The Chineke! Foundation was established in 2015 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 Foundation’s flagship ensemble, the Chineke! Orchestra, comprises exceptional musicians from across the continent brought together multiple times per year. As Europe’s first majority-BME orchestra, the Chineke! Orchestra performs 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, with senior players acting as mentors, teachers and role models to the young musicians. With many of our junior musicians already benefitting from several existing youth schemes, junior music colleges and specialist music schools across the UK. 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 several of the junior musicians having won national competitions, gained places at top music schools or been admitted to study at elite third level institutions.
Chineke! is the brainchild of Chi-chi Nwanoku OBE, 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.’
Many cultural organisations such as the BBC, Association of British Orchestras, Royal Philharmonic Society and Arts Council England agree with this sentiment, and have supported Chineke!. After its launch concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in September of 2015, the Chineke! Orchestra was appointed as an Associate Orchestra of the Southbank Centre, and returned there to perform in September of 2016 at the Royal Festival Hall. After a sold-out debut at St George’s Bristol in April 2017, the Chineke! Orchestra has an exciting series of concerts lined up for the coming year, including appearances at the Brighton, Cheltenham and Salisbury Festivals, a return to the Royal Festival Hall, overseas tours to Ghent and Rotterdam, and an engagement at the Royal Albert Hall as part of the BBC Proms.
Chineke! has been covered extensively by national and international press and broadcast media, most recently by the New York Times, and the Foundation’s work is featured prominently in the Government’s Department of Culture, Media and Sport’s White Paper on Culture published in March 2016. The Chineke! Orchestra has been shortlisted for RPS Awards in both 2016 and 2017, and later this year will release its 3rd album.
The aims of the Chineke! Foundation and Orchestra are certainly ambitious, and 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!’