Uncharted Crossings

Throughout the autumn, Hackney Museum is running an exhibition Black British Music in Hackney, and Grand Union has arranged a programme of workshops and performances to complement this. Not only bringing together different generations of Hackney musicians, it will also explore more generally 500 years of black music, from its origins in Africa, its transportation to Brazil, Cuba, the Caribbean and the southern USA through the slave trade, and its influence on British culture today

The programme culminates in a new show, Uncharted Crossings, featuring the full might of the Grand Union Orchestra and its singers, at Shoreditch Town Hall on Sunday, December 9th, which tells the backstory of the Windrush generation.

Flyer here, full details and related activities on our Events Page

In 1948, the Empire Windrush brought hundreds of people from the Caribbean to help rebuild Britain after the war. In a way, this could be seen as yet another chapter in the long history of African migration, and another example of how those migrants have been treated.

This story began over 500 years ago with the transatlantic slave trade, when millions of Africans were transported to Brazil, Cuba and the West Indies, and to the southern states of the USA. In horrific circumstances, they took their customs, their culture and their religion with them. Remarkably these survived in the New World, and above all their music has developed into an extraordinary legacy.

This is a story the Grand Union Orchestra is well-equipped to tell, with its core company including many musicians and singers of African or Caribbean descent. Several are first generation migrants themselves, but all of them fine exponents of their art – from West African drumming and chant, through Latin-American and Caribbean music to jazz.

It is told through the character of Eleggua, who runs right through Uncharted Crossings. The West African Yoruba orissa or orixa (spirit), who guards borders and watches over travellers and their journeys, is still venerated in Brazil and Cuba today. So the show begins with an invocation of Eleggua, and his chant makes a great theme for a big band number with brassy riffs, jazz solos and West African drum rhythms:

               

The show features particularly our musicians and singers of African heritage:
     Claude Deppa (South Africa) – trumpet, African drums
     Kevin Robinson (Jamaica) – trumpet, flugelhorn
     Tony Kofi (Ghana) – alto and baritone saxophones
     Harry Brown (Caribbean British) – trombone
     Andy Grappy (Caribbean British) – tuba
     Francis Fuster (Sierra Leone) – congas, djembe, talking drum
     Jonathan André (African British) – voice, African drums
     Jumoké Fashola (Nigeria) – voice
     Davina Wright (Caribbean British) – voice
together with other GUO core musicians:
     Shanti Jayasinha – trumpet, flugelhorn
     Chris Biscoe - soprano and alto saxes
     Louise Elliott – tenor sax, flute
     Lauren Morgan - tenor sax. voice
     Ros Davies – trombone, flute
     Tony Haynes - trombone, piano
     Carlos Fuentes - Latin percussion
     Gerry Hunt – guitar, soprano sax
     Andres Lafone – bass guitar
     Cristiano Castellitto - drums
     Victoria Couper - voice
     Richard Scott – voice

Music by Tony Haynes
Lyrics by Sara Clifford, Valerie Bloom, Jumoké Fashola and David Bradford

Tony Haynes writes about the project here, and was commissioned by the creative platform It’s Nice That to produce one of their regular Friday Mixtapes with music that reflects this theme: https://www.itsnicethat.com/articles/friday-mixtape-grand-union-orchestra-170818

But Eleggua, also known as the trickster or shape-shifter, has an authoritarian side too; and next - still using the same chant! - we see him personified as Mr Never-Smile, the archetypal border guard and immigration officer. Finally, his chant is transformed into an exultant Afro-Cuban number to conclude the evening:

               

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