A Moving Tribute by Chineke Orchestra in Celebration of Stephen Lawrence Day

The Chineke Orchestra takes a bow with Double Bassist and Founder Chi-Chi Nwanoku (Centre Front)

Review by Mercy Francis

The sound from the Chineke Junior Orchestra struck some eclectic cords at the Southbank Centre on April 22nd 2019. The pieces were moving and a great tribute to the young Steven Lawrence who had everything to live for. Some of the young musicians were of the same age as Steven Lawrence when he was unjustly killed.

The young people played effortlessly which much zeal and enthusiasm.

The various orchestral arrangements guided you through different emotions. Some sombre; some more like pantomime. With every chord your heart beat was taken through a journey. Yet the memory and the reason for the performance was one of sadness.

The arrangements for the Inaugural Anniversary of Stephen Lawrence’s death, killed mercilessly, 26 years ago on the streets of London by five white youths, marked a fitting tribute by Chineke Orchestra. It turned into a celebration of a young man who was working towards a bright future in architecture.

Baroness Doreen Lawrence encouraged young people to ‘live their best lives.’

The theme for the inaugural year was ‘Live Your Best Life’, declared by Baroness Doreen Lawrence, mother of Stephen Lawrence. She put on a brave face and spoke of how her son loved education. She encouraged young people in the Black, Asian, Minority, Ethnic (BAME) communities to follow in her son’s footsteps and use education to further their lives.

As the music played, we were reminded that Stephen Lawrence’s memory lives through future generations whom we pray, may never be subjected to what Steven Lawrence experienced. May they reach a grand old age having achieved their dreams and found their purpose.

The Chineke Orchestra is Europe’s first classical ensemble to comprise mostly of Black and Ethnic members. Founded by Chi-Chi Nwanoku, who is of both Nigerian and Irish heritage, she formed the orchestra to increase the presence of people from communities largely under-represented in classical music. Chineke consists of the main Senior Orchestra and the Junior Orchestra whose age ranges from 11-22 years. The overall aim is to inspire the next generation of young people to become the next Mozart or Beethoven!

In the evening performance by the main Chineke Orchestra, the highlight was a rendition of Philip Herbert‘s Elegy in Memoriam of Stephen Lawrence. Composed in 1999 as a response to the news about Stephen’s tragic death, the magically moving piece for eighteen string players was written to represent each of the eighteen years of Stephen Lawrence’s life.

The concert was preceded by an intense and thoughtful panel discussion with a questions and answer section. Moderated by Emma Dabiri, a presenter and social historian, the panel included:

  • Dean Atta, one of UK’s most influential LGBT writers, best known for his work “I Am Nobody’s Nigger”.
  • Imran Khan, QC and Solicitor, representing the Stephen Lawrence family.
  • Chi-Chi Nwanoku, Founder of Chineke Orchestra and Professor of Double Bass at Royal Academy of Music.
  • Gus Nwanoku, Further Education Manager and Author of Black Shamrocks-Accommodation Available- No Blacks, No Dogs, No Irish.

Discussions were based on the legacy of the Stephen Lawrence case, 26 years on. Imran Khan QC argued that not much had changed since 1993, when he felt safer on the streets compared to today with regards to current escalating gang and knife crime.

The topic of racial discrimination within schools was also raised; it was argued that too often BAME students work 4 times as hard as their white counter parts, yet only a small percentage go on to occupy managerial positions. This is reflected at Lambeth Council where 70% of the work force come from BAME communities with qualifications good enough to occupy managerial positions. Yet the management positions are occupied by white staff members representing only 20% of the workforce.

Representatives for the Greater London Authority (GLA) agreed to look into the matter and make changes to ensure equal opportunities.

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