Award icon

International composition competition alert!

Although my research usually focuses on historical composers, I've just heard about a new award that might be useful to some international readers of this blog - the Commonwealth International Competition Award.

The award aims to "promote composition around the world" and "give young composers the skills they need to further their careers" and it's interesting to see in the FAQs that it's open to all styles of music, not just European classical music!
There are two categories:
FLYERS - under 18s from around the world but excluding UK residents or those getting any specialist music education in the UK ie specialist music schools and Junior conservatoires.
STARTERS - anyone interested in composition who is from one of the 4 target regions (2019 is Antigua and Barbuda, India, New Zealand, and Rwanda)
There doesn't appear to be a cash prize but winners will get a composition teacher as well as a recording and performance of their piece by the Dionysus Ensemble. If you think you or someone you know might be eligible, have a look at the website and send something in. The closing date is 31st July 2019, so you've still got time!

Woman holding giant smiley face
So happy!

Those of you who have been following the progress of this site over the last few months will be pleased to see that the timeline is now working properly!

There are still a few little bugs to work out with how it displays but you can now scroll through to see details of most of the musicians who have been researched so far in this project.

It would be great to be able to include images for all of the musicians (not everything on Wikipedia is public domain) so if you happen to own an original photograph of anyone featured in the project and would be happy for it to be used, please get in touch. In the meantime, take a look at the timeline of Black musicians in British classical music (up to the mid-20th century) in all its glory.

Happy scrolling!

photo of Winifred Atwell

I’m back for the New Year with someone that I can’t believe I hadn’t heard of before – Trinidadian-born pianist Winifred Atwell. Although she influenced a number of musicians through her ragtime performances and compositions, Winifred was also sought after for her classical performances.

I first came across her at the Black Sound exhibition at the Black Cultural Archives in Brixton in 2018 and couldn’t understand why I wasn’t already aware of someone who, as well as being a famous black pianist who worked across genres, was the first black person to have a no. 1 UK single and still seems to be the only female instrumentalist to have achieved that!

Judging by the comments below her YouTube performances, she has a pretty loyal fanbase and recorded TV performances are still being uploaded wherever they’re found.

I’m hoping I’ll have a chance to put together a Spotify playlist soon but until then, here’s another video to keep you going.

Decus poster - Nov 2018

As part of the plainsightSOUND project, Decus Ensemble performs music by Black British and African composers.

The Decus Ensemble performs the first concerts in the project as part of this series. The programme includes music for instrumental ensemble by Segun Akinola, Errollyn Wallen and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor.

Concert dates

If you would like to attend, tickets are FREE but must be booked via Eventbrite.

A couple of weeks ago, I was doing my regular trawl through YouTube for African composers and found this track from a CD rerelease of Fela Sowande’s African Suite for Strings performed by The New Symphony Orchestra conducted by Trevor Harvey.

I keep finding mentions of this piece in my research but this is the first professional recording that I’ve found, even better that it’s from not long after he wrote it.

Originally released on the London Gramophone Corporation label in New York, USA, Sowande wrote the liner notes himself – with lots of background info to help out an audience that probably wouldn’t have heard much like this before.

Track listing:

  1. Joyful Day
  2. Nostalgia
  3. Onipe
  4. Lullaby
  5. Akinla

Despite being recorded 1950s, the sound quality is great and I’m really glad that Kipepeo Publishing decided to release this. If you want to get hold of the album yourselves, details are below.


The album is available via Kipepeo Publishing at World Beat Archives. Follow them on Twitter @Kipepeo_UK

If you want the vinyl, it looks like there are still a few copies left on Discogs 

The Beginning…

The plainsightSOUND project is here!

This project came about because it occured to me one day that, as we know the presence of Black people in the UK goes back hundreds of years, historical Black classical musicians must also have existed.

Early into this research, I discovered that if you type 'African composer', 'African classical musician' or any similar variations into Google, you'll be redirected to information about African American musicians. If you really want to find out about performers of Western classical music of African heritage who are not American (and there are LOADS), you will need to know their names. I realised that for the first time in years, I was going to have to go into a library. I was also going to have to email and meet with a load of strangers.

My own parents are Nigerian and although I was already aware of people from West Africa - including my father - coming to the UK to study throughout the 20th Century, I've found so many interesting stories about musicians that go much further back. This site has been set up as a way to share what I find and share it with as many people as possible.

Right now, I've got names of over 50 musicians that I'm researching and the list is growing weekly. Sometimes I find out information that makes a particular subject less relevant for this project, but I'm still amazed at how many I still have.

I've decided that to be included in this project, a composer must:

  • be of Black African descent
  • have created work in European classical music in Britain (performing or composing)
  • have been musically active in Britain before 1952

If I'm being realistic, I'll probably be pretty lax about the final point because I've already found a few composers that I like who just miss this deadline.


In the meantime, I'm going to dedicate this project to the entire Ngwe fam because they're always reminding me to continue to create and discover new things.