Seckou Keita (born 14 February 1978) is a kora player and drummer from Senegal. He is a charismatic live performer and one of the few champions of the less-known and rhythmically rocking kora repertoire from Casamance in southern Senegal.
Keita was born in Ziguinchor, Senegal. Through his father he is a descendant of the Malian Keita family of kings and his mother's family, the Cissokhos, are a griot family (hereditary musicians). He launched his international career in 1996 under the guidance of his uncle Solo Cissokho with appearances at Norway's Forde Festival in a successful collaboration with Cuban, Indian and Scandinavian musicians. In the years that followed, Keita relocated to the United Kingdom, while touring regularly in Spain, France, Portugal, Greece and Czech Republic as well as playing at such prestigious festivals as WOMAD and Glastonbury, both as a solo musician, and in collaboration with acclaimed figures like Indian violinist Dr. L. Subrimaniam.
He joined the popular world music group Baka Beyond as a drummer in 1998, contributing to their well-received East To West album, and in 2000 began to record his own solo debut Baiyo (retitled Mali for a later release through ARC Music), which encompassed his musical journey to that date, from Africa to Europe, via India.
Keita developed his work on the kora and with support slots to luminaries like Salif Keita and Youssou N'Dour, solo slots at London's Jazz Café and at Ireland's Sacred Music Festival, and a nomination in 2001 for BBC Radio 3's prestigious World Music Award, it is clear that Keita's many collaborations have fed and extended rather than diluted the African mainspring of his music.
Keita formed the Seckou Keita Quartet in 2004. With his quartet formation, Seckou has made a significant contribution to kora music with his original tunings. "There are four basic traditional tunings," he explains, "which are linked to the different regions in Senegal, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau and Mali where the kora is played. Each region has its own distinct tuning. My own approach has been to put all these tunings together in the same instrument, so while still rooted in tradition, the sound is quite different to what people are used to hearing, and the range of material I can perform is greatly extended." The quartet later expanded into the Seckou Keita Quintet.
"Everything in music has to be honest, and the deeper meanings of the songs and melodies must be preserved", he explains. "This is why it’s important that collaborations should be right for the music, and there are connections between, say, Cuban and Indian sounds and the repertoire of the kora that can be explored without losing the distinct flavours of the different traditions and styles."
Keita runs drumming and kora workshops in schools, arts centres and festivals, working with organisations such as Music For Change, Creative Partnerships and WOMAD. He is also a regular guest leader for Sewa Beats a company that offers corporate learning through rhythm and music.
In November 2010, Keita launched a partnership with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). He will donate 50% of the proceeds made from sales of his cd, The Silimbo Passage, over six months, to support the ICRC's work to protect and assist victims of war and other situations of violence. Keita chose the ICRC because he had come into contact with the humanitarian organization when he was a child in the Casamance (a region that has been affected by armed violence for the last 30 years). “The International Red Cross sparks memories from my youth. I didn't know what they were about but I knew they were doing good things,” he says.
- "Seckou Keita". www.african-drumbeat.co.uk. Archived from the original on December 10, 2008. Retrieved 2009-03-02.
- "Seckou Keita". www.africanmusiciansprofiles.com. Retrieved 2009-03-02.
- Partnership with the International Red Cross
- Tom Hughes (18 October 2014). "From Sengal via Sneinton, a star of world music". Sneinton Alchemy. Retrieved 18 October 2014.