Introducing: Romarna Campbell

From Birmingham to Boston, MA, Romarna Campbell is a 21 year-old  drummer heading to the Berklee College of Music in the Autumn 2017.18870951_10155335113442418_1795933551_n
  When, how and why did you get involved in music?

I got into music mostly through the massive CD and music collection that was in our house when I was growing up. There was always music around, although I am the only musician in the family. When I was about 8, my Mum bought my Dad a drum kit for Christmas. I remember this massive brown box and being beyond excited about unpacking it and setting up this red drum kit, much to my Dad’s inconvenience. It wasn’t even my gift, but my parents couldn’t tear me away from it. From there my Mum actively sought out workshops for me to take part in. I joined a local music school that was every Saturday and took it from there. In fact, the music workshops that I first attended became particularly poignant. I actually busked in the sign-in area to the raise the money for my first drum kit, which was an Arbiter Flat Pack! Absolutely immense! As I got a little older and started to receive more regular tuition, I was introduced to The Notebenders by Andy Hamilton, CBE. It was there that I really discovered my love for jazz and big band music, amongst a really legendary group of people.

How important is it for you to see more people of colour in the industry?

Until recently, I hadn’t realised how important it really was. I think it’s bigger than seeing more people of colour in the industry, I think it’s more about connecting and interacting with them. Something that’s made so much easier with modern technology and social media. That connection reminds you that there are other people in the industry that you have similarities with, whether that be culturally, musically, etc. By the sheer nature of what a musician does, you’re always open to meeting to new people and what they have to express with their instrument through music. I also think that it’s particularly of importance for younger musicians. When you’ve been sat in a practice room for hours on end, it can be easy to feel isolated. So it’s great to be able to refer to or contact musicians that are of influence to you. Sometimes just to remember there are other musicians out there like you, that have probably gone through some of the same stuff that you’re going through. I have had the fortune of attending a conservatoire in the UK for two years, but one of the things I really struggled with when I first started was the lack of diversity, therefore the lack of understanding that can come with that occasionally.

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How are you affected as a black person in music? Any advantages/disadvantages?

There are definitely a number of advantages and disadvantages to being a black person in music, which I assume to be the case for anyone of any ethnicity and identity. I am for lucky enough to grown up in a culture that heavily revolves around music and having a broad taste in music. Going up, I was exposed to a lot of really awesome music. Anything from super underground hiphop, to old big band records, to Soca music. There was never any differentiation, as long as it was good music then we would listen and enjoy it. Consequently, my listening ranges from Prince to Lenny Kravitz to Count Basie and everything in-between.

I try not to think about being disadvantaged in any way or even using the word, it puts you in a negative space and mindset. I would much rather think about it as hurdles; these issues are there but can be overcome with hard work, effort and drive. I put a lot of time, effort, work and care into what I do because I love it. So, to have all of that undermined by racist and sexist comments is always really difficult. I fail to understand what my race, ethnic background or gender has to do with me being a musician; the two are not mutually exclusive. I draw influence from those things because they make me the person that I am, but I don’t understand what that has to do with my musical and technical ability and why anyone thinks it’s acceptable to use it against my in any way. Instead these should be things that they also want to learn about and draw influence from in the same way that I do. Everyone has their own trials and tribulations, again, there’s no need for the negativity.

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Any exciting projects that you’re working on at the moment and any upcoming performances?

There’s a lot going on at the moment that I’m super excited about!

Firstly, I have been accepting into Berklee College of Music in Boston for Fall 2017! So I’ll be moving to Boston in about 2 months, to finish my undergraduate studies! I can’t wait, it’s literally been a dream of mine since I was 17! In keeping with my imminent move, I am still fundraising to cover the rest of my tuition fees. I have a number of fundraising events coming up over the next couple of months and have set up a GoFundMe page for anyone that its kind enough to make a donation! Details for my fundraiser in June and my GoFundMe page are below:

SAT, 24 JUNE
Berkley’s Club,
258 Broad Street
B1 2HF
https://www.gofundme.com/JourneyToBerklee

I am also super psyched about my new band, B L A N (C) A N V A S. We debuted our first project ‘Limitations of Our Imaginations’ in March to a sold out show in Birmingham. ‘Limitations of Our Imaginations’ features original compositions and arrangements by me. It’s an exploration of how music can push and break down barriers, what it’s like to navigate modern life as a young musician and an insight into me as a bandleader, composer and arranger.
Our latest performance was playing support for Terri Lyne Carrington’s Mosaic project, which is now up on my YouTube channel! It’s my first time being a combination of band leader, composer, arranger and drummer all in equal measures. I also whole-heartedly believe in my bandmates’ skill and power as musicians, both individually and collectively. We’re working on a few more performances and hopefully record and releasing music before I move to the States.

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To find out further information about Romarna, you can follow her social media and visit her website as listed below.

Facebook: http://facebook.com/rocampbellmusic/
Tumblr: http://romarnacampbellmusic.tumblr.com
Instagram: http://instagram.com/romarnacampbelldrums
YouTube: http://youtube.com/channel/UCPixA9ET_h-OUDShAGYinYA

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Introducing: Lufuno Ndou

www.lufunondou.com

 

The first time I became involved in classical music was in primary school. Only a few of the children were given the opportunity to play violin, a few others the recorder. I remember very little about playing the violin at this time, other than playing my violin17888646_10210120982955219_2003672998_n to family when we visited South Africa and seeing the number of children playing instruments fall as we got to end of primary school. I didn’t play the violin much when I started secondary school but having had the play it always kept me connected to classical music. As a singer, and also as a dancer and actor – as someone whose appearance may often be a factor to my performance – seeing people of colour in the industry is so important to me.17901755_10210120982995220_1578615655_o

The first time I saw Caroline Modiba, South African soprano, perform in Birmingham Conservatoire, I cried so much. It was a little bit embarrassing. But I saw her and I finally believed for the first time since beginning my studies in Birmingham Conservatoire that I could actually be good. I saw her and thought ‘I could be like that.’ Even just knowing that Maureen Braithwaite is teaching in the Conservatoire is incredibly encouraging.

When I took my ballet exam, I was told we had to have our hair in a bun. My natural hair was too short to tie up so I had my hair braided a few days before, just so I could put it in a bun for the exam. In all my short time of being on stage, that was the only situation where my being black was brought to attention. In classical music, especially as a sing
er, I haven’t yet been deeply affected in a negative way. I think the Conservatoire’s accepting atmosphere has helped. But I haven’t had any particularly positive moments that that were due to me being black either. What I mostly worry about is how I’ll be affected when I’m in the real world, trying to get roles and work.
Like when I see agencies are casting roles and the descriptions will say something like “fair skin, blonde hair, blue eyes.” Seeing open auditions for princess parties is another time when I have felt particularly black – there are only so many Disney princesses I could play! 17909527_10210120982915218_266639503_n
There are already so few shows and roles written for people of colour, and with that in mind I wonder if there is a limit to my success. On the other hand, I want to think that’ll I’ll be able to change how things are, or maybe I’ll be able to encourage young people to be more involved in classical music.

For more information go to her website and be sure to follow Lufuno’s instagram: @lufuyes

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The Black Faces of Classical Music Explained

The Black Faces of Classical Music* is a movement seeking to champion and bring to light the many black individuals, ensembles, initiatives, charities and organisations that are affiliated with and represent progress for Black people within the domain of classical music. *Although the movement is called “The Black Faces of Classical Music”, and will focus primarily on music, it will include people of ethnic minorities and will also look at literature and arts. “The Black Faces of Classical Music” is a play on words: Black Faces = black people. This also represents the past forgotten figures, the presently up-and-coming figures and the achievements made by black people in the industry that have perhaps not been given as much recognition in the mainstream media.

The idea came to me  in the planning stages of my blog as I was thinking of the main themes to write about. One of the most obvious topics for me was the issue of the lack of diversity within classical music. In an industry dominated by caucasians and east asians, I think its important for me as a black person to see more people. Going to concerts and seeing the main orchestras, string quartets and other ensemble I found that it was quite  difficult to spot people who looked like me. In the rare occurrence that I did spot a face of a darker complexion, I would immediately smile jump for joy.

The Black Faces of Classical music is a movement that wants to see more talented black people and people of ethnic mintories excel in the classical genre addition to the genres pertaining to black culture i.e. Reggae, Rap, RnB, Soul etc. In the 21st century, where the world is so diverse, it should be a norm to see people of different complexions and cultural backgrounds in top orchestras and ensembles. In addition, the movement endeavours to create a dialogue and online platform to draw attention to and celebrate past, present and future talent in classical music that has its roots in African/Caribbean heritage.

If you’re interested in finding out more and reading some more articles follow the links below.

My Page – The Black Faces of Classical Music

Chineke! Foundation – Europe’s first professional orchestra comprised of Black and Minority musicians

The Black British Classical Foundation

Ritz Chamber Players – Chamber Music Ensemble comprised of African-American Musicians

Kinshasa Symphony – inhabitants of Kinshasa in DRC are not formally trained but have formed the country’s only symphony orchestra

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My Ancestry DNA


For the longest time, I’ve wanted to have my DNA tested in order to learn more about my ancestry. I only knew a limited amount of information on my family tree – I confidently know back to my great-grandparents on both sides but that’s it. Also, coming from a large family with lots of extended cousins and relations with lots of family stories, I just wanted a solid, concrete idea of my background rather than relying on family guesswork.

