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Senegalese artist wants his music to unite

SOULFUL: Keita plays his music in London tonight

SECKOU KEITA is the man considered to be leading a new generation of African musicians. Originally from Ziguinchor, Senegal, the UK-based Keita comes from the rich tradition of the Kora; a 21 string-bridge harp used exclusively in West Africa. After performing from the age of 12 with his own band and growing up in in youth groups, Keita moved to the UK in 1998 and began playing across Europe, including festivals such as Glastonbury.

The contemporary Griot released his first album Baiyo, which means orphan, in 2000, and in 2004 formed the Seckou Keita Quartet (expanding later to a Quintet) to wide acclaim. After being nominated for a World Music Award by Radio 3 listeners last year, the 33-year-old released his fourth album Miro, a title that captures the phrase ‘positive thinking’, last month. Recorded with a brand new seven-piece band and special guests, the album’s release kicked off a UK tour beginning in October and ending this month.

“For me albums are always journeys,” the veteran performer tells The Voice about the many albums he has produced. “And this one specifically takes me back to my roots in the Mandinka and Wolof traditions that inspired me as a child.” The album itself is beautifully produced, with its first track ‘Rewmi’ (country) a ready-made anthem for Senegalese people. A call for Africans to unite and work towards a positive future, the song was a backdrop for the historical presidential elections that took place in February earlier this year.

The Senegalese native’s success has been such that he has toured all over the world performing more than 400 concerts in 30 countries. “When I travel I do a lot of thinking and have time for composition, which is helpful, but it’s not always easy. It can be very tiring, a lot of airports and hotels. The joy of it is from the amount of people with a smile on their face. I feel it’s my contribution in life. “ Keita says.

Throughout the years of his career Keita has been keen to give back to the community, a passion reflected in the kora and drumming workshops he runs in schools, art centres and festivals. In 2010, the musician also began a partnership with the International Committee of the Red Cross supporting their work to protect and assist victims of war.

“The Red Cross partnership is very important to me," Keita says. "Living in Senegal, growing up and travelling around the world and seeing all I’ve seen, working with the Red Cross is a must. When I work with them, it’s not just for my own country and my own town; it’s worldwide, because my music is worldwide.

As part of his UK tour, Keita is to appear in the capital at the opening night of the London Jazz Festival, taking place today, where he will be performing with DJ AJ Kwame. “London is always a very interesting performance in terms of a tour,” he says. “I’m looking forward to it.”


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