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A host of international musicians join Seckou Keita on a digital charity single in support of the
International Committee of the Red Cross




Seckou Keita (Senegal), Fatoumata Diawara (Mali), Noura Mint Seymali (Mauritania), Hakim (USA/Gambia), Manecas Costa (Guinee Bissau), Anandi Bhattacharya (India), Zule Guerra (Cuba), Kris Drever (Scotland/UK), Celestine Walcott-Gordon (Jamaica /UK), Moustapha Gaye (Senegal), Mieko Miyazaki (Japan)

All proceeds from ‘Now or Never’ will go to support the work of the International Committee of the Red Cross's (ICRC) in their response to COVID-19 worldwide

In West Africa, any important event is generally marked by the song of the griot or traditional bard; not just joyous, festive events, such as a wedding or a naming ceremony, but tragic ones too. “The griot has a natural duty to come out when there’s death, sadness, conflict,” says the Senegalese griot and kora virtuoso Seckou Keita. “So for me, with a pandemic like this, there was an obligation to act, to do something to help.”

But how to fulfill the griot’s calling in a way that recognizes the universal, borderless nature of the calamity? Locked down in his adopted hometown of Nottingham, England, it didn’t seem enough to write a song in his native tongue, Mandinka, that would speak only to Seckou’s own Senegalese and African networks. “I didn’t want to limit myself to that,” he says, “because the pandemic has touched the whole world. I’m from Africa, and that’s my first duty, but I live in the west, my kids were born here, I travel the world.”

So Seckou Keita started to contact other artists - friends, singers whose voices he loved, people he’d met on his travels. Texts and WhatsApp message pinged east, west, north, south, and, “beautifully,” as Seckou describes it, they all agreed to come on board.

Malian actress and songbird Fatoumata Diawara sent a verse in Bambara; the female griot Noura Mint Seymali offered a snippet in the Hassaniya dialect of Arabic spoken in her native Mauretania; Guinean artist Manecas Costa sang in the Portuguese inflected creole of Guinea Bissau; Indian singer Anandi contributed in her native Bengali; Zule Guerra in Cuban Spanish; singer-songwriter Kris Drever from the Orkneys and Jamaican Barbadian UK-born singer Celestine Walcott-Gordon supplied two very different flavours of English.

All these voices came together, with their own hues, inflections, twists, to offer variants of the message that it’s ‘Now or Never’. “For me, the pandemic is a sign,” Seckou says. “It kicked us all down, sent us into our caves. But then came Black Lives Matter, another kind of pandemic. Because, yes, we’re talking about Covid-19, but what about beyond Covid-19? What about waking people up for what’s coming next – could be stillness, or violence, or problems with borders, but whatever it is, there’s only one cure: coming together. This is the moment.”

The message was distilled by Seckou’s friend, the Senegalese poet and rapper Keyti (aka Cheikh Sène) into a chorus that became the template for all the other contributions. Then, under Seckou’s guidance, the disparate strands were woven together by Hakim Abdul Samad, an Afro-American producer based in the Gambia. Ideas and comments ‘zoomed’ back and forth over the ether in a frenzy of cross-continental creativity. Instruments were added: the Senegalese guitars of Mustapha Gueye, the Japanese koto lute of Mieke Miyazaki, Hakim Abdul Samad’s drums (he also contributed vocals in English) and Seckou Keita’s kora. Global lockdown, instant technology and borderless creativity - the new givens of the griot’s art. 

In order to walk the talk the artists agreed that all proceeds from ‘Now or Never’ will go to the International Committee of the Red Cross's (ICRC) response to COVID-19 worldwide. The ICRC is fighting to prevent the spread of this disease in more than 90 countries, supporting vital health infrastructure and sourcing necessary supplies for those most in need.

“At this time of global crisis, the values of solidarity, compassion and humanity are more important than ever. To all the artists who got together to produce this incredible song, a heartfelt thank you. Your generosity will go a long way to helping some of the neediest people on the planet: those affected by armed conflict and violence, for whom COVID-19 is yet another deadly threat.” says Robert Mardini, ICRC's Director General.

For Seckou Keita, the ICRC, an organisation under whose reassuring spell Seckou Keita first fell back in the 1980s when a war of secession raged in his homeland of Casamance, southern Senegal, and the sight of a Red Cross vehicle or banner offered the promise of safety, sanity and neutrality amidst all the violence and destruction.

So this is ‘Now or Never’ - a global, borderless song, about a global, borderless pandemic that will hopefully benefit a global, borderless humanitarian organisation: a child of the ‘now’ and a warning of the ‘never’ that might come next. 

Artist credits:




Fatoumata Diawara (Mali)

Seckou Keita (Senegal)

Noura Mint Seymali (Mauritania)

Hakim (USA/Gambia)

Manecas Costa (Guinee Bissau)

Anandi Bhattacharya (India)

Zule Guerra (Cuba)

Kris Drever (Scotland/UK)
Celestine Walcott-Gordon (Jamaica /UK)

Moustapha Guaye: Guitars (Senegal)
Mieko Miyazaki : Koto  (Japan)
Hakim: Drums & MIX (USA/Gambia)
Seckou Keita: Kora


Composed and arranged by Seckou Keita

Produced by Seckou Keita and Hakim

Executive Producer Seckou Keita

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