My childhood was spent in Clermont (eNdunduma), a South African township cradled in thunderous hills beneath a capacious dome that was perennially emptied of dark clouds to reveal an azure sky of infinite light. The abundant nature was my refuge from the perennial violence of apartheid. I immersed myself in the natural environment to connect with the wholeness of my self. I experienced the infinite symphony of natural sounds – birdsong, the rhythmic calls of insects, the flowing rivers, cascading waterfalls, the burst of colour and of course the multi-tongued narration of the rain.
The skies would tear open and unleash a torrent of sound onto our corrugated tin roof. I remember my siblings and I having to hastily place tins and buckets of all kinds directly under the holes in the roof to collect the leaking drops. Because of the different sizes of the holes and the varied sizes and materials of the receptacles placed all over our humble home, the dripping water filling the containers would produce a whole range of notes, rhythms and timbres; and together these sounds would become a beautifully harmonic symphony. This was my first experience of symphonic music.
As I prepared for sleep, it would still be raining tumultuously, and I would listen to the microtonal harmonies and play with the sound by cupping and un-cupping my ears. It was just heaven – it was bliss. I would unwind to this enveloping music and make a gentle transition into a state of having all my fears washed away and ready for beautiful dreams to fill my sleep.
As a young activist in the seventies I worked alongside Steve Biko, the acclaimed dissident who was assassinated by the apartheid racist South African regime in 1977. My involvement in the Biko-led Black Consciousness Movement was largely responsible for shaping my worldview. All the performances, workshops, teaching, writing, broadcasts and conflict resolution work I have done in different parts of the world since then bears the seed of this early development.
Shortly after arriving in the United Kingdom when I went into exile in 1980 I discovered Oval House Theatre in south London. It is here that I eventually became Director of the Oval House Music School and gradually developed the creative workshop method that I subsequently used in my community music work with some of the top British symphony orchestras, including the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the London Sinfonietta and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra.
Then finally I took these techniques even further across the world.
What people say
“Eugene is probably the best workshop leader in the UK”
Africa Oye! Music Festival
“This was an experience of experiences. It has given me a self confidence that I never knew I had. I look forward to many more…”
Tom – prisoner, life sentence, Wormwood Scrubs.
(PS from Sara Lee, Education Officer: “this man is still buzzing and many people have noticed the change in him. A constant smile on his face never seen before”).
“Eugene (Skeef) demonstrated how the ‘power’ of simple music making using voices and bodies can be woven into a complex tapestry that is totally inclusive – and who can forget the image of him transforming a dangerous personal situation when he first arrived in this country from his native South Africa, when he was surrounded and effectively mugged in the underground, into a jamming session with his assailants. Such is the charisma and charm of this wonderful musician.” (As appeared in Yamaha Educational Supplement)
New Direction – Changing Tunes
Leonora Davies, chair of the Music Education Council, reflects on the impact of Changing Tunes – a conference which brought together diverse practitioners to look at the future patterns of music leadership.
“An absorbing masterclass delivered with the panache of a virtuoso instrumentalist. Music lessons were never this much fun.”
The Sunday Times
“…Dancing as good as this is what the evening does best of all and it leaves you with an exquisite memory to take away.”
Richard Edmonds, The Stage
“The brutalities and injustices engineered by India and Africa’s profit-seeking white colonists are succinctly delineated”
Donald Hutera, The Times
“I found Motherland exhilarating and profoundly moving, weaving its story of love, desire, greed, corruption and forgiveness… a tale told brilliantly with words, music and dance… provocative and moving theatre”
Jenny Agutter, Actor
“…the shocking stuff was beautiful and the beautiful stuff was sublime…. rarely have i seen such a melding of cultures, both ethnic and discipline..” Steve Mesure FRSA
Interviews, reviews and news items with Eugene:
5 Minute Interview – Eugene Skeef FRSA – Percussionist, Composer & Poet
Music: Sharing The Stage (diary of a tour of South Africa with the LPO)
The Guardian Radio review – BBC Radio 3 World Routes
Eugene Skeef’s Ovalhouse Story
Eugene interview_The South African