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  • Writer's pictureMahaliah Edwards

In the Know: musicians of today

Last month's blog post featured many black musicians, performers and composers in history. This blog post looks at 4 musicians and composers of colour whose music you should know.

Jalalu-Kalvert Nelson is an American-born, Switzerland-based composer and trumpeter. I had the pleasure of meeting Jalalu in May this year at the Classical:Next conference in Hannover. Jalalu studied under Iannis Xenakis and lived in New York for many years and was even friends with Julius Eastman! (mentioned in my last blog post here). Speaking with him was a real privilege to hear about his interactions with famous musicians way before my time. Hearing more personal stories truly made the idea of composers and musicians in history more tangible and human rather than a picture or someone you read about in books. His musical influences stem from African American Gospel music, Jazz music and composers such as a Sibelius and Webern. Jalalu's music is published by Composers Edition and his profile and scores can be found here.

Ayanna Witter-Johnson is British composer, singer, songwriter and cellist. I have been a follower and fan of Ayanna's music since my teens and had the pleasure of first meeting her a few years ago when taking part in a project with Awards for Young Musicians. Ayanna Witter-Johnson is a graduate of Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance and the Manhattan School of Music and was Emerging Artist in Residence at the South bank Centre, London. She has been commissioned by the London Symphony Orchestra, Ligeti Quartet, and BBC Symphony Orchestra. Ayanna's music speaks to me because many of her compositions have inflections of the Caribbean which echoes her own heritage and background from Jamaica which is also where my maternal family hails from. I love her Rise Up EP which features the rapper, poet and activist Akala on the title track. Ayanna's compositions are carried by Faber Music and you can find them here.

I also met British-born composer, Jasdeep Singh Degun in Hannover earlier this year and I was refreshed and inspired by his exciting and varied work as a sitarist and composer. Jasdeep has a rich musical training from having classes at the local community centre under the guidance of the late Jayasree Sen Gupta, before learning under Dr Vijay Rajput as part of the Yorkshire Young Musicians scheme at the Leeds College of Music. He became the first ever vocalist of Samyo (the national South Asian youth orchestra) and was encouraged to train intensively in India. As an International Scholar, Jasdeep studied at the prestigious Sangeet Research Academy, Kolkata under the guidance of Pandit Partho Chatterjee and Pandit Ajoy Chakrabarty in early 2016.

Jasdeep is Artist-in-Residence at Opera North and in 2020, Jasdeep was commissioned by Opera North to write a new work, 'Arya: concerto for Sitar and Orchestra' which premiered at the Huddersfield Town Hall. The work later went on tour with successful performances at Durham Cathedral, the RNCM, and the Birmingham CBSO to critical acclaim.

I first heard Segun Akinola's music on David Olusoga's BBC series, Black and British: A forgotten history in 2016. I was immediately struck by the main musical theme which recurred throughout the series. The music was haunting and searching yet joyful and perfectly encapsulated the breadth of journeys and stories featured throughout the show. Upon doing more research I found out the Segun and I are both graduates the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire and graduated the year before I started by degree. He went to obtain an MA in Composing for Film and Television, at the National Film and Television School. In 2017, he was named a BAFTA Breakthrough Brit and has composed a plethora of music for television including Doctor Who since 2018 and the 2021 ITV Stephen.

You can listen to the soundtrack for Black and British here and find out more about Segun here.

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