Return to The Gambia

Wintry weather in Hebden Bridge and across the UK made me nostalgic for the sunshiny Smiling Coast of Africa. With much of the content of my album sketched out, I kept thinking how lovely it would be to have a relaxing break in the sunshine, just to recharge my batteries for the final stretch of sabbatical.

When I heard that my good friend and kora supremo Sura Susso was in The Gambia, I couldn’t ignore my itchy feet any longer. In fact, I booked it, packed it, f’d off! A short 8 day trip to hang out with Sura, my teacher Hammay and his family, the Suso Kunda and the Senghore Family.

Before leaving, I had a very productive and inspiring meet up with fellow “Get A Life Award” recipient Rebecca Burman who came over to Hebden despite the snow. We spent a few hours sharing stories about our sabbatical experiences and found that we had much in common, including our perceptions of classical music education….another story for another time.

Rebecca is a leading Baroque violinist and a visual/textile artist who uses creativity to express what is going on inside her own head as well as inspiring others to do the same. You can read all about Rebecca’s sabbatical and her ongoing research here;


I also put together a project proposal for working with a small team of creatives (visual artist, theatre specialist and technical wizard) to develop an immersive performance narrative around my album content, extending my artistic practice beyond conventional performance modes and testing out new ideas in different venue spaces with a team of creative pioneers.

The creative team will experiment with ways of transforming what is “already there” (musical content, performers, architectural space, acoustics, lighting, audience) using the manipulation of analogue and digital technologies, projection (audio and visual), kinetic art, physical expressivity and other types of non-verbal narrative.

I don’t want to deliver the usual concert platform performance, I want to create something magical using minimal resources and delivered at a reasonable cost using visuals, stage-craft and projected paintings/prints to transform the performer-audience relationship. I’m also keen to tour the album in unusual places and build an audience base with diverse groups. My work fuses classical, world and folk elements without being in any one box – so I want to work outside the box in audience development, performance delivery and location.

If anyone has thoughts about funding opportunities for this kind of innovative collaborative work or suggestions for different venues to try and work with, I’d be really happy to hear from you. I have ear-marked some potential sources of funding but it’s always good to have more irons in the fire!

So, Africa…

Sura’s new single which was released on Valentine’s Day is available here;


Epic nights out (dancing till 6.30am) with my friend Sens Sagna from Manchester, Sura Susso, Lady Kanku from QT Radio and a new friend Paul who lives round the corner from Senghore compound.

Mawdo Suso weaving the story of Sunjata Keita’s acts of empathy, punctuated by singing from his wife Funee and balafon played by his son Yusupha – who also translated into English for me.

Jamming on the kora with Sura Susso – such a sensitive and skilful duo partner who countered my nervousness at playing with my hero with the biggest most reassuring grin you’ve ever seen!

Being whizzed all over the place by celebrity Sura in his big car – from hotspot to hotspot,  quick spick!

Holding my teacher’s baby Musa Saho for a long time and singing and dancing with him to the merry strains of Wuli Band rehearsing for a programme.

Pretending I could do palm readings with a load of Rastas in a beach bar and enjoying their delighted faces as their life stories unfolded! (They knew I was joking but they clearly enjoyed the fabrications!)

The ladies in my street singing “Jali Muso” every time I passed by, requiring of me a little dance.

So now I’m back in Blighty for the final push. I’m off to Aldeburgh in a couple of weeks to stay at composer Imogen Holst’s House near the sea. This is a week long residency supported by Britten Pears Foundation. I’m trying to buckle down with the proposal for the next phase of dementia work and will be travelling to London in a couple of weeks to talk to interested parties about collaboration which will be great. Aim high!

There will be more photos and videos of both Africa trips to follow. Thanks for following this Blog. I’m so lucky to have had this incredible travelling/learning/development experience so I’m very pleased to share it with you.


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