The AKA Trio comprises three world-renowned virtuosos in a joyful, uplifting and life-affirming musical collaboration. Senegalese kora player, Seckou Keita has previously played Bury St Edmunds in his ground-breaking duo with Welsh harpist Catrin Finch and with Cuban pianist Omar Sosa. Italian guitarist Antonio Forcione has released twenty albums and played with many major artists, while Brazilian percussionist Adriano Adewale has collaborated with Bobby McFerrin, Joanna McGregor and Benjamin Taubkin.
Coming from three different continents – Europe, Africa and South America – their music was formed by different cultures and traditions.
Antonio spent his early life on Italy’s Adriatic coast. He dreamt of becoming a drummer, but his neighbours didn’t like drums, so he became a guitarist, playing Italian folks songs with uncle Gino and jamming along to Santana, Led Zep, Dylan and Hendrix with his elder brother.
Adriano grew up in a small town near São Paulo in Brazil. His father dabbled with percussion, and his uncle Claudio was a fabulous pandeiro player, but it was made clear to Adriano early on that a life in music was out of the question. Music was dangerous – a magnet for drugs and vice.
Seckou was born into a family of griots, or traditional bards, in Senegal in West Africa. He was taught to play the kora, that fabulous 22-stringed harp emblematic of Manding culture, by his disciplinarian grandfather Jali Kemo Cissokho. Almost every male member of his extended family played the kora, and practiced the multifaceted arts of the griot. There was never any doubt that music was Seckou’s destiny.
All three experienced one or more of those ‘light bulb’ moments when identities begin to shift and new paths open up. For Antonio, it was hearing the album My Goal’s Beyond by John McLaughlin. “I was devastated in a way, because I thought I could play guitar. I had discovered what’s beyond those notes.” The discovery was soon reinforced by John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme and he decided to move to Rome and devote himself to the jazz guitar.
Adriano remembers going to a club as a teenager and hearing some rock’n’roll band playing Satisfaction. “The kick drum went right into my stomach.” He bought a drum kit in instalments and taught himself to play.
For Seckou, it was the realisation that he didn’t have to let his individuality be crushed by the weight of the centuries-old griot tradition. Whilst rendering it all due respect, he could also look to other styles of music – pop, jazz, rock, Indian. He could even master the djembe, as well as the kora. The shrinking world made so many things possible that were impossible in his grandfather’s day.
The trio converged at the Edinburgh Festival in 2011 when Antonio, Seckou and Adriano performed five sold-out gigs. “It was powerful,” Seckou remembers, “an amazing concept in a way – ideal musicians, ideal talent. The joy of feeling secure with the musicians you play with, not worrying that a note will be left hanging. And the joy of knowing that your smile is out there, in the audience.”
Adriano calls it ‘complicity’ – a special bond that’s nurtured during rehearsals, composing, chatting or playing footie together – and then transferred to the stage. And a common desire to avoid getting tangled up in virtuosity for its own sake.
“We put the music first,” he says. “It’s not about me or him or him; it’s about the music we make. To have three people from three different continents, really like a family, in harmony, and doing it, it speaks for itself. There’s nothing more to be said.”
AKA Trio perform at The Apex on Tuesday 12 November at 7.30pm, see www.theapex.co.uk or ring 01284 758 000 for more information or to book tickets.