Catrin, Seckou and AMJ rock WOMAD 2014

Tuesday, July 29th, 2014

wom1The Astar family were out in full force this week as WOMAD sold all 40,000 tickets for the first time at Charlton Park.

Catrin & Seckou played a blinder in the early hours of Saturday morning. Don’t take our word for it… here is what the papers said.

“Catrin Finch and Seckou Keita, a collaboration as delightful as it is unlikely. Finch, a Welsh harpist, was lined up a few years ago to play a tour with Malian kora player Toumani Diabaté, and warmed up by rehearsing with his Senegalese counterpart Keita. Diabaté eventually showed up mere hours before the first of those concerts, and though he was there for the tour, Finch felt a closer connection with Keita. They carried on working together and last year released an album of duets, Clychau Dibon, that proved a surprise hit.

Here, the blend of Manding and Welsh material finally stilled the buzz of chatter around the edge of the tent. They listened intently to each other, nodding and smiling as the songs took shape. They duelled playfully on “Future Strings”, Finch plucking ascending chords and running 47-string-long glissandi in a way that is hard for a kora to emulate, though Keita tried; when she knocked rhythms on the frame of her harp, his echo on the gourd of the kora was resonant and strong. The centrepiece of the set, as of the album, was “Robert Ap Huw Meets Nialing Sonko”: in the second half, when Finch took up the dancing Casamance pattern with her right hand, plucking the occasional bass string with her left, the whole tent held its breath.”      Financial Times

“Following Thompson after midnight was the mellifluous award-winning sound of the kora and harp of Seckou Keita and Catrin Finch, as gorgeous as it is on record”   Independent

Copyright: York Tillyer

Copyright: York Tillyer

AMJ were also a huge success on the main stage with the Malmesbury schools’ project. Their biggest gig yet and the Collective has expanded tenfold!


Catrin & Seckou Usher Hall Review

Tuesday, May 13th, 2014


Usher Hall, Edinburgh
Rob Adams

It's little wonder that Catrin Finch finds working with Seckou Keita liberating. After all, there can't be too many gigs for a concert harpist where she gets to run her nail down a bass string with mock venom, use the harp's body as a conga drum and administer gleeful skelps instead of arpeggios.

This all happened during Future Strings, where Keita's kora was used to produce various effects, including a pantomimed rub of his beard. They're clearly completely at ease with each other, these musicians from different continents but although they're part of separate cultures, they're both also representatives of long traditions and it may be this that makes them such a natural musical pairing.

Then again, maybe it's just because they both happen to be great players.

When Finch introduced something from the sixteenth century Welsh harper Robert Ap Huw's manuscripts, Keita was able to add, in an entirely complementary way, a tale and melody of similar vintage from his own lands and the two flowed together like comingling streams. And so it went over two sets of absorbing, conversational interaction, some of it reflective, some of it spectacularly intense, some of it dancing to a celebratory rhythm.

A piece inspired by the building in the 1960s of a reservoir at Tryweryn found Finch playing both electro harp and the concert model and intoning folk memories of lost homes and flooded valleys while Keita tugged a sympathetic rhythm and voiced a wordless, soulful commentary

Church bells chimed figuratively. Ships sailed. Mists hovered and best of all, Finch became a veritable string band, riffing and grooving superbly alongside Keita's agile, high tensile melodising.

Catrin & Seckou win Songlines Magazine Best Cross-Cultural Collaboration Award 2014

Thursday, April 24th, 2014


We are delighted to have learned today that we have won Songlines Magazine Best Cross-Cultural Collaboration Award 2014.

More than 8,000 Songlines readers from 65 different countries voted for the awards shortlist, with the editorial board deciding the final winners. The magazine celebrates its 100th edition with the issue announcing the awards.

Read More…

Reuters article…

Songlines Awards Youtube trailer

Two Harps That Beat As One: Catrin Finch and Seckou Keita (VIDEO)

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

huffpost_3lineTwo Harps That Beat As One: Catrin Finch and Seckou Keita (VIDEO)
by Michal Shapiro

Huffington Post 11/20/2013

To view a video of Bamba from the WOMEX showcase that is included with this article online go to

Almost 25 years ago, I was walking down West 4th street in Manhattan, and heard a harp-like sound that seemed extraordinarily out of place in the urban noise surrounding me. I tried to locate the source, and eventually realized it was emanating from three tall, slender men in robes who were sauntering up the block ahead of me. I sped up my pace and as I got abreast of them, saw that one of them was playing what I learned later was a kora, as he strolled.

And something magical was happening; the instrument changed the environment surrounding the three, and all around it, people were calmed and drawn to it. These three stately men had everyone –including myself — in thrall with the pure, rippling notes of the kora. The instrument itself was sort of a cross between a harp and a some kind of lute, and the most conspicuous part, the resonator, was half of a large gourd. I walked a block out of my way before tearing myself from the sound to go home.

Since then, there have been quite a few musical collaborations involving the kora in combination with other western instruments. (The wonderful "Chamber Music" with Ballaké Sissoko and Vincent Segal is one of the most successful.) But as far as I know, the collaboration between Seckou Keita and Catrin Finch is the first one to pair the kora with another harp. And upon hearing this duet, one actually wonders what took so long.

The two musicians in this duo are well matched, Keita has a history of innovating and experimenting with his instrument — he plays a western-machined double necked kora — but has been careful to always maintain some distinctive root of his beloved West African music. Catrin Finch (known in her home country of Wales as the Queen of Harps) is also known for her forays into experimental music, as well as her mastery of the standard classical and folk repertoire. For their performance at WOMEX 2013, Keita brought both a single and a double necked kora, while Finch played a striking Camac "Big Blue 47" concert harp with pickups on each of the 47 strings.

There was quite a buzz building up to their performance at WOMEX, which this year was in Cardiff, Wales. It was unfortunate that it took place in a rather small concert room instead of the big auditorium, as it filled up to capacity far too quickly and many delegates could not get in to see the show.The room was jammed with a mostly Welsh audience, and anticipation crackled in the air. I was pretty much crushed up against the apron of the stage, almost in the middle… not the best angle for shooting!

When Finch and Keita play together, there is a complete immersion one with the other. Keita plays the rhythmic patterns and Finch's precise fingers play a counterpoint or a harmony figure and it all just feels right. Keita grins when Finch plays a stately figure enhancing his motif, and Finch nods back, giving Keita the room to cascade away on the kora. And that's quite a blazing solo he takes at the end, I might add. Through it all, there is a close communication that is palpable. Purists from one tradition or another may take issue with this blend — and I did hear one opinion voiced that it sounded too Welsh and not sufficiently Senegalese, but I think it is just that the two players have made allowances for each others music, and this give and take creates a true hybrid. At any rate, I was in string heaven, awash in pleasure from lovely music, exquisitely played.

Queen of harps Catrin Finch finds her kora king with Sengalese musician Seckou

Thursday, November 21st, 2013

walesonlinelogoQueen of harps Catrin Finch finds her kora king with Sengalese musician Seckou
Wales Online 15 Nov 2013

Like strawberries and cream and fish and chips, some things just work very well together. Harpist Catrin Finch tells Rachel Mainwaring why her pairing with Sengalese musician Seckou Keita, with whom she’s touring, has produced a magical album that’s getting rave reviews

If you are searching for something to help you relax, forget scented candles and a hot bath. Just pop Catrin Finch’s new album, Clychau Dibon – a haunting collaboration with kora musician Seckou Keita – onto the CD player and you’ll be suitably chilled out in no time.

The album, produced by Mwldan, is a marriage of two ancient instruments that has already been selected for the prestigious Songlines Magazine Best Albums of 2013, and pairs two virtuouso players of harp traditions mixing their music so that it’s almost impossible to distinguish one from the other.

And former royal harpist Catrin, who performed alongside Seckou at the recent world music market Womex in Cardiff, says she’s hugely excited by the album’s success so far.

The 33-year-old, originally from Llanon but who now lives in Gwaelod-y-Garth on the outskirts of Cardiff, admits: “It’s been really full on for the last few weeks.

“We started performing just before Womex in October and have more dates around Wales to do but it’s wonderful to be performing alongside Seckou. It’s a really magical album.

“I’m primarily a classical musician but this has been a very special project for me.

“It’s about two instruments that are effectively the same thing. The kora is an ancient African harp and the sound of the two of them together produces something quite magical.

“It’s kind of a chill-out album. It’s a very relaxing sound, and one that I think is really easy to listen to.

“I’m so pleased with the reaction so far. We’ve been named Best Album by magazines and it’s wonderful to get that sort of recognition for a project that hasn’t really been done before.

“The kora music sounded a bit indecipherable when I first heard it and, I’ve got to be honest, a little bit samey to me at first but put the two together and I just love it. With the kora, it’s all about the rhythm.

“Seckou doesn’t even read music and it’s weird to think we can perform together when he doesn’t even know where G is on the stave.

“But it’s worked and I’ve loved being involved in this kind of project. It’s been all about the ear, about rhythms and beats and that’s been a whole new ball game to me.”

The album is a move away from Catrin’s classical background, which began when she first took up the harp at the tender age of six.

But there is now talk of going to festivals during the summer, a new experience for Catrin, but one that she is hugely looking forward to.

