A couple of weeks back, I watched a documentary about a musician; a cellist, and his family. But this was no ordinary musician, and certainly no ordinary family. It was a BBC documentary, so you have to register to watch something you have already paid for; and you have to state that you are a licence payer; but that’s just the bloody BBC all over! But, as usual, I digress.
The film covered the life of a most unusual family based in Nottingham, as all the siblings, from a six-year-old to a 20 year-old sister who holds the Elton John scholarship at the Royal Academy; all are both talented and dedicated to music; and the parents, whilst not being musically talented themselves, give unstingly of their time and family cash, to improve the prospects of their brood. The unusual bit about this family is, of course, that they are black. Whilst the plethora of black musicians goes unremarked, less than 5% of classical musicians are from ethnic minorities, certainly in Great Britain. But the shining star of this tiny constellation called the Kannae-Masons is Sheku; a young man, and a profoundly gifted cellist who won, aged 17, the BBC Young Musician of the Year last summer, the first black musician ever to do so. The film showed the way in which this large family works, somewhat like a machine turning gear wheels in harmony, as they go to school, or equally to get on the train on a Saturday morning to travel 200 miles to attend the Junior Royal Academy of Music.
Some may say that I write of this particular family because of my own long-time fascination and love of all things music of a classical persuasion; but I am afraid not. If I may explain. Intermingled with interviews and dialogue within this talented family were interviews and statements from a very different category of musician; and this one comes with her own loud megaphone aimed at, Black Identity, whatever that is supposed to be. Her name was Chi-Chi Nwanoku, the allegedly charismatic half-Nigerian double bass player who founded the Chineke! Orchestra, which comprises black and ethnic minority musicians from several countries. Her stated philosophy is to only feature black and/or ethnic minority musicians in her orchestra. Fair enough, if she is pushing her own philosophies with her own cash; but somehow I reckon she is on shaky ground if she pleads for funding from private or public sources including the terms B.A.M.E only, as I reckon that might just be skirting the Law.
My judgement of what a person, man or woman, does is quite simple; is he or she good at what he or she does. The colour of his or her skin has no part, and should have no part; in the process. So why this deliberate statement that ‘we are good, and we are black’? This talented ; no, not only talented, but approaching genius level musician is being drawn into a project which can only result in damage, both to him and to music, both classical and every other genre. The fact that the family is black and talented is, and should always be; irrelevant. If they find an audience for their music, both as individuals or as part of a larger group, they will be judged on their music, not for any sense of ‘Diversity’ box-ticking, or anything else. Has anyone bought a CD of Jacqueline Du Pre’s Cello playing because she was blonde, white and ethereally beautiful? Of course they haven’t; they bought that recording because of her playing, because she played as if an angel had entered her very soul, as if the music calls through the reverberations of the cello through which she still speaks, even though so sadly dead these many years. The colour of her skin means and states absolutely nothing, as it should with the rare and raw talent of Sheku Kannae-Masons.