Words by Nigel Williamson
After his sublime album, Clychau Dibon, with Welsh harpist Catrin Finch that won Best Cross-Cultural Collaboration in the 2014 Songlines Music Awards, the Senegalese-born but UK-based kora player follows with a mostly instrumental solo album of meditative grace and consummate elegance. The title tells a tale for the harp-like instrument conventionally has 21 strings. Yet according to legend, centuries ago when the djinns (spirits) gave the griot Jai Mady Wuleng the first kora, it had 22 strings. When he died, his fellow griots took one string away in his memory. In the southern Senegalese province of Casamance, where Seckou was born, the 22-stringed kora has survived. Despite the extra string, on these ten compositions Seckou’s style is distinctly more minimalist than the rich flurries of notes favoured by the poet laureate of the instrument, Toumani Diabaté. In particular, the vocal tracks such as ‘If Only I Knew’, ‘Kana-Sila’ and the gorgeous ‘Mandé’, sung by Seckou in a soulful voice of great poise, have an attractive folk simplicity, although there’s a more classical feel to several of the instrumental pieces. The overwhelming mood is stately, some might even say sombre, for there is clearly serious griot business at work here. The best is kept to last with ‘Future Strings in E’. At almost seven minutes, it’s a stunning instrumental showcase for Seckou’s inventiveness on all 22 of his ancient strings.