Queen 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.”