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Classical Features

‘Inspiration’: Sheku Kanneh-Mason’s Chart-Breaking Debut Album

Cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason made chart history when his debut album ‘Inspiration’ broke into the Top 20 UK Official Album Chart.

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Sheku Kanneh-Mason Inspiration album cover

Cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason, one of the brightest young stars in classical music, released his debut album Inspiration on 26 January 2018. Sheku made chart history with Inspiration when he became the youngest cellist ever to break into the Top 20 UK Official Album Chart – the album peaked at No. 11 following his performance at the Royal Wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in May 2018 which was watched across the world by 2 billion people.

Listen to Sheku Kanneh-Mason’s Inspiration on Apple Music and Spotify and scroll down to find out more about his chart-breaking debut album.

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‘Inspiration’: Sheku Kanneh-Mason’s Chart-Breaking Debut Album

Sheku Kanneh-Mason recorded his debut album Inspiration with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO) and Music Director Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla in Birmingham and in his hometown of Nottingham. Inspiration is a deeply personal collection of pieces which inspired him in his career. Sheku’s inspirations include his school music teacher, who first encouraged him to play ‘Evening of Roses’, the great cellists – Mstislav Rostropovich, Pablo Casals and Jacqueline du Pré – who inspired him to play ‘Tears for Jacqueline’ and ‘Song of the Birds’, and his own passion for Bob Marley. Sheku’s friends and fellow musicians are also a source of inspiration for the album, including BBC Young Musician winner Guy Johnston, who joined him for ‘Sardana’.

Bob Marley’s ‘No Woman No Cry’ went viral worldwide

Inspiration features Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No.1 – the piece which propelled Sheku to fame as the first black winner of BBC Young Musician in the competition’s 38-year history in 2016. Sheku’s own arrangement of Bob Marley’s ‘No Woman No Cry’ went viral worldwide achieving one million streams in its first month on Spotify alone.

Inspiration also includes a brand new arrangement of ‘The Swan’ from The Carnival Of The Animals by Saint-Saëns, one of the world’s best-loved cello melodies, which Sheku recorded with the aim of inspiring other young people to take up the cello and explore classical music.

Sheku Kanneh-Mason made chart history with Inspiration

Sheku Kanneh-Mason made chart history with Inspiration when he became the youngest cellist ever, at 18 years old, to break into the Top 20 UK Official Album Chart. The album entered at No. 18 and peaked at No. 11 following his performance at the Royal Wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in May 2018 which was watched across the world by 2 billion people.  Sheku said, “As a classical cellist, I can’t quite believe I’ve made the Top 20 in the pop charts with my first ever album! It has been an amazing experience and I’m very grateful to everyone who’s supported me. I hope the pieces on this album inspire others the way they’ve inspired me.”

Inspiration also reached No. 13 on the US Billboard Album Chart, the first time a British cellist ever achieved this feat, No. 1 on the classical charts in the UK, US, France, Australia and New Zealand, and the top selling classical album for 2018 in the UK.  Sheku Kanneh-Mason was also 2018’s best-selling British debut artist across ALL genres.

“It’s so amazing to be given this BRIT Certified Award”

He became the first artist to receive the brand new BRIT Certified Breakthrough Award, after selling 30,000 copies of Inspiration in the UK . The Breakthrough Award is an extension of the famous Platinum, Gold and Silver Awards – certified by The BRIT Awards and record labels body the BPI and issued to recording artists upon achieving notable sales landmarks. Inspiration also surpassed 100,000 album sales worldwide – a major milestone for any artist and an astonishing feat for a classical debut. Sheku said, “It’s so amazing to be given this BRIT Certified Award and I’m still overwhelmed by the incredible response to the album from around the world. I’m so happy that people are continuing to enjoy my playing and I hope it encourages them to explore music further.”

Sheku Kanneh-Mason was inspired to learn the cello after hearing Jacqueline du Pré’s recording of Elgar’s Cello Concerto when he was a child. He received a ringing endorsement from Piers and Hilary du Pré, Jacqueline’s brother and sister, who noted, “Jackie would often say, ‘So many cellists can play technically well, but can they make music?’ Sheku makes music. He’s the first cellist since Jackie who has that natural and vibrant abandonment when playing. A sheer delight. Jackie would have loved to meet him.”

In January 2020 Sheku Kanneh-Mason released his second album, Elgar, featuring the composer’s famous Cello Concerto recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by one of his lifelong heroes Sir Simon Rattle. He became the first cellist in chart history to land a place in the UK Official Album Chart Top 10, when Elgar reached No. 8, breaking his previous chart record for Inspiration.

“The world’s new favourite cellist”

Sheku Kanneh-Mason is currently an undergraduate student at the Royal Academy of Music in London where he balances international performing commitments with full-time study. He has been described by The Times as, “The world’s new favourite cellist” and has been named as one of TIME Magazine’s Next Generation Leaders, evidence of his ability to cross boundaries and draw new audiences into the world of classical music.

Sheku Kanneh-Mason’s album Inspiration can be bought here.

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