AN UNLIKELY yet remarkably successful pairing of Welsh and Senegalese music will be wowing audiences at a top festival.

Former royal harpist Catrin Finch will be taking centre stage alongside kora player Seckou Keita at the North Wales International Music Festival at St Asaph Cathedral at 7.30pm on Monday, October 4.

The critically acclaimed duo are fresh from performing at the Royal Albert Hall as one of the highlights at this year’s Proms.

The North Wales International Music Festival, which is celebrating its 50th year, will be a hybrid event after being held solely online in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Organisers say the support of the Arts Council of Wales and festival sponsors was crucial in enabling the event to go ahead this year, with the arts-loving care organisation Pendine Park as the headline sponsor via the Pendine Arts and Community Trust, which support arts and community activities.

This year, five concerts will take place in St Asaph Cathedral, with the London Tango Quintet featuring Craig Ogden on guitar on the opening night; Thursday, September 30.

Other highlights include chamber music group Ensemble Cymru and resident orchestra NEW Sinfonia with American pianist John Frederick Hudson.

There will also be the Welsh premiere of a new piano concerto by royal composer Paul Mealor, which was jointly commissioned by the festival, along with world premieres of works by acclaimed composers Jon Guy and Brian Hughes.

Brian Hughes is also part of Family Affair, including son Daniel and daughter Miriam, who will also be performing at the festival with tenor Dafydd Jones.

Part two will be a virtual festival starting on November 15, when recordings of the concerts in the cathedral will be available online, along with a series of other performances recorded elsewhere.

The collaboration between Catrin Finch and Seckou Keita should never have happened.

They were first introduced in March 2012, when producers called upon Seckou to stand in when a military coup in Mali had detained kora virtuoso Toumani Diabaté and prevented him from attending rehearsals for a major tour with Catrin Finch.

Coincidentally, it came about a year after another connection between Wales and Senegal re-established itself.

Ospreys were persecuted to extinction in Wales during the 17th century but, 400 years later, the magnificent raptors made a comeback, naturally returning to the mid-Wales area.

In 2011, Osprey chicks hatched in a nest in the Dyfi Valley in Mid Wales – the first time this had happened since 1604.

The re-emergence of Ospreys in Wales inspired the first track of Catrin and Seckou’s 2018 album, ‘SOAR’, celebrating the remarkable affinities between the Welsh harp and the West African kora, resembling a cross between a harp and a lute.

The release was greeted with a raft of four- and five-star reviews from press and critics worldwide.

Among them was Tim Cumming, who wrote in Songlines: "They are now one of the most popular world music acts of this decade."

Pendine Park proprietor, Mario Kreft MBE, said: “The North Wales International Musical Festival has rightly established itself as a highlight in the UK’s cultural calendar.

“We are pleased to be this year’s headline sponsor of the overall festival, as well as supporting the concert featuring the sublime talents of Catrin Finch and Seckou Keita.

“The festival chimes with our commitment to music as a means of enhancing and enriching people’s lives.

“The arts are the golden thread running through our enrichment programme which is designed to improve the quality of life for our residents and also the staff looking after them.”

Ann Atkinson, the festival’s artistic director, said: “We are delighted to be able to welcome Catrin and Seckou to this year’s festival.

“It’s a very special year in our history, and it’s appropriate we are able to showcase such a wide array of world class musical talent.

“It will be so wonderful to be back actually in the cathedral with a live audience, and we are very grateful to the Arts Council of Wales and festival sponsors for their continued support in helping us do this.

“But we are also deeply aware that last year’s digital festival reached a worldwide audience and, with that in mind, part two of this year’s festival will be a series of free online concerts in November for the people who’ve been following us from America, from across Europe, and right across the world as far afield as New Zealand - as well as those closer to home.

“This will give us the best of both worlds because, as well as providing the opportunity to enjoy live music in the cathedral once again, we will also be able to reach out to a global audience.”

Festival tickets are available online. For more information about the North Wales International Music Festival, please visit: