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Chineke!: Changing the record

10:02, 3rd July 2019

Chris Gunness talks to members of Chineke!, the orchestra changing racial prejudice and privilege in the classical music industry

In its four years of existence, Chineke!, Europe’s first majority black and minority ethnic (BME) orchestra has transformed the attitude of the classical music business towards race, diversity and inclusion. ‘Before Chineke! there was nothing like it,’ says founder Chi-chi Nwanoku OBE. ‘Today, people of colour are acceptable in the industry, whereas the establishment used to say classical music is not for people like you.’

After what she calls her ‘lightbulb moment’ (when she saw a well-known white musician talking to BBC cameras at a concert of the Kinshasa Orchestra to which she had not even been invited) she realised it was time for BME musicians to tell their own story. The next day she was on the phone to musical institutions and musicians around the world establishing a group which today has over 80 members from over 30 countries.

Chi-chi has also been working hard to change the demographic of audiences, which has been key to Chineke!’s social mission from its very first concert at the Royal Festival Hall in 2015. ‘I looked out and it was like the London I had lived in. There were people of all ages and ethnicities, people who I know had never been to a concert, as they’d been told this was not a place for people like them. And what makes me most happy is that they are now going back again and again, whether we are playing or not.’

This is a shortened version of the article which appears in Classical Music‘s July issue and includes interviews with Chineke! cellist Ashok Klouda, clarinettist Mariam Adam, and violinist Samson Diamond. Subscribe today to receive the new issue.

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