Photographers: Gareth Griffiths; Daniel Whiston; Victoria Munro; Andy Morgan.
The sixth album from acclaimed Senegalese kora player Seckou Keita follows his 2013 collaboration with Welsh harpist Catrin Finch. As lovely as the classical concert harp is, its more rustic African cousin, the kora, is capable of producing a surprisingly large range of notes, tones, and timbres, and Keita shows his mastery of it here on this beautifully meditative, almost entirely solo recording. The album's liner notes describe the introduction of the 22-string kora to the griot Jali Mady 'Wulung' by the African bush spirits many centuries ago. So beloved was Jali Mady that upon his death, his fellow griots removed one string from the kora, and in most parts of Africa, the instrument is now played with only 21 strings. However, in southern Senegal and Guinea Bissau where the kora originates, the 22-string kora is still in use and that is the instrument heard on this enchanting and complex album. A mix of instrumental and vocal pieces, tracks like "Mand?," with its crystalline arpeggios and rich harmonies, show Keita's impressive ability to both thrill and sooth, often within moments of each other. "N'dok?" effuses a warm joyfulness, while another highlight, the mysterious "If I Only Knew," walks a darker, more thoughtful path. An utterly graceful collection, 22 Strings is Seckou Keita at his unadorned best. ~ Timothy Monger