One of the most improbable of musical cross-pollinations resulted in a chance meeting in 2005 between two young musicians – Gris Sanderson, who was teaching music at Dartington College of Arts in the UK, and Juldeh Camara, who was performing a concert at the college. Sanderson was particularly struck by Camara’s playing of a traditional West African one-stringed instrument called the riti. She was a fiddle-player herself, in the Scots tradition, who had also become enchanted with the Swedish nyckelharpa, a multistringed fiddle (with resonators) and keys.
Camara promised to make a riti for Sanderson to learn to play, while Sanderson introduced Camara to some Scottish fiddle repertoire. The two players went their separate ways until 2010, when Sanderson was visiting Camara in Birmingham and became trapped by a particularly heavy snowstorm. Fortunately, she had her recording equipment and nyckelharpa with her, so the two began to experiment and record. After three days, finally the weather cleared and Sanderson returned home to Devon, there to listen to listen, mix and edit the recordings.
When she sent the end results back to Camara, he was excited by the way that his riti and Sanderson’s nyckelharpa had interwoven. They both decided to take the project forward, bringing in various other instruments that they played. So on this album’s 13 tracks are found virtuoso performances of both the riti and nyckelharpa, as well as fiddles, the Ghanaian koloko (a two-stringed lute), Fula talking drums and calabash, and the Irish bodhrán and bones.
“Our aim was simply to play together, and in doing so discover the similarities and differences in our traditional musics from Scotland and The Gambia, Senegal and beyond. As we swapped fiddle tunes and learned about one another’s cultures and the idea of recording an album – charting our explorations – began to emerge.
“So now our collaboration is represented here, a celebration of the diversity of our communities and oral traditions. We hope that our music will speak to people from both our cultures, and beyond,” Camara and Sanderson explain.
What is so interesting about the collaboration they have embarked upon is how many similarities there are in their two backgrounds. Both come from rich fiddle-playing traditions, both their fathers were fiddle players and made their own instruments, and both grew up in rural communities where the instrument and its music was highly prized: in Sanderson’s case, the Scottish highlands; in Camara’s case, rural Gambia.
But that is not to belittle the cultural differences. The collaboration required a great deal of memorisation – Sanderson admits that she found Fulani musical forms with repetition and improvisational passages very challenging, while the Scottish tradition of learning tunes and playing in unison (on some instruments that he was unfamiliar with) was hard for Camara.
But there was also a joyous realisation of commonalities – such as on the first track, ‘Pijin Jalen’, a Fulani wedding song, which Sanderson says, to their surprise, is just like a Scottish or Irish jig. An instrumental version of this song is featured later on, and Camara explains that the tune is played to wake the bride and bridegroom at dawn on the morning after they are wed.
“On this morning, the bride, bridegroom and in-laws show their satisfaction to the musicians. They will shower them with gifts for the music played over the three days of the wedding ceremony. The best two musicians are usually chosen to perform this final session, with the rest of the musicians waiting anxiously for their gifts,” he adds