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 violin 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.
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!
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.
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