Variously described as a ‘griot (praise singer), composer, djembe master, virtuoso and pioneer’, Seckou is a rare type of musician, seated in tradition whilst constantly pushing the boundaries of his art.
A true master of the kora – a 22 stringed West African harp – Seckou, from the Casamance area of Southern Senegal, was a childhood prodigy, born of a line of griots and kings. Cissokho, his mother’s family name, gave life to his talent; Keita, his father’s, gave him royal blood. Seckou has graced the international stage since 1996, earning worldwide acclaim for his kora playing and appearing with a host of fellow artists including Salif Keita, Youssou N’Dour, Miriam Makeba and Neil Finn. In 2003, Seckou founded a family band called Jali Kunda (‘Griot Family’) comprising brothers and cousins who went on tour extensively in the UK, Scandinavia and Spain and released an album called Lindiane. In 2004 he began working with Juldeh Camara, the monocord fiddle or riti player from The Gambia who later hit the big time with Justin Adams and Robert Plant.
A new ‘quintet’ began to form around Seckou which included the bassist Davide Mantonvani, Seckou’s 17-year-old brother Surhata Susso and the classically-trained violinist Samy Bishai. Mandé, Arab, Indian, pan-African, jazzy – a boundless souk of flavours were present on the group’s first album Tama Silo: Afro-Mandinka Soul, released in 2006. Seckou then took the quintet back home to showcase this new blend to family and friends in Senegal, where they were joined by his sister Binta Susso. Their next album The Silimbo Passage released in 2008. The Seckou Keita Quintet toured incessantly during this period, notching up more than 200 concerts in over 40 countries.
Seckou also became involved with the WOMAD festival as a performer and a workshop host, travelling to Singapore, Australia and the Canary Islands, most recently playing WOMAD UK with Catrin Finch in 2014. He is a regular performer in Do You Speak Djembe?, a hugely ambitious percussion extravangaza series in France and Switzerland created by Sewabeats founder Doug Manuel, and French composer Philip Fournier, the principle conductor of the Lyons Symphony Orchestra.
His previous albums Miro and The Silimbo Passage hit No.1 in the European world music charts, and Clychau Dibon (released October 2013), the fruit of his ongoing collaboration with Welsh Harpist Catrin Finch (produced by Astar Artes and Theatr Mwldan), won fRoots Critics Poll Album of The Year 2013, Guardian’s top 5 World Music Albums of 2013, one of MOJO’s top 10 World Music Albums of 2013, Songlines Magazine Best Cross-Cultural Collaboration 2014, along with two BBC Radio 2 Folk Award nominations. The collaboration has since given over 80 performances throughout Europe, the US and Canada and garnered huge critcal acclaim from fans and critics alike.
Seckou Keita has arguably become the most influential and inspiring Kora player of his generation, an exceptional and charismatic musician. His current solo album, 22 Strings, which released in May 2015 followed by a 27 date UK tour, explored what it means to be a modern global citizen, and yet to live with seven centuries of tradition and heritage expressed through music. The album has won huge critical acclaim from national press, and won Best Album for Africa and Middle East Category in the Songlines Music Awards 2016, alongside a nomination for Best Artist. 22 Strings was recently selected as one of Simon Broughton’s Top Ten Kora Albums.
Seckou was recently invited to play with Damon Albarn’s African Express with the Orchestra of Syrian Musicians which completed a 5-date tour of Europe in June 2016 which included opening the Glastonbury Festival main stage, Roskilde Festival Denmark; Royal Festival Hall London; Koninkoninklijk Theater Carre Amsterdam and the Harbiye Cemil Topuzlu Amphitheatre Istabul and saw Seckou play with Paul Weller, Bassekou Kouyate, Baaba Maal, Noura Mint Seymali, Damon Albarn and Julia Holter.
A full version of Seckou’s Biography can be read on his website, where you can also read more about his other projects: