photo credit: Jake Turney
What makes the Kanneh-Mason siblings so remarkable? Is it the fact that all seven of them seem equally obsessed with music? They are, by order of age, Isata (24), Braimah (22), Sheku (21), Konya (20), Jeneba (18), Aminata (15) and Mariatu (11), and all play either piano, violin or cello or a combination. Or is it the fact that their parents Stuart, who hails from the Caribbean Island of Antigua, and Kadiatu, born in West African, Sierra Leone – neither of them musicians but both musical – did not go down the more obvious hot-housing route with specialist music schools, but instead opted for state education in Nottingham at a school that truly integrated music into the curriculum? Or is it the fact that they are equally at home playing Bob Marley, African American spirituals, Mozart or medleys from the musicals?
In 2016 cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason was the first-ever black musician to win the coveted BBC Young Musician, a competition that has been running since 1978. But he is not the only one in the family to have made his mark there, with pianist sisters Isata and Jeneba reaching the keyboard finals in 2014 and 2018, respectively. The family have also performed at the BAFTAs and in 2018 Sheku reached an audience of two billion worldwide when he played at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.
Sheku and Isata have both made best-selling recordings and all seven have released a new album built around Saint-Saëns’s Carnival of the Animals with new poems by Michael Morpurgo, of War Horse fame, read by Morpurgo and Olivia Colman, together with irresistible illustrations by Emma Chichester Clark.