Perhaps because of the family’s modesty, the tone of House of Music is at times understated. But it entices you from the beginning, which pictures Sheku “carrying his cello like a talisman” on his way to winning the BBC Young Musician of the Year, 2016, and then flashes back five decades earlier to Kadiatu’s childhood in Sierra Leone. Both parents played instruments as children, but neither took music further. In encouraging her offspring, Kadiatu was determined “never to remark on the lack of black people in classical music”. The book conveys the perils of auditions and competitions so that, even though we know the outcome (orchestras, prizes, record deals), there’s still doubt and suspense.
of their lives were thrust up on stage.'
The pressures of the lockdown summer must have seen a few more holes pressed into that old bathroom lino. I feel Kadiatu is a lot like that lino. A woman who bears the marks of great love and great self-sacrifice. An extraordinary woman who has shown her extraordinary children how to sing out to the world, and is only now finding the time to sing out about the experience herself.
Her beautiful, wise writing is its own music.
When 17-year-old cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason won BBC Young Musician of the Year in 2016, there was plenty that was remarkable about his success: he was the first black player to have won the prize and state-educated to boot. He also happens to be just one of seven siblings, all of whom are classically trained musicians. His mother’s account of the family’s journey is riveting, taking in prejudice as well as sacrifice. There are 4.30am starts, lost instruments, fractured wrists, all captured with vivid flourishes that render sudden media exposure, for instance, “a kind of enchanted violence”.