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CATRIN FINCH & SECKOU KEITA
Outstanding, scintillating Welsh harpist Catrin Finch and Senegalese kora master Seckou Keita have done it again! Their acclaimed debut release, Clychau Dibon, turned the heads of the CD-buying public and won them the fRoots Critics Poll Album Of The Year for 2013 and Best Cross-Cultural Collaboration in the Songlines Magazine Awards 2014, and were nominated for two BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards for Best Duo and Best Traditional Track; now Catrin and Seckou have released their long-awaited second album, which celebrates the magnificent bird of prey, the osprey. These birds had a large population in Wales back in the Middle Ages, but were persecuted to extinction. However, they have re-established themselves in modern times; every year in the estuaries of Wales, ospreys migrate, escaping the Welsh winter and travelling 3,000 miles to the warmer climes of the coasts of West Africa, flying high like music above man-made borders.
For the Welshwoman and a Senegal man, Catrin and Seckou have many striking similarities; both are virtuosos of the Welsh harp and the African harp, fashioned out of a dried gourd, and the osprey is familiar to both countries. They are embarking on major British spring and autumn tours, starting in Laugharne Festival in Carmarthenshire (April 7) and Y Tabernacl in Machynlleth (April 26) – and the next day, at 5.30pm on April 27, Catrin and Seckou will play to just 45 people at the Dyfi Osprey Centre, south of Machynlleth on the A487, for a benefit concert. Tickets cost £50, but the lucky holders can talk to Catrin and Seckou in the flesh. Each will be handed a signed copy of Soar, which will be released the same day. There are refreshments, as well – and all profits will go to the Dyfi Osprey Centre to support the work of the Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust. The tour continues with venues in Theatr Mwldan, Cardigan (May 2), St Davids Hall, Cardiff (May 3), Pontio Arts Centre, Bangor (May 17) and Taliesin Arts Centre, Swansea (May 18).
Catrin and Seckou have established an avian theme with Clychau Dibon and now with Soar; both the harp and the kora weave delicate and dreamy melodies around each other in a sublime and elaborate pas-de-deux. This is quite remarkable art, musicality and architecture woven together.
The first track, ‘Clarach’, takes its name for the first osprey to be born in Wales, but returned from West Africa as an adult to rear her chicks in this country. The second track, ‘Teranga Bah’, means Great Hospitality in Wolof and Mandinka, both West African languages spoken by Seckou, and emphasises on the importance of welcoming strangers. ‘Yama Bah’, written by Seckou’s uncle, is a tribute to a woman who helped him buy the equipment needed to amplify the kora, and ‘Bach To Baisso’ finds Seckou brilliantly exploring one of Bach’s Goldberg Variations on the kora – mighty stuff indeed. ‘1677’ tells the dark tale of the French captain Jean Il d’Estrées, who stormed the Dutch fort on the island of Gorée, off the coast of Senegal, and captured it in the name of his master, Louis XIV of France; Senegal was to become a Francophone territory, and Gorée became one of the most infamous slave trading businesses. Seckou says it made him think about the rocking boat and about the people who could express themselves through music and the waves.
‘Listen To The Grass Grow’ is just Catrin laying down in the field and listening to life; it’s stunningly beautiful. The last track, ‘Cofiwch Drywerin’, was written by Catrin and commemorates a defining moment in Welsh political history; the words mean ‘Remember Trywerin’, and they are daubed on a wall, now a protected national monument on the A487, which laments the drowning of the Trywerin Valley in North Wales in 1965 to supply water to Liverpool Corporation, water that was not needed. The Welsh-speaking villagers of Capel Celyn were forced to leave their homes, and the anger felt in Wales led to huge protests, acts of sabotage and a huge rise in Plaid Cymru and other nationalist organisations – including the emergence of the Free Wales Army. Catrin says: “I wrote this a long time ago. The Welsh language was disappearing fast, it wasn’t being taught in schools, and then this happened and it fuelled everybody’s anger. It was an iconic moment.”
