Cellist Abel Selaocoe signs to Warner Classics

South African cellist Abel Selaocoe has signed to Warner Classics, building on the critical acclaim he’s received for electrifying genre-defying performances given across the UK over the past couple of years. He’s also the recepient of the Paul Hamlyn Composition Award and the PRS Foundation ‘Power Up Award‘.

Selaocoe is currently preparing his debut recording featuring a line-up of jazz, world and baroque artist collaborations.

Thoroughly Good learns from the press release announcing the singing that the debut album will feature “a music about learning to understand different ways we seek refuge, not always a place of comfort but one of empowerment that allows potential to live a fulfilled life.”

Last month Selaocoe appeared at the Ryedale Festival in two programmes – one solo, the other with members of the Manchester Collective. Both were moving experiences to be in attendance at and give a taster of the kind of material to come. Selaocoe is undoubtedly committed to his art, and in its fantastic to see his career develop at the rate it is.

This video uploaded to his YouTube account gives a sense of the early days (it was broadcast on South African TV in 2013) and the journey he’s been on over the past eight years.

Later this month, Selaocoe makes his BBC Proms debut this August 15 with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, conducted by Clark Rundell in a special programme entirely curated by Abel, which celebrates the journey between African and Western Classical music. He will be joined by his trio Chesaba, Simo Lagnawi and Gnawa London and small choral forces.

Abel Selaocoe, Manchester Collective and Chesaba in Sirocco at Ryedale Festival 2021

I’m in the zone now. Curated playlist concerts are my new thing. If I was down with the kids, I might even say they’re my ‘new jam’. But I won’t do that. Because that would be a bit corny. And I’ve probably said it wrong. And I’ve probably made myself look like a twat. Regardless.

Perched on the stage in the Milton Rooms, Malton, every available surface painted various shades of blue, members of the Manchester Collective and Chesaba were accompanied by cellist Abel Selacoe who swung from one group to the other with ease.

This was a collaborative creation. From time to time music stands were deliberately set to one side. Musicians leaned in. Smiles got wider and brighter. Heels dug in even more.

“We look for the string that binds us together,” said Selaocoe back-announcing two pieces in the set – the second movement from Haydn’s Op.54 No. 2 followed by an African hymn the name of which escapes me, but the emotional impact absolutely didn’t. Touching, lump in the throat stuff.

Four Dramatic Miniatures from Danish composer Hans Abrahamsen brought enthralling edge-of-the-cliff drama, minimalism, and a plaintive statement, concluding with a frenetic pizzicato frenzy with a clever echo effect created across four string players.

Later in a traditional South African song ‘Shaka’ Chesaba percussionist gave us a heartfelt melismatic plea, after which soft strings and a plucked electric bass gave things an altogether festival vibe. When voices joined in, it was all a bit too much to contemplate. Yet another example of how just a handful of musicians can create something so very uplifting.

Selaocoe tried his best to get us singing along and – ‘COVID permitting’ – to dance along as well, but it wasn’t going to happen really. This was mid-afternoon on a weekday. And we’re all achingly middle class. And British (majority Yorkshire).

But this was as expected, incredible musicianship. Keep an eye out for Sidiki on drums in particular. Quite how he doesn’t finish a gig with bleeding hands I’m not entirely clear.

Abel Selaocoe and Chesaba join the BBC National Orchestra of Wales at the BBC Proms on 15th August.