Brixton Chamber Orchestra – rapping to Tchaikovsky

Brixton-based journalist and composer Robert Hugill reviews a recent performance by the genre-busting Brixton Chamber Orchestra


Ruth Brown

Brixton Chamber Orchestra, a lively ensemble of 15 classically trained instrumentalists, involves itself in Brixton’s diverse cultural life whether it be performing classical music, gospel, rap, or Michael Jackson.

All these styles and more were on display at the ensemble’s Live Lounge, Downstairs at the Department Store in Brixton earlier this month.

Directed from the keyboard by Matthew O’Keeffe, they performed acoustic covers of Michael Jackson, Des’ree, Adele, Justin Timberlake, Rap, Gospel, Fleetwood Mac and much more, with a talented group of local vocalists, Maro Doucoure, Camile Reid, Daniel Lewis, Megan McArthur, Ruth Brown, Terra the Kid and Rowlando Morgan.

The musicians played acoustically, only the guitar, keyboard and vocalists had amplification, and the imaginative arrangements by Matthew O’Keeffe provided a new and intriguing view of some well-loved classics.

For many, the stand-out vocalist was Ruth Brown in a terrific pair of power ballads, Justin Timberlake’s Cry me a Riverand Radiohead’s Creep.

As striking in a different way was rapper Terra the Kid who has performed with Brixton Chamber Orchestra before in its Grime Reorchestratedevent, and here he returned to show us what rap could be like with a live, acoustic accompaniment.

He performed Get Mashby Yakub and Terra the Kid with its catchy rhythmic accompaniment, but the real cross over came when he rapped to Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphonydisplaying stunning verbal dexterity.

Maro Doucoure

Maro Doucoure had opened proceedings with Michael Jackson’s Rock You, whilst Camile Reid sang Adele’s Chasing Pavementsand Gnarles Barkley’s Crazy.

The evocative Led Zeppelin number No Quarterfeatured Daniel Lewis with some terrific cello rifs from Ruby Moore, and Lewis also sang Usher’s You Remind Me.

Camile Reid

Megan McArthur sang Des’ree’s Kissing You, and joined with Lewis and Reid for Fleetwood Mac’s Songbirdwith close-harmony vocals.

Gospel singer Rowlando Morgan, who had worked with Brixton Chamber Orchestra before, sang his own Rest My Friend.

A bossa nova version of Ravel’s classical piece Pavane pour un infante defunte and Eric Satie’s Third Gymnopediesat alongside Cornflake by the Australian rock band Psychedelic Porn Crumpets.

We ended with all the singers joining the ensemble for Bony M’s Sunny.

It was a stirring and striking evening, and everyone enjoyed the variety on offer, the musicianship and the sheer engagement of the performers.

The instrumentalists of Brixton Chamber Orchestra provided sophisticated accompaniments which brought another dimension to the songs. Matthew O’Keeffe, as well as directing from the keyboard, also made an entertaining compere.

Robert Hugill runs the classical music blog

The Gardeners – a new chamber opera by Robert Hugill and Joanna Wyld premieres on 18 June at London’s Conway Hall