Throughout the Welsh nation and the Republic of Senegal, Catrin and Seckou broadcast a strong and vibrant message of unity and brother-and-sisterly love, coupled with proud and defiant independence, through Soar. This is a stunning, inspiring album, and it reminds me of the time we saw them in St David’s Hall. As the concert ended, I spotted our friend, who was totally mesmerised by what he had seen: “Amazing, simply wonderful – and the crowds just floated out…”
We know what he meant!
***** FIVE-STAR CHOICE!*****
Own release; no catalogue number
Maimu Jögeda describes herself as an Estonian accordionist, composer and world music enthusiast. She comes from Southern Estonia, but she lives as a music student in Tallinn, the country’s breathtakingly scenic and very ancient Gulf of Finland port capital. Pühendus (Dedication in the Estonian language) is her debut release, which was nominated at the Estonian Ethno Music Awards as the best debut album, and she was nominated as the best new folk artist.
This is a lovely, spectacularly beautiful album: all the tunes on this contemplative and serene collection are shaped and moulded by Maimu, who performs completely solo on her accordion (apart from the last piece, ‘Outro’, where her mysterious and dreamy style is accompanied by the almost imperceptible but totally hypnotic virtual beatbox.) She defines her art as being “meditative music, which lets the listener travel through the fantasy worlds that the music creates” – and all 12 tracks are a sheer, mouth-watering magical delight.
The appalling Brexit disaster-scam has demonstrated only too well that the UK is trailing very badly when it comes to linguistic skills; suffice it to say that the sleeve notes to Pühendus are all in Estonian, a tongue-twisting language which was never installed on the education curriculum. Maimu, however, is pretty fluent in English, and she helpfully translates the titles of the tunes. ‘Haldjate Valss’ is Waltz Of The Elves, ‘Kahekõne’ is Dialogue and ‘Videvik’ stands for Twilight. Other tracks are ‘Pilvede Tants’ (Dance Of The Clouds), ‘Sekundid’ (Seconds), ‘Kolme Peale’ (On Three), Lend (The Flight) and ‘Ballaad Vihmale’ (Ballad For The Rain). Maimu’s compositions instil a haunting, otherworldly effect, and her solitary lazily-drifting instrument fascinates and mesmerises. This is a peaceful, heart-warming album; file under Essential Music For The Long Road, and a listen to her soothing sounds should make the miles and the hours fly by.
Maimu says that she has never been to the UK, but she hopes to come: “The folk scene is amazing around there.” Pühendus will, hopefully, gain her recognition; the album certainly deserves it.
BRUNO LE TRON
***** FIVE-STAR CHOICE! *****
BZIS Productions BZ01 2017
I first encountered the stunning diatonic accordion master and Breton wizard Bruno Le Tron many years ago at an utterly memorable Llantrisant Folk Club gig, when the honoured guests were Jean Blanchard and Evelyne Girardon of the lovely Lyons-based Beau Temps Sur La Province, soon to be metamorphosed into Compagnie du Beau Temps. If you don’t know Bruno, you will be familiar with his outstanding and well-loved composition ‘La Valse de Noёl’, translated as ‘The Christmas Waltz’ and played at a thousand tune sessions all over the UK; he recorded it on Valhermeil, his first landmark solo album.
Bruno travelled across the Channel in later days, courtesy of the enterprising Nicki Cawthorne, the Bath-based Hot Springs euro-dance festival organiser; he took the stage with his band Maubissons, which included Olivier Le Gallo, percussionist with Ti Jaz, exiled Breton musicians living in Paris. Nowadays, Bruno lives just a few kilometres north of Paris in the commune of Anserville, and Maubissons consists of Olivier, double bass player Laurent Cabané, guitarist Ali Otmane and Franck Fagon, who plays saxophone and clarinet.
In various combinations and with Maubissons, Bruno has recorded 12 inspiring and uplifting albums; but it’s the thirteenth that has really turned the public’s heads. Olivier, Franck and Laurent join him for Initium, dedicated to three alluring verses by the 19th-century French poet and communard Paul Verlaine; Bruno composed all the 12 tracks on this album, except the tunes ‘Les Deux Lacs’ and ‘Saint-Hippolyte’, written by Laurent. Initium fires off with some sizzling, Italian-inspired switchback melodies, the first of which, ‘Ritorno di Treviso’, Bruno co-wrote with the respected organetto musician Riccardo Tesi.
