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Seckou Keita interview

Seckou Keita - Ramsgate Music Hall 17.11.16 - Photo: Joe Beeching

Seckou Keita - Ramsgate Music Hall 17.11.16 - Photo: Joe Beeching

Music for Change volunteer Saffie Halke managed to catch a few words with Seckou Keita before his performance to a sold out Ramsgate Music Hall on Thursday 17 November 2016. Read the interview below...

What do you think the role of World Music is in this current political situation?

Interestingly, I don’t particularly like the term “World Music”, I always like to use “Music for the World” with what I do. But in the context of your question, I think it’s playing an interesting role. For example, what’s happening with Africa Express, The Orchestra of Syrian Musicians, we can introduce our music across the world and share it with people, bringing peace. It is a demonstration of peace in a musical way. It has got its impact. The question is, are the leaders listening to this? Are they aware of it? That is my question. Many people are aware of it in terms of audience, it's spreading wide. But my question always is, those leaders are making mistakes, they are missing it. Are they really grabbing the moment and listening to it? This is my problem, but I think it’s going in a good direction. It’s spreading out. As I said the example of the Syrian Musicians, it has impact. There is not just war out there, there is peace as well. Can they listen to that?

What cross cultural collaborative projects have you been involved with recently?

Most recently was with a Cuban pianist called Omar Sosa. He is well known in the Jazz world. We did an album together called Transparent Water, which should be released on the 24th February 2017. It was funny that I was working with him four years ago to record this album, so it has been sitting there for a while and then we came back to it. It is because he is a busy man, and I am getting busier, so we decided to release it next year. We have just been to Barcelona last week, just getting the promotion videos sorted. It is interesting because if you think about it in the jazz context, you would think it is going to be crazy with the Kora, but no, it’s just really beautiful. That’s how we came up with the name of the album, Transparent Water, really calm and relaxed. It has been a great journey. That is my most recent collaboration, only a week ago! But is also in the future, we are touring France in March, and probably setting up a tour in the UK before November 2017.

In the West, what is the demographic of your listeners?

I would say the dominance of my audience are really mixed. Interestingly, it’s more western than the African side of it. It’s hard to say 50/50 but it’s close to it. I would probably say 60/40 or 70/30, something like that. But that’s because the music that I provide is widely open to audiences, so my audience becomes so mixed. For example, tonight I don't know who is going to see it, so I watch people, I lift my head and just watch the room and look and see if there are different nationalities. Is it just going to be people from Ramsgate? In the west, my listeners are mainly from the west, but there is also a mix of people who live in the west as well.

When you play in Senegal, is it a similar demographic of audience?

It is similar. It depends on the place I play in Senegal as well, which is very important. If I play at proper venues like, Alliance Franco Senegalaise, it is a very mixed audience. I was always very surprised to see as many Africans as Europeans, watching me playing as a solo or the band. It is quite mixed there as well, I don’t have a particular audience. In the past I have seen people perform there and their audience is just Senegalese for example, but my music is just wide and open. You can’t just put a stick on it and say “this is Mbalax” or “this is Manding”. In fact, my music is still the Manding style, but the way I approach it, my technique, I think is more accessible for the rest of the world really. So my audience is Senegal is mixed, a lot of them are Senegalese, but also visitors in the town, or people that live there from the west and work there are always part of my audience.

I have always wanted to learn the Kora, is it an instrument that Western people find really difficult to learn?

Finding it difficult is just how they approach it when they first see it. I have come across some students that are great players now, and they started maybe an early age, middle age or even lately. I believe that for me learning to play an instrument has just got to come from the heart. If you love something and go for it, then it will happen. That is what I believe. I know Western people see it as a difficult instrument, it has got an ethnic identity, but if that puts you away then you won’t be able to learn it. But if that doesn't put you away, it is the same as picking up a guitar or playing a piano, different technique, different thing, but it is an instrument. You just need someone who loves it, cares and wants to learn. I have no barrier with instruments, I just love it. Give it attention and it will come to you.

Are your children learning Kora, or will they learn Kora?

It is a strange situation with my kids, I am not really sure. But they are into it and they love what I do. My two sons are really into drumming, one is a great drum kit player at school and the other one is more into Djembe. My daughter, she loves music, but she hasn't put herself into music. Sometimes they make a joke when they are watching the kora, they say “this is the instrument that keeps on taking Daddy away all the time, we are not touching it!”. But they love what I do. One of my songs was recently sampled on Robbie Williams, it is interesting to see my daughter say “I am proud of you Daddy”. They usually don't hear the 22 strings solo, it’s kind of intimate, they love it, but they are like “Ahh its beautiful, very nice”. But now she can go onto Spotify and know that “Heavy Entertainment” is coming out and say “Wow my Daddy is on it!” They are into it in a way. But I am not pushing them to learn it. Just when they want, I show them.

What future projects do you have lined up?

It is always hard to answer that. A second album with Catrin Finch, we are going into the studio soon. Apart from that there is another project I am working on which is AKA Trio. AKA stands for Antonio, Keita and Adriano. Antonio Forcione is an Italian guitarist, and a percussionist from Brazil, Adriano Adewale. Actually it was a project we put to bed about four or five years ago, but we will bring it back soon. Hopefully an album by 2018 or something like that. God knows, but it’s one of the plans. Those are the three projects at the moment, Catrin which is ongoing and we are doing the second album, Omar Sosa which is going to be released soon and AKA Trio.

Finally, what are you listening to at the moment?

Funnily enough, because it is a new release, Youssou N’Dour. His new album called Africa Rekk, which means Africa Only. He just released it, only last week, but I didn't get the chance to get my hands on it until recently. I am listening to it because I saw that he took a different direction on this album, which is more likely reaching the world than just a Senegalese style. Which is quite interesting. I have been listening to Robbie Williams because I am part of it! One of the songs. That is about it so far