Ignatius Inspires at Bernie Grant Arts Centre

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Ignatius Sancho. Thomas Gainsborough [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Ignatius Sancho. Thomas Gainsborough [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Ignatius Sancho  (1729-1780) was an extraordinary, multi faceted man of African descent, who is listed as one of the 100 Great Black Britons.

The first Black composer to ever have his music published, Sancho was also the first Black prose writer to have his work published in England and the first Black man to vote in a British election. His writings were presented as evidence of the shared humanity of Black people of African descent, in an era when many people in Europe and America thought otherwise. Sancho was also an activist in the abolitionist movement against the Transatlantic Slave Trade and slavery in general.

I am curating a season of creative work at Bernie Grant Arts Centre, inspired by Sancho’s music and writings. The season will last for 10 – 12 weeks, culminating with showcase performances. Each evening’s performance is to include live music, dance from London based artists and a spoken word performance webcast from Ghana.

My first contact with Ignatius Sancho’s music was in 2007, when I was approached to sing his songs in an event presented by The British Library and BBC Radio London, as a joint contribution to the bicentenary anniversary commemoration of the Abolition of Slave Trade Act in the United Kingdom and its territories.

I enjoyed the process of transposing the keys of Sancho’s songs to suit my vocal range and learning them for the performance, which took place in The British Library, was broadcast on BBC Radio London and was saved to the BBC Radio archives on Radio London’s web page.

Ever since that time, I have performed Sancho’s songs in various settings – sometimes as part of a specially designed assembly performance programme for schools in Hackney, London and also at composition symposiums for composers of African descent and heritage.

In 2016 I performed at a special family event in London, where I was approached by one of Bernie Grant Arts Centre’s trustees. This board member thought there was a lot of potential for me to work on an exciting project at the Centre. After meeting the Centre’s Chairperson of the board of trustees, I came to the conclusion that a series of events dedicated to exploring the significance and influence of Sancho’s life and work would be a great fit for the Centre and me.

Eventually, with some support from Bernie Grant Arts Centre’s management, I applied to the Arts Council of England for funding to present a season focused on Sancho, which would involve performing some of his music and also encouraging young people and established fellow artists to devise creative responses to his legacy.

Ignatius Inspires is partially a creative learning project, involving composition and dance creativity with over 100 young people from schools in the London Borough of Haringey, led by yours truly (Juwon Ogungbe) and Caroline Muraldo (dance).

Apart from this, I am collaborating with Waiyin Lee – a fine pianist who has accompanied me in many song recitals over the years to perform Sancho’s songs as part of the programme in each showcase event.

Nana Asaase – a leading performance poet from Ghana, is to contribute poetic creative responses to Sancho’s legacy and perform in the showcase events via video conferencing.

Haringey Young Musicians are a band of youngsters who will accompany the dancers at both showcase performances. I am going to compose new arrangements of the Sancho dances chosen for this purpose.

I will also compose a new piece of music, to be performed by all the participants in the project.

This website is designed as part of the Ignatius Inspires process, by Marva Lord of Griots Arts.

The showcase performances at Bernie Grant Arts Centre are on Thursday, 16th and Friday 17th of November 2017, both are to start at 7pm.

If you’d like to learn more and be part of this developing story, click here to get your tickets to Ignatius Inspires at the Bernie Grant Centre.

— Juwon Ogungbe

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