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Seckou Keita and Catrin Finch bring the sounds of the kora and harp together on tour in Ullapool and Inverness

By Margaret Chrystall

HEAR one of the world’s best-known harpists playing alongside the Senegalese kora and it seems like just one sound – and it’s coming to the Highlands this week.

Catrin Finch and Seckou Keita will take to a campervan for the Scottish leg of their tour. With their instruments, flying “can be a nightmare”, Catrin says.

It is ironic then that it is ospreys and their freedom of flight that has inspired the duo’s most recent album SOAR.

“There is an osprey centre just north of where I grew up in Wales,” said Catrin. “We went and watched the birds and you think of open borders and migration and these wonderful birds that fly as they will between continents. You correlate that with human life and how difficult it can be for us to travel.”

Catrin’s career – which includes becoming the first official harpist to the Prince of Wales for 120 years – began at five.

Catrin said: “A Spanish artist, Marisa Robles, was giving a harp concert very near where I was growing up.

“There’s quite a funny side to the story because the reason my parents took me and my siblings, I was the youngest of three, was because kids were free and they didn’t really want to fork out for a babysitter! So they took us all along to the concert.

“But then – bad luck for them – I decided playing the harp was what I wanted to do and I asked for a harp for my birthday!

Seckou Keita and Catrin Finch. Picture: Gareth Griffiths
Seckou Keita and Catrin Finch. Picture: Gareth Griffiths

“And that is where it started. For my sixth birthday I was given a little Celtic harp that my parents rented locally. I started going to classes and it took off really quickly.

“I was doing my Grade Eight when I was nine.”

Catrin got the highest mark in the UK for that Associated Board music exam and her career moved into classical music.

Catrin enjoys setting herself challenges.

While pregnant with her first child, Catrin recorded Bach’s Goldberg Variations in 2007 which she described as being “an amazing huge journey”.

“I think if you just let yourself roll, then you will just do that, and that is something I have been conscious of, that I didn’t just want to roll along.

“I always wanted to push and do new things and explore new avenues, which is exactly how this project with Seckou came about.”

It began almost five years ago, created by Arts Wales and the brainchild of a theatre in Cardigan, Theatr Mwldan.

“They decided they would like to pair a harp and a kora because of the ancient traditions behind the instruments and how they go together, with things like the bardic traditions in both countries,” Catrin explained.

Seckou and Catrin. Picture: Andrew Morgan
Seckou and Catrin. Picture: Andrew Morgan

But due to political unrest in Mali, the original kora player lined up to join Catrin couldn’t take part in the rehearsals and Seckou Keita came in for those – and stayed.

“The project continued with Seckou because we just clicked,” she said. “We were on the same level musically, personally, in so many ways and Seckou and I went on to do a recording together.”

Last year they brought out their second album SOAR.

Catrin said: “I have found it very liberating actually, to get out of the classical world a little bit. Seckou doesn’t read music so this whole project has been done by ear. And as a musician who has always looked to ‘the book’, to learn pieces, this was a very new way of doing things for me. It opened new avenues and was something I needed to do, possibly.”

The duo will – as usual – be writing music when they are on tour.

“It’s quite a magical time, summer solstice, and I am really looking forward to being on tour then. I have had a really crazy time over the last few months, so I am looking forward to taking a bit of a deep breath and enjoying a bit of back to nature time,” said Catrin.

Catrin Finch and Seckou Keita play the Macphail Centre, Ullapool, tonight (Friday, June 21); Eden Court, Inverness, on Wednesday, June 26. Details: www.catrinfinchandseckoukeita.com. The duo will be collecting donations on their tour for the Refugee Survival Trust, www.rst.org.uk, a Scottish charity providing practical support to asylum seekers and refugees.

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