Classically trained Welsh harpist Catrin Finch and Seckou Keita, the Senegalese exponent of the west African harp kora, first collaborated in 2013 on their widely acclaimed album Clychau Dibon. Its long-awaited follow-up, Soar, was released last month. This concert was an emotional demonstration of how two virtuoso musicians triumphantly bring different cultures together.It began with a delightful and appropriate concept. Wales used to have a large osprey population, but by the 17th century the birds had been persecuted to extinction. The ospreys have recently returned, migrating from west Africa, and Clarach celebrates the first Welsh-born osprey for hundreds of years. The track began with floating harp work punctuated by kora basslines, then developed into a soaring, gently rousing improvisation celebrating freedom of movement.
The duo swapped improvised melody lines and rhythmic backing almost intuitively, in a set that showcased their new album. Bach to Baïsso started with a western classical theme – from Bach’s Goldberg Variations – played on kora before easing into an elegant but lively ancient Senegambian tune, with Seckou providing laid-back vocals. Elsewhere, on 1677, they moved from a bluesy, atmospheric lament about slavery to a playful rhythmic workout, while on the charming Listen to the Grass Grow they were joined by Welsh singer Gwyneth Glyn, who had opened the show.
Finch is undergoing cancer treatment, and asked for donations for an NHS centre in Cardiff “that has saved many lives and is currently saving mine”. Then she launched into Hinna-Djulo, matching Seckou’s now swinging, jazzy kora improvisation with delight. It was a classy, joyful and life-affirming set.