Thursday, July 16, 2015

Traditions--A Griot & a 22-String Harp

21st Century Songs of Mandinka


I first heard the modern griot and kora player Seckou Keita when he performed with the UK band Baka Beyond. The second time I heard Seckou perform was on an album with his international quartet on the album Silimbo Passage. So when Arc Music sent me a press release for Seckou's solo album, 22 Strings, I requested an e-mail interview with the Senegalese musician.

And since that release of his CD last May, Seckou has experienced limelight and acclaim.

Whole Music Experience: Similar to many traditional musicians (from musical dynasties), you received intense musical and religious training as a child, rebelled as a young adult, and now you have returned to your musical tradition, in this case, that of a griot. Do you feel like you have traveled full circle? And how have your other musical experiences with Celtic musicians, your quartet, and other genres shaped who you are as a musician today?

Seckou Keita: My link to the century-spanning chain of griot transmission is on my Mother site Fatou Bintou Cissokho. It’s known as father to son but more of generation to generations, (as I’ve seen my grandfather training others that are not his own kids but coming from other griot communities /family) So therefore, it’s as much for me to come back to the source to inspire the next generation, but still exploring the new music.

Yes my experience with other musical journey played an important part of who I’m as a musician today and probably inspired me to what some people will call coming back to full circle. 

WME: Your name seemed familiar to me when Arc Music sent me the press release for 22 Strings and then when I read your biography, I noticed that you were in the band Baka Beyond and I had also reviewed your CD, The Silimbo Passage for my blog. In some ways the work with Baka Beyond (getting the word out about the Baka musicians and their plight) has similarities to the griot tradition in that as musicians you report a situation or news to the public, but in this case, an international audience. What has been your role musical and otherwise with Baka Beyond? Are you still performing and recording with the band?

SK: I was one of the drummers in Baka Beyond and I contributed on some compositions on the album East to West, both kora ,djembe and drum kit. When I released my 3rd album Silimbo Passage with my Quintet (SKQ) with 400 concerts around the world, time didn’t allow me to work with Baka Beyond.

WME: You mention in the press notes that the kora originally had 22 strings, but after the death of the creator of the kora, Jali Mady Wuleng, musicians honored the griot by subtracting a string thus ending up with a 21 string harp. When did the 22nd string return? And is this acknowledged by griot from Senegal, Mali, and other West African countries with the griot tradition? Oddly 21-strings would be considered sacred by some spiritual folks who follow sacred geometry, but 22 strings also has powerful significance, plus it sounds wonderful.

SK: first of all the Origin of the kora is from Gabou. Gabou was an empire which consisted of three places before colonization -  Guinné Bissau, Casamance (the southern part of Senegal) and the Gambia. The Honored strings to Jaly Mady Wuleng have been done after his passing but some griots have kept the 22 strings aside, and places you can found it is the Casamance and a bit in the Gambia too. I personally found 22 strings more adapted on the modern musical world for example ( the main key on the kora always have 4 octave  and that leave you  6 notes with 3 octave each ) …But in the case of the 21 strings  lets say your kora is tuned in G  that’s 4 octave  on G, and there’s 6 notes to cover with 3 octave  you will end up having only 2 octave on the C. Hope this makes sense.

WME: The peaceful resonance of the kora is mentioned also in the press notes, and before I placed your recording into my computer to listen to it for the first time, I was feeling irritated and angry. By the time I had listened to the CD, I felt calm and even peaceful. Kora also appears on some new age recordings and I often think recordings featuring solo kora would make lullaby music for children. Was the kora originally created to bring peace to a community or kingdom?

SK: Well said WME. Let’s put it this way and instrument that use to help Hero’s big kings that go out and cause troubles and wars .The kora was one the instrument that they will listen to and help them to deal with they emotion in a peaceful way, and I believe it has got a better place now in the 21 century where now things are a bit out of control.

WME: You were born in 1978 so you’re relatively young for a traditional musician, yet you have encountered many crossroads, forged relationships with diverse musicians, and returned to your roots wiser and more understanding than you would have been in your youth. When you encounter young musicians now, especially ones wanting to study a tradition, what advice or encouragement do you give them?

SK: There’s a proverb in Mandinka that says if you’re not sure where you are heading, go back where you come from. My advice is never force your ears, not to listen to all type of music and never give up learning the tradition and especially the histories behind anything you learn. As I’m still learning, make sure you mastered what ever you are learning before adding your own touch.


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

21st Century Musical Healer Series--Harping with Kate Kunkel

Harpist/Healer Kate Kunkel
Harping Our Way to Healing & Health

As the founder of the Linked In group, Musical Healers, I have experienced the great privilege of meeting the best and brightest sound healers and sound therapists of the 21st Century. Canadian-based harpist Kate Kunkel (Harp Lady), is among those Light Worker musicians who have crossed my path. She has been featured on Shirley Maclaine's radio show and other broadcasts as well as, having several products available in the form of recordings and books.

Kunkel's inspiration story reminds us that each of us has a true calling for how we can serve on the planet, and thus find our healing, transformation, and happiness.

