"I've been to see Sura five times before - but tonight I feel that I really got to know him and his music"
Friday 13th June 2014
The Lantern Theatre, Sheffield
Photographs by Ayse Balko
Sura Susso, John Ball and Catherine Carr provided another intriguing evening of music, conversation and audience interaction. There was a slight change from the format of the first gig - with John Ball talking to Sura in the first half and Sura playing some solo kora pieces to illustrate their discussion, and then the 3 of them playing a stunning set for the second half.
Sura talked about the history of the kora, the basics of playing, and his own learning - initially on a 16 string version made by his uncle. There was no formal teaching, rather he recalled sitting in a large circle of others after school playing the kora and learning by listening - with no written music, formal tuition or manuals to work from. He reflected on the balance between traditional pieces and the degree of improvisation - beautifully illustrating what he was talking about by playing some wonderful pieces. He explored the spiritual connections of the instrument ... and he even explored the meaning and reality of the griot tradition. He clearly loved the interplay with the audience, answering questions on how his father (still a griot musician in Gambia) reacted to the wider influences now incorporated into Sura's playing and the reaction to a growing number of female kora players (very much not part of the tradition).
The Q&A could have gone on forever, but equally everyone wanted to hear more music. And who could not have loved the mix of kora, tabla, steel pans and some jazz guitar? The second half of the gig gave us a full hour of all 3 playing together. The interplay was mesmerising - dipping into the traditions and rhythms of 3 continents but creating a coherent whole. It's a real shame that the 3 of them don't get to play together more often.
Fantastic feedback from the audience - some who were long-time Sura afficionados, some who hadn't even heard the kora. The balance between talking and playing seemed just right - everyone just wanted more. I can see we'll have to do Sura Susso: the Sequel.