other, raising the tempo so effortlessly all whilst smiling in absolute delight. Rounding off the evening on a high was a befitting ending to the night as their last track was met with raucous applause and screams of excitement. I may not have known Seckou Keita before this evening, but I certainly won’t be forgetting that show.