African Flavour To Royal Wedding: Who’s The 19-Year-Old Sierra Leonean-British Cellist Performing At Prince Harry’s Wedding
London, April 28, 2018 (AltAfrika)-Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have announced some of the performers who will appear at their wedding.
The couple have chosen a number of choral groups, soloists and musicians to perform at the service, which will take place at St George’s Chapel on 19 May.
One of the performers at their Service will be 19-year-old Sierra Leonean-British musical prodigy and cellist, Sheku Kanneh-Mason, BBC reports.
Mr Kanneh-Mason tweeted in response saying he was “excited and honoured” to perform at the wedding. The cellist played for Prince Harry at a fundraising event last year for the Antiguan charity the Halo Foundation.
The 19-year-old also revealed that he received a phone call from Ms Markle herself, asking him if he would play during their ceremony.
“I immediately said yes!!! What a privilege. I can’t wait!” he tweeted
The BBC Young Musician 2016 winner (the first black musician to do so) says on Twitter that he immediately said yes at the opportunity when Markle asked him the question over a phone call. The musician has played for Prince Harry at a fundraising event last year for the Halo Foundation, an Antiguan charity.
Kanneh-Mason, whose father hails from Antigua and his mother from Sierra Leone and Wales, landed the biggest-selling British debut of his classical album, “Inspiration” earlier this year. He’s one of seven children (they all play at least one instrument), and appeared on Britain’s Got Talentwith five of his siblings, making to the semi-finals.
Learn more about Sheku and his extra-ordinary musical family in this piece by The Times
To the outside observer little about Sheku Kanneh-Mason, his talent, his extraordinary family and his rapid rise is normal. When he won the BBC Young Musician of the Year in 2016 with a hair-raising performance of Shostakovich’s first cello concerto, it was remarkable enough that a kid with an afro who didn’t go to a specialist, fee-paying music school had taken the top prize. Then it turned out there were six other Kanneh-Masons at home, the eldest now 21, the youngest 8, all of whom had worked or were working through their grades on violin, piano or cello with equal determination.
They had appeared on Britain’s Got Talent and then starred in a BBC documentary, Young, Gifted and Classical, which told the story of how the Kanneh-Mason parents, Stuart and Kadie, had raised this prodigious bunch, although neither was a professional musician nor in the arts business and had to rearrange their lives around their children’s talents, spending small fortunes in the process.
He is calm, almost preternaturally so, about the whirlwind that followed the 2016 BBC Young Musician win. “Before I was doing a few concerts a year and just studying . . . so to go from that to a record contract and lots of concerts is a massive change, but at the moment it’s not too crazy. I’m enjoying it and that’s the most important thing.”
Much is made of his relaxed manner as a performer. “There’s no fuss, he simply sits down, pulls out the spike of his cello and plays,” the Times critic said of his National Youth Orchestra gig. For Sheku, this is part and parcel of being a good performer. “I’m quite comfortable on stage. I would get more nervous talking in front of an audience than playing a cello.”
Where did this cool focus come from? Parents of would-be Kanneh-Masons who want a magic formula may be frustrated by his memories of growing up in his harmonious household. Did he ever think his family were unusual? “It is definitely quite rare,” he says, “but I grew up in that environment, so I was used to waking up and hearing my sister doing her scales.” The oldest of the clan is Isata, who reached the piano finals of the BBC Young Musician in 2015. The next is Sheku’s elder brother, Braimah, now in his second year studying violin at the Royal Academy.
“My parents started Isata and Braimah on the piano and violin because they were the instruments they knew.” Sheku was put on to the same instruments, “but I never really made a good sound on the violin, and it’s a hard instrument to start on because it takes a few years before it even sounds bearable”. Plus, he also chafed at having to follow in Braimah’s footsteps. “Being the younger brother, I wanted to be better than him, so I picked a bigger instrument.” At six he was playing a quarter-size cello. At nine he had passed grade 8 and at ten he began studying once a week at the Junior Royal Academy in London.
He insists his parents didn’t put undue pressure on any of them. “They aren’t musicians. As we were learning, they were learning all of it as well. And it wasn’t always that we were going to be musicians. Isata started the piano and very soon it seemed like she was learning very quickly, so us younger ones followed her and copied her. It hasn’t happened, but if one of my siblings wanted to do something else, they would equally have encouraged them.”
He says until he was about ten he would practise for “an hour, maybe up to an hour and a half” a day. Downtime has always been important, but “I know when I’m wasting my time and should be practising”. The biggest endeavour for the Kanneh-Masons over the years has been the weekly visits to the Junior Royal Academy — Sheku had a junior scholarship — which meant a car ride to a 6.30am train from Nottingham, “which I do not enjoy, but I sleep on the train”.