While her work takes her away from home, her husband Hywel and their two young daughters Ana and Pegi, she admits she’s tempted to hire a campervan for a bit of festival life.

“That’s not something I’ve ever done before and I’m willing to give it a go,” she laughs. “The girls would certainly enjoy themselves.

“I’ve been very busy since we started developing the album back in May but once the tour has finished and I’ve done some Christmas concert work I will get a bit of time at home as January and February tend to be quieter.

“I’m a normal working parent so, of course, it’s a juggling act but I’m lucky that I have a lot of support and the girls understand that mummy’s job is to play concerts.

“I obviously feel guilty if I’m away from home but if it’s anywhere that’s two hours or less from home, I always go back after a concert.

“Travelling can take its toll after a while because the girls start to get unsettled if I’m away too long but I’m looking forward to having a bit of a rest and having some quiet time to compose, something I haven’t done for a while.

“I need to discipline myself to do some writing. I don’t just sit there and wait for an idea to come or I’d be waiting forever some days.”

Catrin, who was taught by harpist Elinor Bennett, who is now her mother-in-law, obviously has music in her blood but she’s not convinced her daughters will follow suit.

“At the moment, it seems that Ana is more interested in sport than music. She’d far rather put her football kit on and train with Gwaelod Rangers than practise her piano but I’m sure they must have inherited some musical genes.

“We’ve got a small harp here but they see it as something which takes mummy away from them so haven’t shown much interest yet.

“It’s seen as work, rather than a hobby, but who knows, as they get older they might take more of an interest as they certainly have music in their genes.”

Catrin’s work takes her to rather glamorous places and this year she was nominated for a Classical Brit award for Best Album for Blessed, which she worked on with John Rutter.

She didn’t win , losing out to André Rieu’s Magic of the Movies, but she says she had a great evening.

“I didn’t expect to win, especially up against Rieu, but it was a fun night. It was just such an honour to be nominated but I take these awards with a pinch of salt really.”

Catrin & Seckou Financial Times Review

Friday, October 18th, 2013

financial_times_logoBy David Honigmann

A royal harpist from Wales teams up with a kora player (which is to say, another court harpist) from Senegal.

Finch and Keita swap tunes from both traditions, one taking the lead while the other fills and improvises around the edges, then seamlessly trading places.

‘Robert Ap Huw Meets Nialing Sonko’ is the centrepiece: 16th century harp tunes playing off against the blissful melodies of the Casamance.


Catrin & Seckou London Evening Standard Review

Tuesday, October 15th, 2013


Clychau Dibon

(Astar Artes)


Welsh harp and Senegalese kora – a sublime duo of two artists who are masters of their instruments. Yet it might not have worked, because both instruments are plucked and often it’s better to have more contrasted textures. But just listening to the way the opening track builds up, you can feel a sense of musicality and architecture at work with both artists drawing on the traditional repertoire of their respective cultures. Both of them are no strangers to collaboration, but this is their most seductive. The overall effect is of a rich web of sound, but they bring moments of drama when necessary. I also suspect that it’s something that will get more intriguing and appealing the better you get to know it.

Simon Broughton

Seckou and Catrin Uncut Review

Wednesday, October 9th, 2013


Catrin & Seckou: excellent fROOTS review

Tuesday, September 10th, 2013

songlines (cleaned)

Miro gets 4* Songlines review

Wednesday, December 12th, 2012

Songlines Jan Issue 2012

Seckou Keita Miro Astar (48 mins)

Well-travelled griot keeps the home fires burning

Seckou Keita is representative of a new breed of African musician for whom the world really has become a global village. Born into a griot family in the Casamance region of Senegal, he now lives in Nottingham, and recorded this album in six countries across three continents, from Dakar to Havana and from Seville to Bogota. The opening track ‘Rewmi’ (Country) was a popular anthem calling for unity during the Senegalese elections earlier this year, with Keita’s rippling kora work and sturdy voice underpinned by female backing vocals, calabash and the throbbing pulse of Cuban bass player Michel ‘Pata’ Salazar. ‘Hino’ finds the Spanish singer Inma ‘La Carbonera’ delivering a characteristically passionate flamenco vocal in duet with the soulful, Arabic-tinged voice of Mohamed Diaby over Keita’s lovely solo kora. Salazar returns again on ‘Kouma’, a tour de force on which he’s joined by Colombian percussion, flute and balafon. Yet the album is far from being a global mishmash of styles. Rather it beats strongly with a sense of unity of purpose, rooted in both Mandinka and Wolof traditions, so that however far Keita’s musical travels take him, his proud griot heritage journeys with him.


Nigel Williamson