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Image Eugene Skeef

Composer & Poet


I was educated at....

.... a primary school in South Africa called St. Philomena's. It was a school far from my home and which was chosen by my mother as one she believed would provide her children with what she considered a good foundation to do well in the world of the white people. While I cherished the everlasting friendships I built, and the long and exciting journey to school, which was full of adventure, including picking the largest variety of succulent fruit you can imagine (which we had to retrieve from fenced properties usurped from our people by the white racist settler community), I also have sad memories of the nuns in charge beating us for no understandable reason. My secondary schooling was at Umbilo High School, where my political consciousness reached a peak of awareness. I credit my history teacher, Mr. Curtis, for preparing me for the political work I was later to do with Steve Biko and the Black Consciousness Movement. My tertiary education at the University of the Western Cape and Natal University was fragmented by my political activism against apartheid. However, the education I received through my mother's magnanimity towards others, especially those more disadvantaged than herself, has to count as being the most important and sustainable in my life.

My first job was....

.... working for a company called Soil & Rocks Mechanics Laboratory in Durban, South Africa as a lab technician. I enjoyed the job because of the friendships I created - and our lunch hours playing football against the backdrop of the Indian Ocean.

What I do now is....

.... create music. I make and play music in every imaginable social situation. I live to make music and music is my living. I even cook and play the pots rhythmically. I compose and run music workshops for children and I write poetry and broadcast music programmes on the BBC. My work also entails travelling the world using my music as a healing tool, as therapy, and to resolve conflict in areas where young people, in particular, are damaged by war and religious and racial intolerance.

Eugene Skeef FRSA is a South African percussionist, composer, poet, educationalist and animator and has lived in London since 1980. He also works in conflict resolution, acts as a consultant on cultural development, teaches creative leadership and is a broadcaster. In 2003 he founded Umoya Creations, a charity set up to facilitate this international work.

As a young activist he co-led a nationwide literacy campaign teaching in schools, colleges and communities across apartheid South Africa. As well as being at the forefront of the contemporary music scene and collaborating with innovative artists, he has also been instrumental in developing the education programmes of some of the major classical orchestras in the United Kingdom.

Eugene is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and sits on the board of directors of the London Philharmonic Orchestra (LPO). He is on the advisory committee of Sound Junction, the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music’s award-winning interactive multimedia educational project. In September 2004 he was appointed musician in residence of the Purcell School of Music. In March 2005 Eugene performed with his Abantu Ensemble at Buckingham Palace and was presented to the Queen as part of the historic Music Day to celebrate the diversity of culture in Britain.

In June 2008 Eugene and Richard Bissill’s <strongExcite! - an orchestral commission by the LPO, premiered at the Royal Festival Hall at Southbank Centre, London.Eugene is the Artistic Director of Quartet of Peace, an international project initiated by Brian Lisus, the South African luthier who has made a quartet of string instruments in honour of South Africa’s 4 Nobel peace laureates, Dr. Albert Luthuli, Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and FW de Klerk. Quartet of Peace uses music to bring about peaceful resolutions to conflict and poverty, with a special focus on young people.

In 2010 Eugene’s collaborative project The Battle of the Wordsmiths (with writer Tunde Olatunji and producers Blue Hippo Media) was shortlisted for the PRS New Music Award.


What I learned along the way is...

that I am never bigger than anything or anyone around me; that I’m a small particle in the complex picture of life. My humility was taught to me first and foremost by my mother. She taught me never to prejudge and to be accepting of everyone I come into contact with. She encouraged me to enjoy a peaceful way of living in harmony with others; this is my biggest lesson and I continue to enact that in the way I live

My greatest influence has been....

.... my mother because she was the embodiment of love and from an early age instilled in me the need to be loving towards others. My immediate family is a living testimony to that. I come from an extremely happy family and any negative experiences that encroach upon me and my family are dispelled by the power of love. When I feel the need to reprimand my children and before I express anger, I am quick to remember my mother who never scolded us in my whole life. I’ve now developed techniques of using other and more fun ways of resolving issues in my family and the results are much more fulfilling for all of us.

The best advice I ever received was....

to give people the benefit of the doubt. More specifically, if I run into a situation where something upsets me; before I react, I always try to first take a breath, stop and consider.

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