I recently saw John Haycock support Plume. Having never heard of him, I had absolutely no idea what sort of music I’d be listening to. So when I walked into the back room of the Castle Hotel to a hushed audience, captivated by John playing soft clarinet over looped and layered kora, I was blown away. Kora players traditionally come from the griot, or jali, families of West Africa – historians and storytellers who pass on knowledge orally through the generations. John was taught by master of the craft, Jali Kuyateh, who plays throughout Manchester city centre, filling the air of an otherwise busy metropolis with the kora’s beautifully resonant sound. What's more, he actually made his own kora using parts sourced from West Africa, partly assembling it there before shipping it back to the UK to be finished off, strung and tuned.
John’s tunes are centred on repeating kora phrases, which he loops and runs through a series of effects pedals, creating swells of mesmerising atmospherics. He adds percussive elements by tapping the base of the instrument, which produces a deep and hollow sound, and augments the entire thing with woodwinds. Where much kora music is based on lengthy solo runs, John’s approach sees him rein things in without at all diminishing the overall effect. His music feels deliberately considered and minimal, its impact coming from the smattering of delay he’ll momentarily wash the song in, or in the slow development of harmony constructed through gradual layers of kora. It’s this blend of instrumentation and technique that sees John’s music expand from its original West African roots, tapping into styles such as electronica and dub.
John is part of the Kora Collective, a group of musicians who play under the guidance of Jali Kuyateh, fusing kora music with soul, hip-hop and reggae. He also features on the latest Gondwana Records release, John Ellis’s Seeds and Streams. Don’t miss an opportunity to watch one of his sets - they’re something special.