The diatonic accordion, the humble squeezebox, may be looked down upon in the UK, but it’s a very different story in Europe – especially Brittany, France, Italy and Spain. Mike James, former Swansea Jack “diato” musician who emigrated to the Breton town of Ploёrmel, estimated that there are 2,000 students in Brittany alone. The diatonic accordion has spawned an absolute plethora of brilliant players and composers who have taken the instrument to new, dizzy heights; Bruno is honoured in The Hall Of Fame, which includes such greats as Alain Pennec, Yann-Fañch Perroches, Serge Desaunay, the Basque musician Kepa Junkera and Tesi himself.
Back to Initium: Bruno is really on fire, and his instrument spits out glorious, eye-popping, mellow-toned notes in a way that only a Castagnari can. Olivier’s needle-sharp percussion blends in beautifully with Laurent’s rock-solid and very fluent bass and Franck’s jazzy, dancing wind instruments, and all three lift Bruno up to the highest degree. The album is absorbing, magnetic and very, very intoxicating; his bellows and buttons contrast vividly and beautifully with the rise and fall of his created tunes, and among the many high spots are the delightful title track, the mind-boggling ‘Reel And Blues’, the summery ‘La Yole du Traict’, the enchanting and very more-ish ‘Mirabelle’, the celtic-influenced ‘Kervilon Jig’, the romantic, flowing and deliciously complicated ‘Windy Welly’, the sky-high magic tones of ‘La Pinson du Nord’…
I had better shut up – except, that is, to inveigle and persuade you to buy this album. If you do, you would be more than welcome to tuck in to some nourishing, heart-warming mental and musical cuisine!
Independently produced; no catalogue number
If you are a regular folk club enthusiast in South Wales or the South of England, you would probably recognise Greg; hair and beard of silver, he takes to the stage with his beloved guitar, performing a shed-full of contemporary songs which have all born the writers’ individual brand. With a personality as large as his strapping physique, he entertains audiences from far and wide; Songthief is his second album, and it’s a measure of his lop-sided good humour that he has titled it in such a self-deprecatory fashion. Songthief it certainly isn’t; in fact, Greg soaks up melodies and words like the proverbial sponge, and his show is a celebration of the songwriting harvest’s burgeoning plenty.
He selects the 14 compositions from popular artists and those which are not quite so well-known; the opening track is the glorious ‘Big Old Moon’, written by Newport Folk Club resident performer Phil Millichip, writer of many wonderful and soul-searching songs. (The late Vin Garbutt championed Phil’s name by performing and recording his Welsh miner’s verses of bitterness, ‘If I Had A Son’). David Llewellyn, Mountain Ash-born but resident in Nashville, wrote ‘Take Us Down’, about a collier’s concern for his little boy, who was starting his first day in the pit; and Mick Ryan and Sarah Matthews penned ‘Another Harvest’, inspired by the marvellous voice of the late Maggie Boyle. Andy Ketchen’s unusual and fetching ‘Raffa’, about a pet crow which was senselessly shot by a farmer, is a rare gem.
Songthief is like a who’s who of songsmiths – Bernie Parry, Stan Rodgers, Kate Rusby, Graeme Miles, Ann Reader, Ralph McTell and Jez Lowe. Greg salutes the stirring ‘Diamantina Drover’ by Hugh McDonald, the Australian Bushwhackers and Redgum band member who succumbed to cancer in November, 2016 – and he manages to squeeze in the heart-warming ‘Cable Street’ and ‘Gharfoor’s Bus’ from Sean Cooney, inspiring writer of The Young’uns. Greg’s distinctive voice, his appealing enthusiasm and his friendly style moulds and shapes the songs, and his listeners can’t help but sing along.
Rob Sherwood recorded Songthief at his Shabbey Road Studios, and his production – notwithstanding a few blips and hiccups – is much improved. Punters who paid to see Greg should have no problem in parting with their hard-earned cash for this album.