Friday, 21 October 2016

The Kanneh-Mason Family - Videos

This is Sheku, he is the third of seven Kanneh-Mason children.  This year Sheku was crowned BBC Young Musician and the Year (2016).
 
Sheku Kanneh-Mason playing the Cello
Following his success Sheku was invited to perform at two BBC Prom concerts and has signed a contract to make CDs with Decca.  Sheku has a distinctive mop of hair and is cool.

Sheku Rees Kanneh-Mason

Sheku has a beautiful elder sister who has a huge smile and wears her plaited hair as a mantle threaded with gold.  Isata (pronounced Ice-i-ta), reached the piano finals in BBC Young Musician of the Year 2014 and was awarded The Walter Todds Bursary for the most promising musician not to reach the Grand Final (she was unlucky to come up against the overall winner in the finals of the piano section).  Isata studies at the Royal Academy of Music and is well on the way to becoming a concert pianist. I always think she plays from the heart and looks like an Egyptian queen.

Isata Megan Kanneh-Mason
This is a picture of the the seven children:


The Kanneh-Mason children have exotic Sierra Leonian names; Sheku (cello, 17), Isata (pianist, 20), Braimah (violinist, 18), Mariatu (cello and piano 7), Konya (piano and violin 15), Jeneba (piano and cello 13), and Aminata (Violin and Piano 11).

Kadiatu (Kadie) and Stuart Kanneh Mason with Sheku and Braimah (2015 Nottingham Post)


The Nottingham family are a rich cultural mix; Kadiatu's mother is Welsh and married to a man from Sierra Leone, their English father Stuart has parents who immigrated from Antigua.  The family rejoice in their cultural diversity, they all have Welsh names and continue their close ties with Wales, the Caribbean and Sierra Leone.  Both of their parents have always loved classical music and learnt to play the piano as children, so it was a natural decision for them to buy a piano after their first child was born; Kadiatu also played the clarinet as a child and is an academic whilst Stuart has a physics degree and masters degree in maths.  Stuart commutes to work in London from Nottingham, instead of buying smart cars and other luxuries every penny the family earns has been channelled into giving their children the best opportunities in life.  Isata chose the piano which seems to have influenced the other children to follow her into musical careers.


When we met the Kanneh-Masons at the Tenby Arts Festival in 2015 we were blown away and became instant fans.  We have got to know this lovely family better after they gave a concert at Lampeter House in the Spring 2016.  A few weeks ago they came and recorded You Tube videos in our home, these are the results (it is essential to listen through good speakers):

Personally I find it most moving to see the whole family playing together


The Kanneh-Masons Six - Medley

but they are all virtuosic and play solos or together in smaller groups.  In these two videos Sheku plays duets with his elder brother Braimah who is studying the violin at Royal Academy of Music.  

Braimah and Sheku - Bloch Prayer from Jewish life


Braimah and Sheku - Ajde Jano

When the three eldest perform together they call themselves "The Kanneh-Mason Trio".  It is worth looking up you tube videos of their performances of Shostakovitch.  For us they played Rachmaninov Trio élégiaque No.1

 The Kanneh-Mason Trio
Rachmaninov Trio élégiaque No.1

Shekus' younger sisters, Konya and Jeneba, are both accomplished pianists.  Konya was not satisfied with her recording of Debussy, it sounded ravishing but she insists it was flawed.  This is Jeneba (13) playing a Chopin's Etude Op.10, No.4

Jeneba Kannah Mason - Chopin Etude Op.10, No.4

We also made videos of  Isata and Sheku playing a duet

Isata and Sheku Kanneh-Masons - Gaspo Cassadó - Requiebros

 and two pieces of Isata playing solo

Isata Kanneh-Masons - Rossini/Ginzburg Cavatina of Figaro 


Isata Kanneh-Mason - Liszt Les jeux d'eau à la villa d'este

The Kanneh-Masons have an official website: http://www.kannehmasons.com/ BBC have made a documentary about the Kanneh-Masons that is called Young, Gifted and Classical to be screened on November 20 on BBC4

We could not have made these videos without the help of Alberto Bona of Arepo Productions and Nick Swannell (sound engineer)

Postscript:

I am not particularly knowledgeable about music, often I have to work harder than others to track the melodies, rhythms and musical structures in complex classical pieces, but the emotional rewards are always worth it. From the moment I first saw this family I was a fan, this is why:

Music is found in all cultures however primitive or isolated.  It is as if nature has encoded Music into our DNA and it is as essential to humanity as language and speech.     Some years ago I read a book, The Singing Neanderthals: The Origins of Music, Language, Mind and Body" by Prof Steven Mithen, in which he posited that music and singing were precursors to language.  He painted an  image of groups of Neanderthals without language abilities dancing, grunting and warbling around their hearths for tens of thousands of years until the language speaking Homo sapiens arrived to Southern Europe with cave painting and sculpture.   He suggested that musical activity in our hominid ancestors generated empathy and set off a chain of brain development that in Homo sapiens mutated into our abilities for "theory of mind", intensely complex self knowledge, social and cultural cohesion, and that from these musical beginnings language was born.  Music led to the development of language followed by the big bang of creativity that led to agriculture and civilisation.

Mithen was speculating and maybe he is wrong, but his point is a good one; music  harmonises emotions across audiences in extremely powerful ways.  This trait was well known to ancient generals who marched their armies to music in the safe knowledge that this will make their soldiers more comradely and willing to sacrifice their lives for each other and their tribes, in our present day society music still has a strong place in rituals that bring marriages, families, tribes and nations together; what would the Olympics be like without the collective playing of each other's national anthems from around the world?
 
In my quest to improve my drawing I had an idealistic view that art has a good purpose, as I have grown older I have come to see that  purpose to be about reaching inside each other's minds and sharing qualia in a mingling of spirits, but I have never been so naive as to believe that producing or loving good art automatically equates with having a well developed sense of humanity.  Tyrants like Stalin loved the ballet and Hitler loved watercolours and architectures, but the humanising effects of art were not enough to stop them being responsible for the deaths of millions of there fellow citizens.  This is a sad fact;  Art's power to bring us together in a mingling of our spirits can be embraced, ignored, subverted and misused.  My conclusion has been that art, like speech, comes with responsibility. I have always questioned goodness and badness in art and often asked myself if there is such a thing as purity in art?

The Kanneh Masons are fascinating to know.  The family seem to be bonded in a warm glow of empathy and cooperation.  The eldest sister started the process, but now they are all in it together, sharing tunes, unifying melodies and harmonies within their family.  In the little time I have been with them I have witnessed this depth of communication and extreme closeness.  They are not unique, they are ordinary people, but it has been wonderful to watch what has happened inside their family which seems to me to be one of the purest expressions of "good art" I have ever experienced.  In this troubled world we need more families like the Kanneh-Masons and more "good art".





         
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