Uncharted Crossings

In autumn 2018, Hackney Museum mounted an exhibition Black British Music in Hackney, and Grand Union arranged a programme of workshops and performances to complement this. Bringing together different generations of local musicians, it explored more generally 500 years of black music, from its origins in Africa, and its influence on British culture today

This programme culminated 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.In effect the backstory of the Empire Windrush, which in 1948 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. Flyer here

The show was astonishingly successful, deeply moving and exhilarating by turns. Equally remarkable was the audience, perhaps our most mixed ever - black, white and Asian, from young Shoreditch professionals who had never experienced such an event before, to elderly Caribbean women, often in tears seeing and hearing parts of their lives unfold before them. The atmosphere was extraordinary, enhanced by the faded grandeur of this Victorian Town Hall and its echoes of Empire long past - the ideal venue for such a show. It was filmed and recorded, and in due course we shall publish videos of the evening.

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.

Among them are South African Claude Deppa (trumpet, congas); jazz saxophone star Tony Kofi (Ghana); Francis Fuster (Sierra Leone), master of the talking drum; singer Jumoké Fashola; singer and African drummer Jonathan André; Caribbean Britons Harry Brown (trombone) and Andy Grappy (tuba); Jamaican-born Kevin Robinson (trumpet, flugelhorn); jazz virtuosi Chris Biscoe (soprano and alto saxes), Louise Elliott (flute, tenor sax) and Shanti Jaysinha (trumpet, cello); and an allstar international rhythm section of Carlos Fuentes (Latin percussion), Gerry Hunt (guitar), Andres Lafone (bass guitar) and Cristiano Castellitto (drums)

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

Our story 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, he 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:

               

But Eleggua, also known as the trickster or shape-shifter, has an authoritarian side too; and later - 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:

               

  Tony Haynes writes about Eleggua and his music on a blog post here

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

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