From traditionally classical (i.e. European) to Caribbean classic, the United Kingdom-based Kanneh-Mason Family delighted Antiguan and Barbudan music lovers Sunday during Playing to Inspire 2. As the 2 indicates, this is the second straight year of their concert (and tour, as the combo also visited a number of schools) in Antigua. Playing to Inspire 2 was held at the St. John Pentecostal House of Restoration, in the vicinity of Woods, off Friars Hill Road.
Easter Sunday afternoon (April 1st 2018) was the perfect time for the kind of music that some might have grown up hearing on a Sunday once upon a time in “no benna on Sundays” Antigua – but Christian, Country, and Classical will do. Songs like Vivaldi’s ‘Gloria’, ‘Worthy is the Lamb’ (traditional gospel), and Handel’s ‘Hallelujah’, with direction from visiting (Ruth Whitehead) and local (Caryl Edwards-Lewis, Renee Smith+) conductors, set just the right tone for an evening that was all about inspiration.
It was inspiring not only to see the visiting youth who through hours upon hours of practice have mastered their craft, but also to see Antiguan and Barbudan youth, from several schools, who no doubt put in many hours of practice, combine to lend their melodic voices to the occasion. Inspiring too, to be reminded of the uncontainable ability of music, to speak across chasms: Antigua and Barbuda may be a calypso culture but good music is good music (just ask our pan orchestras which regularly include classical music in their sets); and good music to be appreciated…especially when a little bit of us (such as Antiguan-Barbudan folk song the Bobby Margetson-penned God Bless Antigua, and reggae classic Bob Marley’s No Woman No Cry) are sprinkled in to help bridge the divide. Music’s magic is you don’t always understand why it makes you feel the way you feel, because it speaks to something beyond words, a language of the spirit – the melancholy of Camille Saint-Saëns’ ‘The Swan’, the chaotic playfulness (like children running full tilt in a game of hide and seek) of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s ‘Flight of the Bumblebee’.
Special guest, double bassist, professor at the Royal Academy of Music, and founder of the first classical music orchestra in Europe made up primarily of young musicians of colour Chi-chi Nwanoku OBE said something during the live interview – conducted by another young Antiguan-Barbudan – during the event that needs to be re-emphasized: “STEM is important but not at the expense of the creative arts.” She’s speaking, of course to the value we place or don’t place on the arts, on its ability to not only entertain and stir emotion, but also to stimulate the mind, spark connection, and, much more, including, yes, inspire.
Nwanoku spoke during that interview of stepping out of the box in the UK – in response to the absence of people of colour in classical music orchestras – to recruit youth who were not short on talent but, a familiar point in diversity conversations, access/opportunity. The skills can be learned and have been – young people like the Kanneh-Masons are testimony to that.
The Kanneh-Masons, scions of Antigua and Barbuda’s expansive and influential musical Mason family, include siblings ranging in age from 8 to early 20s – pianist Isata; violinists Braimah, Aminata, and Konya; and cellists Jeneba and Mariatu. Cellist Sheku, the only sibling to perform a solo during the event, is the BBC Young Musician of 2016 and, in January 2018, he released his debut recording, appropriately titled ‘Inspiration’.
Sunday’s event which played to a healthy if not capacity audience is, in part, a fundraiser for the Antigua Barbuda Youth Symphony Orchestra. It goes without saying that we should continue to support music education programmes – and in fact various art programmes – like this in Antigua and Barbuda.