TRCH Nov 19

Interview: The Kora-Playing Three

24 October 19 words: Rachel Willcocks

Brothers Seckou Keita, Sura Susso and Suntou Susso are all established Kora players in their own right, but at this year’s Hockley Hustle they’re treating us to a rare performance together on the Amity stage. Our Rachel talks life, music and more with the trio ahead of the show…

Music certainly does run through the veins of the dynamic Kora playing brothers, Seckou Keita, Sura Susso and Suntou Susso. This Senegambian trio has a strong family bond that they build on by sharing their meaningful music with each other in jamming sessions and creating innovative sounds together. 

Not sure what the Kora sounds like? It’s phenomenally beautiful, soft, enchanting and almost medicinal. Like the waves of the ocean lapping on the shore and the feel of sunshine on your skin, the music they make will make you feel warm ‘n’ fuzzy inside. Playing this rare instrument goes beyond being a way of making a living for these brothers, and is truly considered a lifestyle and a culture to them.

Despite being busy working on numerous albums, winning awards (Seckou Keita was named Musician of the year at the 2019 BBC 2 Folk awards), and performing around the world, we were lucky enough to catch all three brothers for a chat to find out more about what inspires them, and what we can expect from their performance this October.

We don't usually see you all playing together, why is it you've decided to join forces for this performance?
Sura: This is a hard question. We have done before, but this is the first time playing together with Suntou - officially. Seckou and I have done a lot of stuff in the past. We’ve done the Kora Festival with our older brother, before Suntou came to the country. But also when we came here, everyone had their solo careers going on and everyone was trying to get experience outside of what we know already, so we can learn new things and have new challenges. But we do play together privately, at home when we go and see each other. We’re planning to do an album together soon too.

Who inspired you to make music in the first place?
Suntou: My dad (our dad) actually, I grew up with him playing the Kora in the house constantly. His name is Mamadou Susso. I started playing the Kora when I was about four and then all the other percussion instruments too. I’m the baby of the family - when I was about 10 I’d go out and play with my dad at different celebrations for naming ceremonies, for Eid and other parties. Sometimes he’d pick me up straight after school and we’d go straight there, then we’d go home. 

How would you describe the music that you typically create?
Seckou: To be honest, it's music for the soul. It's a peaceful sound that we create together - music that has a purpose in healing. You know so many things are happening in the world nowadays, like Brexit, we are all so stressed. But the music we create is to re-centre, music to heal, music to listen to and music to dance to.

You're obviously a musical family - why do you think you're all so creative? And how did you get into playing such a niche instrument? Was it passed down in your family?
Sura: Yes, because ‘Susso’ is a Kora playing family so it’s been passed down through our families for centuries. From father to son, from father to son; generation to generation. My mother is also from a Kora playing family. My father played a lot in Gambia and my mother would sing, he took me with him everywhere he went so I grew up falling in love with the instrument and the sound. We’d hear the Kora everyday and the Kora was in our house before we were. I started to play by myself because my father was a very busy man, playing all around the world, and I’d teach myself by watching him perform.

What is your creative process like?
Suntou: I get ideas through research; I listen to a lot of musicians like Salif Keita and Youssou N’Dour, I listen to my brothers of course... and I learn from all of them. I’ve been doing solo concerts for a long time, performing with bands that have different instruments. I play nine different instruments so I play with different bands and in different genres, so I get my ideas from there.

You're all playing and collaborating together at Hockley Hustle. Other than each other, who else would you most like to collaborate with?
Seckou: Wow, there are so many in the pipeline. Some people are known and others are not known at all. But I would really like to collaborate with some good musicians out there, talented ones. Especially if they are making good music, not just for the fame or the name or the character, but a music that speaks to my heart - that's what I go for. We would like to get our brother, Modou N’diaye, in one day too and our younger sister, Binta Suso, to make it even more of a family affair, haha!

What has been your favourite performance to date? 
Sura: Recently, I was doing a project in the south of Spain blending African Kora music with Flamenco. Myself, a Senegalese percussionist, worked with Spanish musicians, singers and flamenco dancers. It was amazing!

Seckou: Wow... it's hard to say. My experience of playing in New Zealand a long time ago, at the WOMAD festival was definitely one of my favourites. The way we were welcomed by the Māori tradition and got to experience that culture will stick in my head forever. 

Suntou: My favourite performance was with my family. I was in Gambia studying and then Seckou brought me to the UK to perform and I joined with everyone. My sister and brothers were there, and it was in Manchester. It was a long time since my brothers had been in the UK and I was in Gambia so when I came it was really incredible. 

Seckou Keita, Sura Susso and Suntou Susso play on the Amity stage at Oscar and Rosie's as part of Hockley Hustle on Sunday 27th October, at 8pm.

Tickets and info

You might like this too...

Celebrating Caterntide

You may also be interested in