#iamchineke2018: Daniel Kidane, composer

Welcome back to our second installment of the #iamchineke2018 series! 

Every fortnight, we share the stories of people who have experienced Chineke! in their own words- audience members, musicians, visiting artists, or members of the community.

Today's post features British composer, Daniel Kidane. 

Like many members of Chineke! my multicultural story begins with my parents. My father, who is Eritrean, and my mother, who is Russian, met at university in Russia during the 70’s. A period when the concept of fraternity of peoples was a big thing in the Soviet Union. At the time Eritrea was under the rule of Ethiopia, which had declared itself a fledgling Socialist state. Having lost his parents at a young age, my father was primarily brought up by his older siblings. His work hard ethic allowed him to excel academically and win a scholarship to study at university in Moscow. Skipping a few years forward, they married and my older sister was born. By this point they were looking for somewhere to settle and setup a home. Unfortunately, my father couldn’t stay in Russia, a stipulation of his studies, and the family couldn’t move to Eritrea as there was a war raging between Ethiopia and Eritrea. Fortunately, they were granted refuge in the UK and that is where my story begins.

My musical beginnings were humble, playing the recorder at primary school was probably my first musical encounter. After realising how fun it was and that I could skip lessons, I moved on to bigger instruments – picking up the piano and violin. I was fortunate to have a musical mother, as she had learnt the piano as a youngster, and along with my dad they both encouraged me to pursue learning music. Growing up in inner city London, on various estates, wasn’t the most conducive environment to nurture an interest in classical music. How many fellow kids did I see walking around with violin cases – none. But, luckily for me I was thick-skinned and I did what brought me joy. I often attribute part of my success to stubbornness and resilience. Many a time was I turned down at an audition or some other musical endeavour and as a young kid it was hard not to notice that the kids that did make it through didn’t quite look like me. But as I like to say: energy and persistence conquer all things.

Looking back in retrospect, I’m very grateful for the people that supported and believed in me. If ambition is the path to success and persistence is the vehicle you arrive in, it’s as important to have people to look up to and guide you. Learning pieces as a kid, I used to think the world of classical music revolved around dead white guys. I was surrounded by works that had been written back in time by composers that probably would have frowned upon me playing their music on a Casio keyboard. As I grew older, I began to encounter different types of classical music, but never once as a budding young violinist or pianist was I given a piece to learn by a BAME composer. Ofcourse role models can be of any creed or colour, so to speak, and I was fortunate enough to come across some brilliant and inspiring pedagogues along the way. It is thanks to such people that I crossed paths with contemporary classical music. It was my first choir teacher, at Saturday music school, that gave me the chance to sing as part of the English National Opera’s children’s chorus, where I happened to sing in the premiere of Turnage’s ‘The Silver Tassie’. After taking part in this production my interest in contemporary classical music was sparked.

As a composer now, I tap in to my heritage for inspiration. Whether it's tribal rhythms from Eritrea, folk melodies from Russia or Grime tunes from London, these are all influences that inform my music. I've always believed in the importance of music as a vehicle for the thoughts and ideas that are close to one's heart. When composing 'Dream Song' I immediately knew that I wanted to write a work that captured the gravity and oppression of the time when King delivered his iconic 'I have a dream' speech. It was never going to be a light hearted piece, filled with facile optimism. In short, the baritone acts as the voice of reason and hope, an almost Godly figure within the ensemble. He sings in a powerful but calm recitative like manner. Roderick Williams did a brilliant job of channelling the conviction that King delivered in his speech. The choir act as the oppressed people, envisaged as the spirits of slaves, unable to speak and who only mutter the word "dream". Their humming, a nod to spiritual music, heavy with emotion and sorrow. The orchestra represent the fighting spirit, harking to a tribal African feel. The final ritardando, at the very end of the piece, signifies a unification of the three ideas, in a holy trinity-esque moment - the only time when baritone, choir and orchestra come together as one.

The work that Chineke! Orchestra are doing now is vital. Too long has there been a lack of diversity, where the status quo has been not to change. When people say but what is the need for it, if you're good enough you'll make it as a musician regardless of race. It is there to change mindsets, to iradicate implicit bias from those that believe classical music should be a certain way and to show aspiring BAME kids that they too belong on that stage. I used to think that we needed to get more young BAME people interested in classical music, but I see now that was never the problem. We are here and we love classical music. The problem is creating an environment where they are supported, recognized and rewarded for their work.


DanielKidane_EmileHolba_Final 2_edited.jpg
Chineke! Foundation