HOW THE PROCESS WORKS?

So, for me the process from start to finish was very quick, a lot quicker than expected. I had endlessly watched YouTube videos of people sharing their result and most people said their results came in in around 6 -8 weeks. My own process took 4 weeks all in all from buying the kit through to receiving the results.

I ordered my testing kit on October 14th, received it on the 17th, activated it online on the 24th. The lab had received my sample by November 3rd, the lab testing began on the 5th and I received my results on November 15th.

On receiving the DNA kit, you have to spit it a tube and send it away in a prepaid package to be tested in the labs.

WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO KNOW?

As a black British person with Caribbean heritage, I always knew that it was safe to say that I had descended from African slaves. My ancestors didn’t originate from the Caribbean. The indigenous people of the Islands belonged/belong to tribes such as the Arawaks, Caribs and Taínos. Due to the transatlantic slave trade, around 12-15 million Africans from many different tribes and nations were forcefully removed from their native lands. They were taken to be slaves in America, the Caribbean and various countries on the South American continent.

Slave Registers of former British Colonial Dependencies, 1812-1834

Slave Registers of former British Colonial Dependencies, 1812-1834

The slave trade took place between the 15 and 19th centuries and so it was too long ago for me to know where exactly my family originate from. Slaves were considered as property rather than people and they didn’t feature on censuses until the 19th century I believe. They were sold to different owners and thus their names would be frequently changed. Due to these factors, it is quite difficult for black people living now to trace and research their family history without any definite knowledge. Black people from Africa were stripped of their original identity and culture – for this reason it was important to me to find out any valuable information on what makes me who I am.

As far as I knew, I am half Jamaican and half Vincentian and that was it.
Enter Ancestry DNA.
dna-pie

My results showed my genetic makeup was estimated to be from Nigeria, Benin & Togo, the Ivory Coast & Ghana, Cameroon & Congo, Mali, Africa Southeastern Bantu and the Iberian Peninsula (which is Spain and Portugal). I was so happy to discover that my European ancestry was from Spain. Anyone that knows me well, knows that I’m obsessed with all things Spanish. I had Spanish speaking lessons from a young age and I have a real passion for languages, particularly Spanish so I was absolutely thrilled to know that I have Spanish blood.

I think everyone should get their ancestry DNA results as it opens up a wealth of information. Now I know that my ancestors came from Nigeria, Ghana and other places in Africa. Obviously, I still identify as black British with Caribbean heritage but it’s good to know where my ancestors originated and I now know where my love for all things Spanish comes from. I think it’s important for me to acknowledge and appreciate my past and my ancestors who have paved the way for me to be where I am right now.  If you want to know more about your family history definitely get tested, it’s well worth the money!

Ancestry DNA also connects you with other people on their database who are related to you and I actually have 24 4th cousins or closer. With the information that the DNA testing gives you can do so much more than just having the sheer knowledge. Not only is your DNA simply analysed and matched up with others, but Ancestry DNA gives a plethora of historical and cultural information on all the ethnic backgrounds. This is great so that one can learn about the history of the cultures they may have as part of their genetic background.

Going forward, I plan to further research my African ancestry and find out what specific tribes I may come from and I perhaps have any ancestral links with music making!


Introducing: Shannon-Latoyah Simon

I started playing the classical guitar at the age of 9 and naturally I became interested in the repertoire, which actually isn’t too vast or varied for the instrument. I think my involvement with classical music really grew when I started studying at the Northampton School for Girls (my secondary school), which was also a specialist music college. Classical music was played in nearly all of our classes to improve cognitive function and we were all encouraged to compose pieces, join the after school music ensembles and attend as many concerts and recitals as we could!

For me it’s very important to see more people of colour in the industry. Growing up I found it difficult because there were hardly any people of colour I could look up to as a role model. Due to this I have become involved with the BBCF (Black British Classical Foundation) an organisation that represents and provides opportunities to ethnic minorities within classical music. This year I was able to perform in the BBCF ‘Music inspired by Shakespeare’ concert at St Pauls Church in Covent Garden, which was an amazing experience. I love working with the BBCF because it inspires minority audiences and makes them see the possibilities for themselves and think, “I can do that too!”

I don’t feel as though being a black person in classical music has had any advantages or disadvantages as such. I’ve never been discriminated against of made to feel uncomfortable in any situation. I like to think that any opportunities or achievements I have gained have been down to hard work and determination.

 

 

For more information about Shannon visit www.shannonlsimon.com