Short Bio

Early Childhood

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.

Early Career

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

About Motherland
“…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

Discography and literary publications (including articles)

          My Videos

          A clip from a creative music workshop for families by Eugene Skeef, Marcina Arnold and Salifah Kayani-Skeef. The session was part of the Big Big Sing Day at Southbank Centre’s Chorus 2015.

          A spontaneous improvisation with Luciana Proaño and her partner John JB Butler – exploring the inherent harmonies of their bamboo grove.

          Upcoming Events

          11 August 2018 – Meet Me At The River – Lewes, UK

          An inspired gathering at the Robin Van Creveld-founded Lewes Community Kitchen (http://communitychef.org.uk/) to share my music, poetry and stories with an audience in an intimate setting. This will be an immersive creative experience at the confluence of the River Ouse and the rhythmic tides of the rivers of my youthful South African memories.

          12 August 2018 - FOREST OF SOUND – Lewes, UK

          This is a creative project initiated with the brilliant musician and workshop leader Thomas Christen. We will focus mainly on making music using our bodies, voices and the natural resources we will find in the forest at Vert Woods, an inspirational, working community woodland (https://vertwoods.co.uk/) – both in terms of the indigenous materials and the sounds of birds, other creatures and the generous acoustic and ambience of the environment.

          You can find more detailed information and buy tickets from the link below:

          https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/forest-of-sound-tickets-47433012417

          September 2018 - South Africa - storytelling/workshops/masterclasses/performance

          The acclaimed South African storyteller Gcina Mhlophe has invited me to contribute to her storytelling festival in Durban in the first week of September.

          I will use this time to start raising funds towards community educational projects I intend to do through my newly established South African non-profit company Umoya Creations.

          I plan also to conduct some workshops and masterclasses connected to Beyond The Stars, my multimedia project devoted to memorialising Bheki Mseleku, the legendary South African musician who left this plane in 2008. To this end I am being helped by Aymeric Péguillan, the jazz impresario in South Africa who is highly regarded in the country as a promoter of South African jazz through the creation of professional platforms for quality performances. Aymeric has teamed up with Andre Petersen, contemporary pianist and lecturer at Wits University in Johannesburg to bring to fruition my creative vision of positioning Mseleku back at the forefront of especially young musicians’ creative education and exploration.

          Bookings

          Availability

          I am generally available to be booked for a variety of engagements including performances, creative workshops, masterclasses, storytelling, lectures/talks and leadership training.

          Kindly fill in every part of the contact form and click the submit button.

          Please note that my fee varies according to project.

          Contact

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