The Chineke! Foundation is a non-profit organisation which has been established to provide career opportunities to young Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) classical musicians in the UK and Europe. Chineke!’s motto is: ’Championing change and celebrating diversity in classical music’. The organisation aims to be a catalyst for change, realising existing diversity targets within the industry by increasing the representation of BME musicians in British and European orchestras.
The Chineke! Orchestra is comprised of exceptional musicians from across the continent, drawn together multiple times per year. The Foundation is planning on scaling up its orchestra’s commitments over time, with the eventual goal of running a full season of performances each year, and has recently teamed up with Askonas Holt to plan the orchestra’s future overseas touring schedule. The orchestra takes an inclusive, non-hierarchical approach to its performances, placing the emphasis firmly on the players rather than on conductors or soloists, and aims to perform a mixture of standard orchestral repertoire along with the works of BME composers both past and present.
The Chineke! Orchestra works closely with its sister ensemble, the Chineke! Junior Orchestra, a youth orchestra of BME players aged 11-18 who are already benefitting from a number of existing youth schemes, junior music colleges and specialist music schools across the UK. The Chineke! Orchestra plays an important role in this project, with senior players acting as mentors, teachers and role models to the young musicians. In this way, the Chineke! Junior Orchestra acts as a bridge between such schemes and higher education, giving its players experience, encouragement and confidence during their formative years, with the hope of increasing the numbers of BME candidates currently studying music at third level. This process has already begun, with one of our junior musicians having been offered a full scholarship to the RAM.
The Chineke! Orchestra is the brainchild of Chi-chi Nwanoku MBE, FRAM, who has this say about the project: ‘My aim is to create a space where BME musicians can walk on stage and know that they belong, in every sense of the word. If even one BME child feels that their colour is getting in the way of their musical ambitions, then I hope to inspire them, give them a platform, and show them that music, of whatever kind, is for all people.’
Thankfully, cultural organisations such as Arts Council England, British Council, Conservatoires UK and Help Musicians UK agree with this sentiment, and have backed the project. Indeed, after its debut performance at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in September of 2015, the Chineke! Orchestra has been appointed as an Associate Orchestra of the Southbank Centre, and by popular demand returned there to perform in September of 2016, this time at the Royal Festival Hall. Chineke! has also been featured prominently in the Department of Culture, Media and Sport’s White Paper on Culture published in March 2016, and was shortlisted for a 2016 RPS Award in the Ensemble Category.
The aims of the Chineke! Foundation and Orchestra are certainly ambitious, but, in words of Sir Simon Rattle: ‘Chineke! is not only an exciting idea but a profoundly necessary one. The kind of idea which is so obvious that you wonder why it is not already in place. The kind of idea which could deepen and enrich classical music in the UK for generations. What a thrilling prospect!’