Mesmerising display from Seckou

The long awaited final concert of Seckou Keita and his band’s month long tour was played on Saturday night at the Clickimin bowls hall.

This tour had seen the band travelling the length and breadth of England for 30 days, so you would be forgiven for thinking they would seem tired perhaps, or less passionate than a band that hadn’t been on the road for so long, but this couldn’t have been further from the truth.

Keita comes from a griot family – traditional musicians and story­tellers – and has been performing since a young age, something that is evident both in his musical abilities and the ease with which he plays and interacts with the audience.

Although a skilled drummer, Keita is also a ground breaking kora player, with his skills and experi­mentation earning him the sobriquet “the Hendrix of the kora”.

The claim didn’t disappoint, and with Keita accompanied by his band of diverse musicians the con­cert was something very special.

The band is made up of Keita, playing the kora, an African harp-like instrument; Egyptian fiddle player Samy Bishai; singer Binta Susso and percussionist Surahata Susso, both from Gambia; and Italian bass player Davide Mantovani.

They played a selection of tunes which included some from their new album, The Silimbo Passage. The music ranged from up-tempo African beats to more gentle and haunting tunes.

Perhaps naively, I didn’t expect the music to be as beautifully melodic, but Susso’s gentle vocals and the violin from Bishai added an extra bittersweet edge to the harp-like kora.

As well as music from the band, Seckou also played a mesmerising kora solo. Before he started, he told us a bit about the instrument, which originates from the 13th century and was traditionally played for royalty. He then invited us to sit back and feel like a king or queen as he played.

The music was absolutely beautiful, although I don’t actually remember much of the tune specifically as it was so relaxing I almost felt hypnotised by it. I’ve never heard the kora being played before and have little basis for comparison but can safely say it was amazing, and I’m sure I’m not the only person there who felt like the music was being played just for them.

I had mixed expectations of the crowd’s reaction, however the warmth of Seckou and the band, who grinned and danced throughout the performance, made it impossible not to be moved (in both senses of the word) and even the most rigid in the audience could be seen swaying along to the music by the end, with some, especially Aestawast members, dancing most of the way through the gig.

All this was confirmed by the applause and standing ovation the band received, which, let’s face it, isn’t a regular occurrence with bands which aren’t so widely known. A big well done must go to Joy Duncan, Shetland Arts and everyone involved in bringing the band up. More please!

Louise Thomason


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