Friday, 4 September 2015

Harping on about Shrewsbury Folk Festival

Catrin Finch and Seckou Keita

Shrewsbury Folk Festival, Shrewsbury, August 31

As the unrelenting English Bank Holiday rain intensified, some of the audience were probably seeking shelter. Others had eagerly taken up their positions for one of the festival highlights. It didn't take long for the fusion of Catrin Finch's harp and Seckou Keita's kora to captivate fans and newcomers alike. It's not every day Shropshire can enjoy this joyful, contemplative blending of strings from Wales and Senegal.  'You'll notice our act is quite strings-based,' joked Catrin. With the 47 strings of her harp  and Seckou's two koras (one with the usual 21 strings, the other his innovative double-necked kora) - they're not kidding.

The duo played a selection from their acclaimed 2013 debut album 'Clychau Dibon'. The focal point of the performance for me was a composition called 'Les Bras de Mer' which, Catrin explained, alluded to an Atlantis-like legend from her native West Wales. Under the waters of Cardigan Bay lies the sunken kingdom of Cantre'r Gwaelod, and ghostly church bells can sometimes still be heard. Towards the end of the piece, Catrin deftly recreates the peal of bells using the harmonics of her harp while Seckou keeps up the kora accompaniment ... all this while the rain from the Welsh borders drums gently on the canvas of the marquee.   

Seeing them live, it's no surprise they were judged Songlines' Best Cross-Cultural Collaboration in 2014. And it's no wonder they got a standing ovation from the entranced audience.  

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Tony Gillam is Senior Lecturer in Mental Health Nursing at the University of Wolverhampton, a freelance writer, trainer and musician. He is the author of 'Reflections on Community Psychiatric Nursing' (2002) and 'Creativity, Wellbeing and Mental Health Practice' (2018).