Classical - the music of the Whites

October is Black History Month here in the UK when we celebrate African and Caribbean contributions to our society with a month long programme of events. We have celebrated classical musicians of colour On An Overgrown Path recently with features on the Guyanese clarinettist and conductor Rudolph Dunbar and the Afro-French composer Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges, and with contributions from John McLaughlin Williams. Today, to mark the start of Black History Month, here is the story of 32 year old Nigerian pianist Sodi Braide, with thanks to the excellent AfriClassical and Le Piano Bleu websites.

Sodi Braide (above) was born in 1975 to Nigerian parents in Newcastle, U.K. His parents were academics; both were scientists but music lovers as well. In December 1979, Sodi returned to Nigeria with his parents, where it was very difficult to find good teachers. At the time, there was no conservatory of music in the country, and he had to travel 60 miles for piano lessons, saying "When I think back on it, I tell myself it is a miracle that I became a pianist."

In 1987, as a result of a competition supported by the French Cultural Center in Lagos, Sodi Braide was awarded a scholarship to study in France with Françoise Thinat. He was successful in a number of high profile competitions, including Pretoria, South Africa (1996), Leeds, UK (2003) and the Van Cliburn (jury discretionary prize, 2005).

Sodi now lives in Paris where he has benefitted from the enlightened support of the Cultures France programme. This has allowed him to undertake a number of overseas tours, notably of Latin America, and he has recently recorded a CD of works of César Franck for the Lyrinx label (right).

The story of Sodi Braide is another resounding endorsement of visionary educational programmes, and his achievements provide a powerful role model for young people from ethnic minorities everywhere. His own words about the 1996 competition in Pretoria say it all in Black History Month:

“It was just after the end of apartheid, and some were really thunderstruck to discover that in fact there was not a cultural barrier due to skin color! ... I had already played one or two times in South Africa, and I remembered that most of the South Africans, at the time, had never seen seen a Black pianist of classical music, “music of the Whites”, what's more in the finals of such a competition. It was just after the end of apartheid, and some were really thunderstruck to discover that in fact there was not a cultural barrier due to skin color!"

Now read about the Berlin Philharmonic's first Black conductor.
The interview with Sodi Braide was originally published in French on Le Piano Bleu website, which is where my photos also come from. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk


Pliable said…
Email received from a birthday boy:

Hi Bob, Welcome back from vacation, and congrats on a great story! I hadn't heard of Sodi, but I'm making notes and I really hope to work with him someday.

Such a nice way to start my day, because quite coincidentally it's my birthday. Suffice it to say that I'm no longer considered a child prodigy...

Best, JMW
Pliable said…
Another email received:

I may be mistaken (I often am), but I seem to recall reading somewhere that the violinist who premiered Beethoven's Violin Concerto was mulatto.

Cheers David Cavlovic
Pliable said…
David, follow this link for an unproven story even closer to Beethoven.
Pliable said…
And another email:

Beethoven is black‏

"Worth mentioning for his connection to Beethoven is virtuoso violinist George Bridgetower (1778-1860), the son of a black West Indian servant, who gave the premiere performance of what became known as the Kreutzer Sonata. (Apparently it would have been called the Bridgetower Sonata had not the two men quarreled.)"

THAT'S what I was thinking of.I remember the publicity around that book. Even Charles Schultz mentioned it in Peanuts. Lucy is reading an article to Schroeder (who is of course playing his toy piano while Lucy leans her head on the back) about Beethoven being black. Schroeder replies : "you mean to tell me all these years I've been playing soul music?"

MikeNassau said…
Here is the Peanuts strip:

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