The Sheku Kanneh-Mason story continues. Today, the celebrated cellist announces a new solo album, which reveals more about the star and what inspires him, than ever before. Entitled Song (referring to the unique singing tone of the cello) and released on Decca Classics on 9th September, this is Sheku’s most personal album yet, presenting a musical portrait of the gifted musician.
This news comes on the eve of an open-air concert in one of the world’s most iconic public spaces, Trafalgar Square, where a giant stage will host Sheku along with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Simon Rattle. This concert, on Saturday 11th June, is free to an audience of thousands, and to thousands more watching the live stream (available here).
Stretching from Bach to Bacharach and beyond, Song sees Sheku present an extraordinary kaleidoscope of music spanning four centuries. He and his cello travel effortlessly from simple folk tunes through to classical works including Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Stravinsky, to jazz melodies and an original pop song, co-written by the cellist himself – all the while demonstrating his innate ability to communicate with his listeners. This eclectic mix of styles, all tied together by the striking sound of Sheku’s cello, reflects his breadth as a musician, demonstrating how he takes inspiration from many genres.
The new record follows Sheku’s two previous Classical No.1 solo albums, Inspiration (2018) and Elgar (2020), with the latter reaching No.8 in the Official UK Album Chart, making him the first cellist in the history of the UK Charts to break into the Top 10.
Since his last, record-breaking, solo album, Sheku has been awarded an MBE at Buckingham Palace for services to music, featured in two BBC documentaries about the Kanneh-Mason family and released two albums with his siblings (Carnival, with all six siblings, and duets album Muse with sister Isata Kanneh-Mason, who features on four Song tracks). He has continued both to tour the globe performing in the world’s greatest concert halls as well as lead workshops as Ambassador for UK music charity Music Masters, while accumulating over 215 million global streams. Most recently it has been announced that, in the midst of his busy international touring schedule (see below for details), Sheku will feature at the famous Last Night of the Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on 10th September.
On Song, as well as performing solo, Sheku is joined by some of the musicians he loves working with, collaborating with both family and friends while showcasing his skills as both arranger and composer. He opens with his own versions of two beautiful folk tunes, one of them being ‘Myfanwy’, his Welsh grandmother’s favourite song, arranged here for three cellos (all played by Sheku). Watch the music video, shot in Wales below.
Sheku says, “This is one of my absolute favourite melodies, and one that I’ve known for as long as I can remember. I spent a lot of my childhood in Wales with my family and particularly my Welsh Grandma, so this is for her”.
Sheku also shares his own take on Aretha Franklin’s ‘I Say a Little Prayer’ (written by Burt Bacharach) for solo pizzicato cello. As a child he would play around with melodies like this when procrastinating about cello practice, and then went on to perform it as an encore. He also improvises with friend and jazz pianist Harry Baker on the melody ‘Cry Me A River’, a song most famously recorded by Ella Fitzgerald. He also presents his own first arrangement of Bach for multiple cellos. For their original song, ‘Same Boat’, Sheku collaborates with a good friend, singer-songwriter Zak Abel. As Sheku explains, they wanted to combine “the raw intimate sound of Zak’s voice with the organic sounds of the cello.” And for Massenet’s beautiful ‘Élégie’, he joins forces with another vocalist, the striking South African soprano, Pumeza Matshikiza.
Another world premiere on the album is a new work (commissioned by The Royal Academy of Music, where Sheku studied) from British composer, Edmund Finnis, who wrote the ‘Five Preludes’ especially for Sheku, while, amongst several established works, the cellist also brings us a movement from the incredibly moving ‘Quartet for the End of Time’ by Messiaen.
Laura Monks and Tom Lewis, Co-Presidents of Decca Label Group, say: “We are very proud as a label to have witnessed the growth of Sheku as an artist and human being. This album is incredibly beautiful and truly does represent artistic excellence.”
Sheku Kanneh-Mason first caught the attention of the public when he won BBC Young Musician at the age of 17, and by his 19th birthday was performing at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, watched by 3 billion people around the world. He was since named one of TIME Magazine’s Next Generation Leaders, evidence of his ability to cross musical boundaries and draw new audiences into the world of classical music. With this astonishing album, he does just that.