Sheku is not the first BBC Young Musician winner to emerge into a blaze of glory, publicity and a huge record contract. In 2004, at the age of 16 the Scottish violinist Nicola Benedetti also won a deal with Decca’s sister label, DG, but her career was more advanced and she wasn’t intending to carry on at music college. Is it too soon for Sheku to be chasing a similar spotlight? “It could be, but the people at Decca understand I’m still studying, so I’ve been supported in that way and given the chance to learn as well as to record . . . working towards a recording isn’t going out of the way I would be going anyway. This is another way of learning and progressing.”
The new album will not require Sheku to get huge new chunks of the repertoire under his skin. The music has been chosen to reflect musicians that have inspired him. The centrepiece is the Shostakovich concerto that won him the BBC gong. “Rostropovich’s recording is one of my favourite recordings so that’s why I’ve chosen that piece,” he says. Then there’s Song of the Birds by Pablo Casals: “the grandfather of cello playing”. Some of Sheku’s earliest musical memories are listening to Jacqueline du Pré’s totemic recording of the Elgar cello concerto. He’s wise enough not to be recording that now — although he is studying the piece, he says — but has selected Offenbach’s The Tears of Jacqueline as a tribute to the great British musician.
Sooner than that is the Proms, however. Sheku has chosen party pieces to play with Chineke!, David Popper’s Hungarian Rhapsody and Dvorák’s G minor Rondo, but this is a late-night concert that clicks into Chineke!’s mission, which is not just to offer more opportunities to BME musicians, but also to encourage broader audiences.
“The first Chineke! concert I played at had the most diverse audience at a classical concert I’ve ever seen,” Sheku says. “When you normally go to a classical music concert as a black audience member you don’t see anyone you can identify with, and so it’s difficult to see it as something for you.”
Yet other BME musicians, among them the Birmingham conductor Alpesh Chauhan, have declined to be involved. Why? “I think that’s a misunderstanding,” Sheku says. “It’s the fear of what to expect from it — the mission is not to be exclusive, but more expansive. That’s the real goal of the orchestra.”
He is at his most animated, even angry, talking about widening opportunities to classical music. Cost is one barrier. “If parents have to make a lot of sacrifices just to get music tuition [for their children], then that’s not what it should be about.” The main portal into the world of classical, he argues, is early exposure. “I grew up in an environment where I would listen to a lot of classical music and get taken to a lot of concerts; for a lot of children that opportunity isn’t there. Because of that it’s difficult for a child to then see it as something they want to do, or even just to watch concerts.
I know when I’m wasting my time and should be practising
“No child is born not liking classical music. It’s the environment that directs that love of a different style of music. I’ve experienced this playing to young children who’ve never seen much classical music at all — and they love it. If any music is performed with passion and great intention, children get it. The chance to get it is the important thing.”
It sounds as if he is setting himself not just the goals of following Rostropovich, du Pré et al, but as a standard-bearer too. That is, as well as behaving like a standard teenager. After we meet, Sheku will blow off some steam with five school friends, a boys’ trip to Majorca. He has a girlfriend, also from school, “who is really good at maths, which my dad is pleased about”. He’s quite chuffed too that he has helped Decca to design a Sheku “bitmoji”, a little digital cartoon of Sheku that can appear on Snapchat if you are either at the Chineke! Prom or even just near the Royal Albert Hall on the night and log in to the app.
And just in case we forget, there are six other Kanneh-Masons primed for a musical invasion of the UK. Isata will accompany Sheku at a recital at Kings Place, north London, in October. Braimah is continuing his studies, but also plays the violin for the pop group Clean Bandit. And, at the bottom of the tree, eight-year-old Mariatu is snapping at Sheku’s heels. “She’s telling me she’s going to be better than me, that it makes her want to practise. I’d like to see her overtake me. It would be pretty cool.”
Sheku Kanneh-Mason performs with Chineke! at the Royal Albert Hall, London SW7, on August 30. Box office: 020 7589 8212. His debut album is out on Decca Classics in January
Those Kanneh-Masons in full . . .
Isata, 21 — finished 3 years as scholarship piano student at the Royal Academy of Music (RAM)
Piano, grade 8 at the age of 11
Violin, grade 8 at 12
Viola, grade 8 at 13
Braimah, 19 — finished 1 year as scholarship violin student at RAM
Violin, grade 8 at 11
Violin, diploma at 17
Piano, grade 8 at 14
Sheku, 18 — beginning RAM in September as scholarship cello student
Cello, grade 8 at 9
Piano, grade 8 at 13
Konya, 16 — piano and violin at Junior RAM
Piano, grade 8 at 11
Violin, grade 8 at 12
Jeneba, 14 — piano and cello at Junior RAM
Piano, grade 8 at 9
Cello, grade 8 at 12
Aminata, 11 — violin and piano at Primary RAM
Violin, grade 8 at 11
Piano, grade 6 at 11
Piano, grade 3
Cello, will take grade 4 in the autumn