Sheku Kanneh-Mason, who counts Bob Marley and Mstislav Rostropovich among his idols, is a young man on the move. The British cellist, still a teenager, won the BBC Young Musician of the Year Award in 2016; he's just released his major label debut, featuring his rendition of Bob Marley's "No Woman, No Cry," which has been quietly racking up YouTube views and Spotify hits. And now he's set to perform at the royal wedding between Prince Harry, the sixth in line to the British throne, and American actress Meghan Markle.
Music flows deep in Kanneh-Mason's family. He has six siblings, all of whom are musicians. They wowed the audience at Britain's Got Talent in 2015 with a mashup of classical and popular numbers.
Kanneh-Mason's new album, Inspiration, is also a mix of chestnuts and pop. Along with Marley's "No Woman" and Saint-Saens' "The Swan," there's an arrangement of Leonard Cohen's ubiquitous "Hallelujah." But the centerpiece of the album is his performance of the demanding Cello Concerto No. 1 by Dmitri Shostakovich, the very piece that earned Kanneh-Mason the BBC award. A reviewer in the London Times noted, in a subsequent performance, that the young cellist offered "urgency and bite" and "impeccable technique."
Kanneh-Mason began cello lessons at age six and went on to enroll in the junior program at London's Royal Academy of Music, where he now studies full time in the degree program. He and his siblings have also been active in Chineke!, a British orchestra that provides opportunities to young minority musicians.
"If you're a young, black child going to a classical concert you don't see anyone who looks like you in the orchestra," Kanneh-Mason told the Guardian. While the young cellist says race has never been a problem for him, he realizes diversity in the orchestra is a difficult thing to change. "Music isn't given enough time and money in the state schools," he noted. Still, he hopes his success will "inspire others from similar backgrounds to see this journey as something they could also do."