World Music Matters - Touki: how West Africa's kora found kindred spirit in the banjo

When musicians Amadou Diagne and Cory Seznec had a chance encounter in a bar in Bath in 2007, they knew one day they would record together. Thirteen years later, after many "touki" (journeys), they've embarked on a new musical adventure with a debut album Right of Passage. They talk to RFI about making new roots music with kora, banjo and guitar.

“It was a fortuitous meeting of like-minded kindred spirits,” said Seznec, a French-American singer-songwriter, guitarist and clawhammer banjoist who’s honed his sound through travels on the African continent.

He was playing in a bar with his band Groanbox when Diagne showed up with his djembe after a day of busking and the two men began improvising together.

“The energy was fantastic ... some really simple connection happened back in 2007," said Seznec.

They played gigs from time to time, Seznec bringing Diagne on board “for his percussive and harmony prowess” but it took more than a decade for them to form the duo Touki and get into the studio.

“It was always in the back of our minds that we should do something, but life took us in different directions,” Seznec continued. "And then finally the stars aligned.”

When Diagne secured a grant from the Arts Council of England, he immediately thought of Seznec.

“It my dream for a long time to do something with him,” said Diagne, a multi-instrumentalist, composer and singer-songwriter from near Dakar and who settled in the UK in 2004.

“I just tell him ‘hey man, come on, this is the time now, let’s do it’!”

The two musicians rehearsed in Paris and recorded 13 tunes in Peter Gabriel’s World Circuit Records studios in southwestern England.

Diagne, who was born into a Griot family of drummers and praise singers, sings in Wolof and dug deep into his own personal history for inspiration on several songs.

Yaye Bouye is about his mother dying when he was a young boy, while Tirailleurs draws a parallel between his difficult beginnings in the UK and the Senegalese Tirailleurs who fought bravely alongside French troops in various world wars. Diagne’s own grandfather, Mass Mboup, was decorated by the French for his bravery in WW2.

Two songs, Yaen Yalay and Machallah are influenced by Seznec’s three years in Ethiopia and feature Endris Hassen on the one-string bowed lute known as masenqo.

“Yaen Yalay means ‘thank you’ in Eritrean. It’s a sort of banjo percussive, instrumental track, a nod to Ethiopia and Eritrea,” said Seznec. “It has ...
31 May 2020 English France TV & Film

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