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Tunde Jegede’s sound of music

Music News

Tunde Jegede’s sound of music



Late last year, TUNDE JEGEDE, joined the MUSON CENTRE as its new artistic director. In this interview, he tells FUNKE OSAE-BROWN about his life as a composer and music


Spotting a black patterned shirt on a pair of black trousers, soft-spoken Tunde Jegede walks into the mini boardroom at the Music Society of Nigeria (MUSON) Centre for our little chat, his fair skin glowing under the light as he speaks.

I had seen Jegede play the coral at the last MUSON Festival in 2014. His dexterity on the coral is ecstatic, the sound easy on the ears. It was a melodious ensemble that was therapeutic for the soul. That was Jegede’s first official outing since assuming office.

He assumed his new role as the artistic director at MUSON shortly before the annual MUSON festival. A composer, multi-instrumentalist and musician, Jegede took over from Thomas Kanitz, a German.

He grew up in an artistic family. His parents are visual artist. His father is sculpture painter; his mother a painter. It is therefore not a surprise that Jegede takes on a career in music. Born in 1972 to a Nigerian father and an Irish mother, Jegede had his education at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama and Purcell School of Music (1981-1999).

His appreciation of African Diasporic culture was initiated and nurtured at the famous Keskidee Centre, Britain’s first Black Arts Centre. From an early age he was exposed to resident and visiting artists who worked in a multi-disciplinary mode such as Bob Marley, Walter Rodney, Edward Braithwaite, Angela Davis and Linton Kwesi Johnson. It was here, his path as an artist began.

“My first public performance was on a radio station,” says Jegede, “when I came across the Coral. I gave up caution and studied those two traditions. I went to Gambia to study the Coral. I went to music school in London to study the classical music and I discovered jazz and got interested in it. I met a lot of the young Jazz musicians in London. It is really three worlds: western, classical, the African.”

Jegede’s apprenticeship in African music began in 1978 and was further developed in 1982 when he first went to the Gambia to study the ancient Griot tradition of West Africa, with Amadu Bansang Jobarteh, master of the Kora (the Harp-Lute found in West Africa). The Jobarteh family are one of five principle musician families within this unique hereditary Oral tradition, which dates back to at least the 13th century.

Jegede says he set out in life to be a composer or artistic director. “From the age of one,” he tells me, “I don’t remember not playing music. I could play music before I could talk, and there was no doubt that I would be doing music.”


His appreciation of Western Classical music began with his grandfather’s love of Bach and by observing his work as a church organist. Tunde also studied Cello from the age of eight and over the years was taught by esteemed luminaries from the Classical world including: Alfia Bekova, Elma de Bruyne, Joan Dickson and Raphael Wallfisch at the Purcell School of music and later the Guildhall School of music.

In 1988, Tunde became fascinated with Jazz and worked and toured with ex-members of the Jazz Warriors founded by Courtney Pine & Cleveland Watkiss. He formed his own Jazz Ensemble, The Jazz Griots, with the sole purpose of exploring the connections between African and African Diasporic forms of music.

And so, his life journey from age one till now has been around music. “Most of my journey was as a musician. After I left Music College, I was working on a lot of Jazz, after that I was developing as a composer. I wrote works for many of the orchestras in UK. Internationally, I have been performing for the last 30 years. Not many composers make living doing that even in UK. There are a lot of works that I have done.”

Having composed about a hundred music, Jegede has vast and thorough knowledge in African and European Classical Music spanning over three decades. His music has been performed all over the world in concert halls such as; Carnegie Hall (New York), the Royal Albert Hall (London), and the Basilque (Paris) by international orchestras and artists including: the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, The Philharmonia, London Sinfonietta, Brodsky Quartet, Smith Quartet and Evelyn Glennie, the percussion soloist.

In 1991, he pioneered African Classical Music in the UK with the first ever-national tour of the African Classical Music Ensemble, which nurtured his burgeoning composer credentials. In 1995, a BBC TV documentary, ‘Africa I Remember’ was done on Jegede’s music and centred around his orchestral work. In the programme he performed new compositions alongside the London Sinfonietta, which was conducted by Markus Stenz.

Jegede has risen to be among the pioneers on the continent and his vast experience has taken him around the world where he served and performed in various capacities including as: founder, Living Legacies Project 2014 (The Gambia); writer/producer/director, Yinka Shonibare Studio 2013 (Nigeria); composer commission, Royal Opera House 2012 (London); composer Commission, Viva Sinfonia, 2011(UK); composer commission, Smith Quartet 2010(UK); composer-in-residence, ST Denis Music Festival (France) 2009; composer-in-residence, Cheltenham Music Festival 2007-2009; artistic director, Alfriston Music Festival (London) 2006-2007; composer commission, Trinity College of Music/GyeNyame 2005; composer commission, BBC Philharmonic Orchestra (London) 2005.

Besides his outstanding achievements in music, he is also an author of two books: The Silenced Voice (1987); and African Classical Music (1994) both published by Diabate Arts. He has numerous articles, journals, lectures and conferences of international accolades to his credit.

“At least, I have composed probably a hundred,” he says. “I have written like one hundred actual songs and I have written songs that are two hours long or three hours long, the last one I did was about 25 minutes long. It is a lot of music in my time.


Jegede says his favourite of all his composed songs is ‘The Last Supper’. “I have done about six albums as well. There is a piece that I wrote, it is an opera and it has not been performed yet, it is called ‘The Last Supper’. It is one of the pieces I was most pleased with as a composer. It is one I would like to bring in. It is the story of ‘The Last Supper’.

“In terms of recording, one of the highlights of my recording was when I did a sound track for an American documentary film called ‘Hopes in the Horizons. I had a lot of singers. I think I was most happy with this, in terms of the recording.”

Jegede says most of his songs were commissioned hence they are inspired by the circumstances and focus of the project. “Most of my songs are commissioned,” he says. “That one was commissioned by someone and as a producer he was unable to do the production.”

He says the theme of his last concert at the MUSON in February, an exploration of jazz and its African Connections was inspired by the story of the African people.

“I performed that two years ago in London, it is a story of African people. It was done from the influence of the Handel’s ‘Messiah’. I draw my inspiration for music on a daily basis, it could be sounds, and it could be anything that inspires music.”

According to Jegede, his first composition was a big symphonic composition of a piece called ‘Circle of Reckoning’. He says it was part of his documentary of his music by the BBC. “That was about 1995, it was the first big orchestral work I have done; which grew in African influences and orchestral music. It was quite new in 1995 to have African influences in our orchestral piece. I don’t think it has been done before in that way.”

It is therefore not a surprise that Jegede enjoys working with the music genre that has to do with Africa. “I like the genre which combines Africa Diaspora and western classical music,” he says.

“Out of all those genres, I get a third genre. I don’t know what that is called yet and what I have found out as a composer is that that is the only time I was complete. When I was studying, I studied western classical and when I did this, I didn’t feel it was all of me. And when I studied African’s it wasn’t all of me. Only as a composer, was I able to bring all of those elements together into one form.”

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