Now you can hear Eugene Skeef, firsthand, on his podcast, New Dawn. Photo: paul.odonoghue / Instagram
Eugene Skeef’s influence on English popular culture has been so profound that he is now a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, and has also performed at Buckingham Palace and was presented to Queen Elizabeth II as part of Music Theme Day to celebrate cultural diversity. in Great Britain.
Now you can listen to him, first-hand, on his podcast, Nuevo Amanecer.
I first came across the name Eugene Skeef in the early 1980s through the pages of Staffrider, the legendary literary magazine that launched the careers of many now famous South African authors including Njabulo S Ndebele, Chris van Wyk , Miriam Tlali and Gcina Mhlophe.
Skeef, who regularly contributed poetry to Staffrider, signed on as someone based in Marianridge, a designated township for so-called people of color, which wasn’t too far from my own township.
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As someone who was dabbling in poetry, I was so moved by his work that it spoke to the realities of village life that I hoped our paths would cross one day.
As fate would have it, our paths finally crossed, almost 30 years later. This was in 2011, in London. Also present during this beautifully evocative meeting were the poet and scholar Keorapetse “Bra Willy” Kgositsile and my good friend Siphiwo Mahala, the scholar and novelist.
When I told Skeef how much I had admired his writing when I was still in high school and how disappointed I was when he suddenly disappeared from the scene, he told me what had happened.
After constant harassment from the apartheid Security Branch, he fled into exile and settled in England.
A talented percussionist and singer, he made a precarious living busking in London, finally gaining a foothold when he began working with the likes of Bheki Mseleku, the pianist originally from Lamontville in KwaZulu-Natal.
He subsequently collaborated with Anthony Tidd, Brian Eno, Tunde Jegede, and Eddie Parker.
He worked hard to be recognized.on its own terms, one might add by the mainstream in the UK, eventually gaining opportunities to participate in developing the educational programs of some of the UK’s leading classical orchestras, including the London Philharmonic Orchestra (LPO) and the Royal National Orchestra of Scotland.
Aside from his Royal Society of Arts fellowship, Skeef’s influence extends to a seat on the LPO’s board of directors.
In March 2005 he performed with his Abantu ensemble at Buckingham Palace and was presented to Queen Elizabeth II as part of the historic Music Day to celebrate cultural diversity in Britain.
In the winter of 2006, Skeef received an Arts Council England grant to the Banff Center for Arts and Creativity in Canada to spend three months developing In Memory of Our Seasons, a multimedia commission for the London Sinfonietta.
In June 2006, SoundJunction, for which Skeef was a content producer, author, and consultant, won the prestigious New Media Age (NMA) Award in the music category.
Skeef sits with Howard Goodall and Mary King on the judging panel for the BBC Choir of the Year competition. Her choral work, Harmony, was performed at Westminster Abbey in March 2007 before the Queen and the Commonwealth High Commissioners to promote tolerance and global understanding.
In 2007, Skeef directed Motherland, a dance theater production he created with an international cast in recognition of the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the Slave Trade Act.
In June 2008, Excite! by Skeef and Richard Bissill, an orchestral commission from the LPO, premiered at the Royal Festival Hall in London’s Southbank Centre.
In 2012, Skeef performed at Orchestra In A Field, a crossover classical/popular music festival located at Glastonbury Abbey, Somerset. The event was televised on Channel 4.
His first collection of poetry, In Search of My River, came out in 2020, a long-awaited occasion for someone who has produced prodigious volumes of writing for so many years.
He is a staunch supporter of Black Consciousness philosophy, and Steve Biko’s warmth and anger come through in his poetry.
Considering his relentless quest to make artistic voices heard, it’s no surprise that Skeef has finally answered the call to put his thoughts and words where they can be accessed by many, on various topics. I’m talking about the podcast series he launched this week with writer Kwesi Owusu.
Called New Dawn, the podcast series will tackle everything from the nature of cultural work to the socio-political issues facing people on the continent and in the diaspora. The launch episode of the podcast series is here.
*Additional information from Wikipedia