As part of this year’s Black History Month, we sat down with Serge Sainte Rose, an award winning, multi-talented pianist, producer and composer from Martinique in the Caribbean.
This year, Serge was awarded an Arts Council grant to compose music for a unique one-off concert, entitled ‘From Britain To The Caribbean and Back’, a fusion of traditional classical orchestral music and Caribbean rhythms, incorporating many musical genres and featuring songs in several languages that reflect his heritage and travels.
Performed by the Covent Garden Sinfonia, it has been described as a ‘vibrant musical odyssey’ and ‘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’.
Serge’s compositions have been featured in TV programs and films, including The Apprentice, The Real Marigold Hotel and the X-Men movie and he has also played alongside artists such as Nelly Furtado, Il Divo, Paloma Faith and currently plays with a pop/gospel choir, the Urban Voices Collective.
What drew you to classical music as a young boy growing up in Martinique & and what/who were your early passions and influences?
Well, my first instrument was the Flute. So, although I loved classical music, it was mainly for the purpose of learning to play that specific instrument. I used to listen to my CD of James Galway a lot! For most of the musicians in Martinique though, the focus was on “popular” music, from traditional rhythms to more modern ones. I had various influences, perhaps one of the biggest being Michael Jackson.
What inspired you to produce a fusion of classical and Caribbean rhythms and how have these sounds been received by traditional classical music lovers and audiences as a whole?
I’ve been living in Europe for a long time now and feeling more and more estranged from my roots. When covid hit and concerts dried up, I had a lot of time to think. After previously gaining a grant from the Arts Council to record some pieces with a symphony orchestra, I felt ready to tackle the challenge of mixing classical music and Caribbean rhythms. The feedback from everyone who’s heard snippets of the work has been fantastic, but the real test will come on Friday when the audience hears the compositions in full effect for the first time! This is exciting!
It is part of your mission to get more African & Caribbean people interested in classical music and attending concerts. What do you think the barriers currently preventing this from happening are?
It’s about the very perception of what classical music is in people’s minds – White, old, middle-class, elitist, with a healthy dose of snobbery! That perception will only change when non-traditional audiences start attending more classical concerts. We need to educate people from a young age that classical music can be for everyone.
You will be at Saint-John’s Smith Square in London on 7th October 2022, with a symphony orchestra – the Covent Garden Sinfonia. Can you tell us a little about what inspired the title of the concert “From Britain To The Caribbean And Back”, and the concept behind it?
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 moving to Britain, which has been my home for many years now.
‘Libèté’ and ‘Mother Africa’ will feature in the upcoming concert, can you tell us more about these pieces?
The Caribbean is a melting pot, but the vast majority of ancestry comes from Africa. It was natural for me to start the concert with a homage to Africa, our “mother”. Libèté means Freedom in Creole. It’s the last composition in the 1st half of the concert and symbolises the abolition of slavery in the Caribbean.
Is there an overarching message that you try to convey through your music?
Yes, it’s about togetherness. I wish that people from different cultures/backgrounds could understand, respect, and learn from each other. Music of all kinds is a great medium to bring people together.
What is next for Serge Sainte Rose?
I am focusing more and more on film music and was recently shortlisted for The Jonas Gwangwa Music Composition Initiative. So hopefully writing music for a movie!
Which project/musical composition are you proudest of so far & why?
This is by far my most challenging project, and the one I am most proud of. It has been quite a journey and I cannot wait to hear the music live on Friday!!
‘From Britain To The Caribbean And Back’ will be premiered at St John’s Smith Square, one of London’s premiere classical music venues, on Friday, 7th October 2022.
Visit here to book tickets. Please use the promo code BlackHistory5 for a £5 discount off your ticket.
To find out more about Serge please visit: