Afrocentric Theatre, Music, Culture and Business

The Grand Union Orchestra – Uncharted Crossings (9 Dec) The Grand Union Orchestra – Uncharted Crossings (9 Dec)
The Grand Union Orchestra – Uncharted Crossings (9 Dec)

Uncharted Crossings will tell the backstory of the Windrush generation, of a journey that began over five hundred years ago on the shores of West Africa, with millions transported to Brazil, Cuba, the Caribbean and southern USA in the transatlantic slave trade.


Grand Union Orchestra composer Tony Haynes leads twenty internationally-acclaimed musicians and singers – soaring voices, roaring brass, fiery jazz solos, hypnotic drums – in celebrating the music and contribution of the African heritage diaspora to British culture today.


Among the performers appearing in Uncharted Crossings are great jazz players such as South African trumpeter Claude Deppa and saxophonist Tony Kofi, singers Jumoké Fashola and Jonathan André, and an all-star drum section led by Francis Fuster, the late Hugh Masekela’s percussionist.


Ebonyonline.net caught up with the busy musical director ahead of the forthcoming show to find more about the show, the bands inception and the importance of celebrating the Windrush generation.


EOL: Why was it important to explore what lay behind the Windrush story?
TH: There are many important social and political reasons, not least because of the recent scandals about the way the Windrush migrants have been treated. In a way, this mirrors the treatment of African-descended people over the centuries, including the Transatlantic slave trade 500 years ago – because ultimately, most Caribbean people will trace at least part of their ancestry back to Africa.


EOL: How do you hope to bring this out in the orchestra’s music?
TH: I want the event to be celebratory, although not shying away from some horrors of the past. Most of the music is therefore rooted in African chants and rhythms – combined with compositions of my own.


I am particularly inspired by West African Yoruba culture – which of course also survives to this day in Northeast Brazil and Cuba (as a consequence of the slave trade). So traditional West African, Afro-Cuban and Caribbean rhythms dominate, although the songs are wholly up-to-date, dealing with immigration and so on.


Tell us about some of the internationally acclaimed musicians and singers on the bill?
TH: This was obviously and opportunity to feature our performers of African heritage – to give the show a feeling of authenticity apart from musical power! Among them are the brilliant trumpeters South African Claude Deppa and Jamaican Kevin Robinson; jazz saxophone star Tony Kofi (Ghana); Francis Fuster (Sierra Leone), master of the talking drum and djembe, who was the late Hugh Masakela’s chosen percussionist.


Nigerian singer/broadcaster Jumoké Fashola and singer/African drummer Jonathan André. We also have an all-star international rhythm section of Carlos Fuentes (Latin percussion), Gerry Hunt (guitar), Andres Lafone (bass guitar) and Cristiano Castellitto (drums)


EOL: What do you hope the audience will get out of this ground breaking showcase?
TH:I hope above all they will be moved and excited by the music, and the fact that – although created in present-day cosmopolitan London by a diverse variety of musicians and singers – its own ancestry can be traced in the imagination across the Atlantic in both directions, and back to Africa where it originally came from!


I hope they will also think more deeply about our history and questions around migration – which has so profoundly shaped our national culture over the centuries.


EOL: How and why did the Grand Union Orchestra form?
TH: It was originally formed because I wanted to create a touring show about exile, migration and refugees. To be honest and authentic, I decided I had to work with musicians and singers who had this experience. This meant of course that they came from other cultures – at first from Africa, South America and the Caribbean, later from India, China and other parts of Europe and the Middle East – which had their own musical traditions.


As a creative musician, I became deeply interested in and inspired by this range of music, learnt from the musicians themselves, developed them into my own compositions and founded the Grand Union Orchestra!


EOL: What are you looking forward most on the night?
TH: A large and enthusiastic audience, a spontaneous and heartfelt performance, some tears, some elation…


EOL: Lastly what exciting plans do you have for the band 2019 and beyond?
TH: Next year we begin with a similar project, but concentrate instead on some the other cultures in East London, and the range of musical traditions that flourish here – certainly Bangladeshi and other Asian (like Chinese), perhaps also (or later in the year) East European, Roma and Turkish).


This will be first based around Bethnal Green. We are also well-known for large-scale projects involving young people and community groups: we are currently engaged in one with schools in Merton for the Albert Hall in March, then later in the year Croydon (Fairfield Halls) and Hackney.


Uncharted Crossings, 9th December, Shoreditch Town Hall, 8pm. Tickets £16 / £12 concessions are available via: https://shoreditchtownhall.com/whats-on/grand-union-orchestra-uncharted-crossings

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