Whole Music Experience: You went through two major transitional periods which led you to the work you’re doing with sound therapy. First, while you were dealing with stress as a business woman, you encountered playing harp in a dream. Then the second transition took place when you performed music for a last rite of passage for a man dying from cancer. Could you briefly describe these situations?

Kate Kunkel: My first transformational experience came as a result of incredible stress.  I had a business in Palm Springs, California, that I felt demanded that I keep 12 other individuals (my employees) happy as I built the business. Obviously this was not possible. Consequently, I suffered terrible stress working seven days a week at the business and networking in the evenings to build it. 

One night as I returned from yet another networking meeting, I fleetingly considered driving off a bridge. It was only a nanosecond, but I realized that I was in a very bad place. As I lay in bed that night, I prayed for guidance and in a dream that night, I was given what I believe to be divine insight. In that dream, I was playing a harp, and for the first time in my life, I felt peace, and a true sense of purpose. The next morning I began my quest to find and learn the harp. One year later, I walked away from that business and began my true life – as a harpist.

The second transformational experience came when I was playing harp professionally in Las Vegas. I was asked by a friend to play for a man whose cancer treatment options were at an end. I did not realize he was so close to death when I arrived at his home, but was happy to be able to play for him when I arrived. His family said that he was waiting for me, even though it was obvious he was not conscious. But I could feel his presence, and I greeted him and began to play. It was only about 20 minutes from the time I started playing for him that he passed, but in that time, I felt an intense soul connection with him. It was a feeling I cannot adequately express, but I know it was real, and that I felt his spirit leave his body. It was the moment, the second that I knew my destiny. This was why I played the harp--for healing.

WME: You mention on your website that you offer Vibroacoustic Harp therapy. Can you describe this therapy?

KK: Vibroacoustic Harp Therapy (VAHT) is a branch of sound therapy inspired by vibroacoustic therapy, a 40 year old modality developed by Olav Skille in Norway. Basically VAT uses sound to produce vibrations that are applied directly to the body. During the vibroacoustic therapy process, a client lies on the specially designed mat or bed or sits in a chair that is embedded with speakers or transducers which transmit specific computer-generated frequencies into vibrations. In the case of VAHT, which was developed by Sarajane Williams, I actually play my harp into the amplifier, which then sends the frequencies of the harp directly into the client. It is an incredible experience; combining the beautiful tones of the harp with the powerful resonance of vibroacoustics.

WME: You have several recordings and a book on the healing consciousness of sound available. In the book you go into detail about the sound frequencies in our environment such as leaf blowers, booming stereos, lawn mowers (all my favorite sounds, lol) and the damage caused to us by exposure to those sounds. Then you mention healing frequencies to counteract our daily barrage of noises.

So I’m wondering, do you ask your clients to keep a diary of the noises they’re exposed to and the health effects? I already know how those sounds affect me. And do your CDs act as masking for those sounds, or do clients play those CDs in a quieter environment at a different time to recalibrate their bodily systems?

KK: My CDs are not created to “mask” those sounds. I believe that adding more sound to obnoxious sounds only adds more substance to the obnoxiousness. I do ask clients to pay attention to the feelings they have when they are exposed to different sounds, and encourage them to find a way to eliminate those sounds from their environments. Obviously, that is often not possible, but by acknowledging the noise and understanding that in many cases that is what is causing you to be anxious or irritated, it goes a long way to making it possible to reduce the feelings of anger, irritation, whatever. I invite clients to play my CD or any other soothing music during times when they can pay attention and enjoy/understand/absorb the healing qualities of the music.

WME: I’m fascinated by the article on your website about Codes of Tones which I haven’t encountered previously. You mention that Mozart used the Codes of Tones and that they hail from ancient times.

How did you learn about these tones? What are they? What other musicians have used the tones in their compositions? Are you referring to Solfeggio tones or Sacred Geometry?

KK: No, I am not referring to the Solfeggio tones or Sacred Geometry when discussing the code of tones. I learned about the code from harpist Joel Andrews through his book, A Harp Full of Stars, and the system basically uses a letter/pitch equivalent chart. We know that Haydn used it also, but of course many musicians don’t share the source of their inspiration.

WME: You have joined a global tradition performing the harp. And as you mention on your website, the harp goes back to Biblical times, and I’ll add that the instrument in various guises and forms was performed in medieval West Africa, and I believe ancient Greece. Many of us also associate the harp with angels.

Where do you see the future of harps going? I noticed more and more sound healers are led to the harp.

KK: As a harpist, therapist and teacher, every day I see more and more people drawn to the instrument.  Perhaps it is the yearning for peace that we all experience now. When you sit down and play a harp, something changes in you. I believe it is partly the vibration of the instrument against your body, partly the history of it. Surely most of us have heard the many stories in various cultures of the healing power of the harp, so I do believe it elicits a kind of soul memory for many. I know for me that the first time I picked up the harp I felt “I’m home”. As I and many others work to dispel the myth that the harp “is such a difficult instrument”, I hope that more and more people will pick it up and realize that it is very intuitive, and far from being a complicated instrument that only the elite few can master, it is in fact a folk instrument. Given a few moments, anyone can pick out a tune on a harp. I encourage people to do just that, and see where it leads them.

Video explaining VAHT: