Saturday, August 3, 2019 The world’s most talented family of musicians [The Kanneh-Masons]

Proud parents Stuart and Kadie with their musical brood 
(Image: Decca Records)

Back row from left, Jeneba, Aminata, Konya, Sheku, Isata, Braimah and, in front Mariatu (Image: NC)

Thu Aug 1, 2019

The Kanneh-Masons, all nine of them, are off to Wales this week on a walking holiday. But as they prepare to swap their Nottingham home for a rural cottage, the seven siblings and their parents, Stuart and Kadie, appear more like a chamber orchestra going on tour. For the classically-trained family described by Simon Cowell during their 2015 appearance on Britain’s Got Talent as “the most ­talented in the world”, is comprised of seven musical prodigies between the ages of 23 and 10, and two rather bemused parents.

Sheku, 20, and his elder sister Isata, 23, are now major recording artists in demand ­internationally, and their five siblings are ­following fast in their footsteps. 

At the age of 13, Isata achieved the top Grade 8 in three instruments, two of them with the highest marks in the country. Sheku did the same on cello at the age of just nine.

“They were getting scores I didn’t know it was even possible to get,” says their father Stuart, who also showed promise on piano at the age of 12 but turned down the chance to go to music school, fearing he would no longer be able to play football. 

Woven into their precious holiday time together, along with lots of walks in the beautiful hills of mid-Wales, will be plenty of music practice, not least for gifted cellist Sheku who this year will be making his Proms debut, after his unforgettable ­performance as soloist at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle last year.

Neither Stuart nor Kadie, 53, who has a PhD and was a university lecturer in English literature until the birth of their fourth child, are musicians.  

“Often people ask me if my parents are musicians and are surprised when I say no,” says Sheku. “They have loved music and played when younger, but they are not professionals.

“But a parent doesn’t need to be a ­musician to be able to encourage their child to do music. They gave us encouragement and were dedicated in taking us to lessons, and listening to the practice even if they did not have the technical knowledge. I’ve ­definitely really appreciated all that.”

But what is perhaps most remarkable is that Sheku and his talented siblings have achieved all this through the state school ­system – and through the determined ­organisation of their mother. “Because Kadie no longer works outside the home the ­children have each had one‑on‑one time with her each day,” explains Stuart. 

At one point she had four children under five, and then five under seven.

“There was a time when it was literally crowd control,” she laughs. “So routine was absolutely necessary.”

The family interest in music began with Isata, a fiercely bright little girl who was in danger of finding school boring. At the age of four, she started learning music theory and recorder to keep her occupied, and when she was six started piano lessons. “She was learning each piece within five minutes and would embellish with her left hand, or put it in a minor key,” recalls Kadie. 

“When Braimah was five, I introduced him to the violin, expecting it to sound scratchy, but I could tell it was his thing.  

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