Chineke! Orchestra: Europe’s First Classical Orchestra with a Mix of Black and Minority Ethnic Musicians

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Chineke is an ethnic minority orchestra that was formed three years ago in the UK; the only majority black and ethnic minority orchestra in the UK, formed by Chi-Chi Nwanoku. The orchestra hit the ground running with its first concert, a proms debut at a late-night concert featuring winner of the 2016 BBC Young Musician competition, cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason, soprano Jeanine De Bique and conductor Kevin John Edusei  and got quite an extensive applause. The orchestra has been quite inspiring just as the story of Nwanoku has been inspiring; indeed one that is sure to make you doff your hat for this unique talent woman.

Chinyere Adah Nwanoku,(OBE) was born in Fulham, London, on June 1956. Before reaching school age she spent some years in Imo State, Nigeria, where her family went for two years. She attended Kendrick Girls Grammar School in Reading, Berkshire. At the age of seven she began her education as a classical musician, first piano, and at the age of 18 bass. She subsequently studied at the Royal Academy of Music. She was also undertaking training as a 100-metre sprinter but had to end her athletic career following a knee injury.

Nwanoku is a double bass player and professor of Historical Double Bass Studies at the Royal Academy of Music. She was a founder member and principal bassist of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, a position she held for 30 years.

Chinyere (Chi-chi) Adah Nwanoku is of Nigerian and Irish descent and is the oldest of the five children of her parents Dr Michael Nwanoku and his wife Margaret (née Hevey).

She has worked as principal double bass of the ensemble Endymion, the London Mozart Players, the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, the English Baroque Soloists, the London Classical Players and the Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique.

Nwanoku is the founder of the Chineke! Orchestra, Europe’s first classical orchestra made up of a majority of black and minority ethnic musicians, with whom she regularly performs.


She was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 2001 Birthday Honours and Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2017 Birthday Honours both for services to music. She has been made an Honorary Fellow of both the Royal Academy of Music and Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music

Besides playing and teaching bass, she has been active as a broadcaster, as in BBC Radio 3 Requests and in BBC TV Proms and as a member of BBC’s Classical Star jury. In 2015 she presented the BBC Radio 4 programmes In Search of the Black Mozart, featuring the lives and careers of black classical composers and performers from the 18th century, including Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges, Ignatius Sancho, and George Bridgetower. She is a Board member of the National Youth Orchestra, Tertis Foundation, London Music Fund, Royal Philharmonic Society (Council), was previously on Association of British Orchestras board, is Patron of Music Preserved, the Cherubim Trust

She was a guest of BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs on 11 February 2018.

Chi Chi lives in London and has two children, Jacob Hugh and Phoebe Hugh, and a granddaughter, Maya Ekene Hugh.



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