South African cellist Abel Selaocoe (pronounced Sa-LAU-chay) is redefining the parameters of the cello. Abel combines virtuosic performance with improvisation, singing and body percussion, and focuses on highlighting the links between Western and non-Western musical traditions to help classical music reach a more diverse audience. He’s the perfect guest for Passport to Africa.
Abel performs in multiple genres, including classical, jazz, world music, folk, and traditional African rhythms and melodies. He won a scholarship to study in the U.K. and completed his International Artist Diploma at the Royal Northern College of Music in July 2018.
In this video, Abel performs the first movement of Claude Debussy’s Cello Sonata, demonstrating his mastery of classical music. Abel says his mission is “to push the boundaries of the cello and ask, ‘How far can it go?’” He often uses the cello to introduce audiences to a new perspective and new types of music.
In 2016 Abel formed Chesaba, a trio specializing in music from the African continent, including his own compositions. He’s joined by Sidiki Dembele on African drums djembe, kora, ngoni, and calabash and Alan Keary on bass guitar: both will also be performing with Abel in Passport to Africa. The music is made of a raw and colorful blend of African cultures, from Griot music – a tradition spanning centuries of civilization in West Africa – to soulful South African township music that expresses its powerful history. Check out this electrifying video of Chesaba performing “Vukani Bo” (“Wake Up” in Zulu), a song about encouraging youth to keep on searching for their passion.
In 2017, Abel received the Standard Bank Young Artist for Music award. The sought-after prize is given to five of South Africa’s most innovative and talented artistic individuals. In this video, Abel talks about his background and his reaction to winning this prestigious award along with the opportunity to perform at the National Arts Festival.
Abel was recently selected for Serious Music’s Take Five, a highly competitive program designed to give some of the UK’s most talented emerging creative jazz musicians the opportunity to take time out to develop their craft, build their careers and get their music out into the world. He really does cross genres in an amazing way.