Classical music lovers get ready for a treat: an amazing one-off concert on 7th October that fuses traditional orchestral sounds with rhythms of the Caribbean.
Conceived in the quiet of the first lockdown, From Britain To The Caribbean And Back is the brainchild of Serge Sainte Rose, a multi-talented pianist and composer. Performed by the Covent Garden Sinfonia at the historic St John’s Smith Square, this vibrant musical odyssey is a bridge between diverse cultures and a reflection of Sainte Rose’s powerful personal journey – from growing up on the tiny island of Martinique to living in the big cities of Europe. This year, the National Lottery were so taken by the concept,they supported him with a major grant.
Serge, first trained in #Cuba and then #Paris. His compositions have featured in several adverts and hit TV programmes, ranging from The Apprentice to Love in the Countryside, and The Real Marigold Hotel.
Alongside more traditional classical audiences, Sainte Rose is also particularly keen to attract African and Caribbean people to the performance. He says “I’ve been living away from home for a long time now. This concert was a way to connect with my roots and create something unique “.
Featuring songs in English, Creole, French and Spanish, and incorporating many musical genres from across the region (including Gwoka, Reggae, Salsa, Zouk), these stunning compositions effortlessly merge the classical with the Caribbean to beautiful effect.
From Britain To The Caribbean And Back premieres on 7th October 2022 at the exceptional St John Smith’s Square. Seated within the stunning Baroque architecture, audiences will be swayed by a symphony orchestra, rocked by world percussions, and vibrate to the sound of soul-stirring voices. Fuller managed to get talking with Serge.
Juanne Fuller: It’s an interesting title, “From Britain To The Caribbean and Back”, what was the inspiration?
Serge Sainte Rose: The title is partly a reflection of Britain’s history and the Atlantic triangle between this country, West Africa and the Caribbean – from the slave trade, to resistance, emancipation, then migration back to Europe. It’s the story of my people and my own personal story, having grown up in the Caribbean then moved to Europe, which has been my home for many years now.
JF: The history of the Caribbean is rich with a vibrant culture, but also a traumatic past – how do you convey that through music?
SSR: The first part of the concert is dedicated to the journey from Africa – the lives of the enslaved, their suffering, spirituality, pain, hopes and revolts. I had to dig deep to convey all the human emotions and stories. I’m hoping the words and the music together will evoke these emotions and guide the audience. The first half of the concert will be heartfelt and often intense, with epic moments converging towards the abolition of slavery in the Caribbean. The 2nd half which represents the post abolition era, will be more upbeat and joyful with a focus on hope and positivity. I believe different cultures can understand, respect and learn from each other.
JF: How challenging has it been to produce a fusion of classical and Caribbean music?
SSR: It has been very challenging! Classical music and Caribbean styles are on opposite sides of the spectrum. Fusing them while trying to keep a balance is not an easy task, but I am very happy with the results!
JF: Lots of people will be familiar with the sounds of Reggae and Soca, but what are some of the more traditional Caribbean music genres people can expect to hear?
SSR: I am using traditional rhythms, most of which are directly rooted in Africa. From Gwoka to Bèlè, which use a particular type of drum similar to a djembe, and others like Biguine, Mazurka, and Salsa. There will also be a bit of Jazz.
JF: It’s not just going to be strings and percussion on the night, but singers too. Have you written original songs for them to sing?
SSR: Yes, indeed, 95% of the compositions are original to support the concept. Also, using most of the languages spoken in the Caribbean – English, French, Spanish, and obviously Creole.
JF: What was it like growing up in Martinique?
SSR: I had a great childhood, very peaceful. The sun and sea are great for the soul, and of course there was plenty of music! I was lucky enough to be in a band with 14 kids and we performed in many different places in Martinique. It was this experience which gave me my passion for music and the drive to pursue it professionally.
JF: How unusual (or not) was it for a young boy in Martinique to play classical
SSR: Most people who really want to do music start with a training based on classical music, so it wasn’t that unusual. However, it’s mainly to learn music theory and the basic techniques of the instruments. There isn’t really a focus on classical music outside of training, and there were not many classical music concerts in Martinique when I was growing up. It’s not something most people listen to.
JF: What did you learn as a musician whilst training in Cuba and Paris?
SSR: I was very lucky to have some very good teachers both in Cuba and later on in Paris. I understood that in order to pursue my passion as a professional musician I needed more rigour, more practice and more knowledge. In Cuba I studied the flute (my main instrument at the time) and music theory. It was there I started to train as a composer. In Paris I first trained at a Jazz school, before studying composition at the Ecole Normale de Musique de Paris.
JF: Many of your compositions have been used in adverts and UK TV programs like The Apprentice and The Real Marigold Hotel – do you have any ambitions to compose music for film?
SSR: Indeed, I do! I was recently shortlisted for the Academy of Motion Pictures and Science’s Jonas Gwangwa competition. I will certainly focus more and more on composing music for film (as opposed to performing). I love books and stories, so composing music for film is a perfect way of blending my passions!
JF: Who is your all-time favourite composer and why?
That is a difficult question. Unsurprisingly, I love John William’s. I love how he uses #Jazz inspired harmonies and his themes are always instantly memorable. I also love Rachmaninov. His harmonies are just breath-taking.
JF: Is part of your mission to get more African & Caribbean people interested in classical music?
SSR: Of course! But it also goes the other way around, to get the classical music audience to be more interested in Caribbean music.
JF: How excited are you about the performance at the prestigious St John Smith Square?
SSR: I am beyond excited now. I cannot wait to hear the music performed by fantastic musicians. It will be an unforgettable experience!
From Britain To The Caribbean And Back
Friday 7th October, Tickets: https://www.sjss.org.uk/events/serge-sainte-rose