Who are the Kanneh-Masons? All you need to know about the exceptional musical family
27 January 2022, 09:51
Sheku stunned an audience of 2 billion with his royal wedding performance. But his story gets all the more special when you look at his exceptionally talented siblings.
He won the 2016 BBC Young Musician of the Year award, becoming the first Black musician to win the award since its launch in 1978.
The cellist has gone on to record acclaimed albums for the prestigious Decca label, toured the world and even graced the cover of GQ (all while completing his studies at London’s Royal Academy of Music).
Incredibly, Sheku’s six siblings, the Kanneh-Masons, all share exceptional musical talents. Isata Kanneh-Mason (25) plays the piano, Braimah (24) plays the violin and Konya (21) and Aminata (16) play both violin and piano. Meanwhile, Jeneba (19) and the youngest Kanneh-Mason, Mariatu (12) play both cello and piano to a very high standard.
In 2015, the six eldest all competed on Britain’s Got Talent together, performing Csárdás and sailing through with four Yes’s. They made it to the semi-finals of the show, when they played a musical medley of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, Prokofiev’s ‘Montagues and Capulets’, ‘Rather Be’ by Clean Bandit and Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture.
In December 2019 they all played as a family on stage at the Royal Variety Performance, wowing the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and the audience, with Monti’s virtuosic Czárdás.
You can watch that above, but for further proof of their musical pedigree (and the hard work they’ve put in practising and playing), here’s another vision of the same thrilling piece, recorded at their home in 2015.
Isata Kanneh-Mason, 25, is the eldest of her siblings. The young pianist signed to Decca and debuted at the top of the UK Official Classical Artist Chart with her album of Clara Schumann’s music, Romance.
A former pupil of the Royal Academy of Music, Isata held the prestigious Sir Elton John Scholarship and later performed with the rock star himself in Los Angeles in 2013. She has also performed on Channel 4, Al Jazeera TV and ITV’s Born To Shine.
In 2019, Isata performed at the Royal Albert Hall for Classic FM Live. Then in 2021, Isata told Classic FM presenter Julian Lloyd Webber about the importance of making music with her siblings during lockdown. “Sheku and I were at home with the family in Nottingham, and we [were reaching] virtual audiences all over the world.”
Like his brother Sheku, 24-year-old violinist Braimah studied at the Royal Academy of Music. He is also a member of The Royal Academy Symphony Orchestra and Chineke! Orchestra.
Braimah plays violin with the band Clean Bandit, and has appeared with them on The X Factor and Top of the Pops. He even recorded with them on their No.1 single 'Rockabye'.
Sheku often plays with his two eldest siblings, Isata and Braimah, in a piano trio.
After winning BBC Young Musician of the Year in 2016, Sheku became a household name two years later when an audience of two billion fell in love with his cello-playing at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.
The young cellist has released two albums, Inspiration (2016) and Elgar (2020). With Elgar, he scored a groundbreaking moment for classical and pop music when he became the first cellist in chart history to score a hit in the UK Official Album Chart Top 10.
At the tine, Sheku described the news as “lovely and unexpected”, saying, “I really hope this sparks a wider interest in this amazing genre of music”.
The Sheku phenomenon has since spread far and wide; that same year, it was reported that more young people than ever before had signed up for cello lessons.
At the 2018 BAFTAs ceremony, Sheku performed alongside siblings Isata, Braimah, Konya and Jeneba. For Sheku, this marked the first time any artist had been invited to perform at the ceremony two years in a row, having played a cello arrangement of ‘Hallelujah’ at the 2017 ceremony.
Konya, the fourth eldest Kanneh-Mason, is a pianist, violinist and student at The Royal Academy of Music, where she was awarded the Gilling Family Scholarship.
Aged 21, Konya has already played to royalty twice, having performed at Marlborough House for Their Royal Highnesses Prince Charles and The Duchess of Cornwall in 2017, and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge at The Baftas in 2018.
Younger sister Jeneba, 19, gained Grade 8 Distinction on the piano aged nine, and won the Nellie Greenhill Memorial Prize from the Associated Board for the highest marks in the Nottingham area.
A gifted young pianist, Jeneba has performed Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1, Ravel’s Piano Concerto, Saint-Saëns’ Concerto No. 2 and Florence Price’s Piano Concerto in One Movement with Chineke! Orchestra at both The Royal Festival Hall and The Royal Albert Hall.
Jeneba was one of five young performers at Classic FM’s Rising Stars with Julian Lloyd Webber, a programme broadcast on Sky Arts in celebration of a new generation of exceptional classical talent. Watch her brilliant performance of Liszt’s fiendish Hungarian Rhapsody No.2 below.
Jeneba also has Grade 8 Distinction on the cello.
Aminata Kanneh-Mason, 16, is a member of the Primary Academy at The Royal Academy of Music, having gained Grade 8 Distinction on the violin and Grade 8 Distinction on the piano aged 11 and 12.
She also has singing and acting lessons, and has performed with the Kanneh-Masons to royalty and throughout the UK.
12-year-old Mariatu, the youngest Kanneh-Mason, already has Grade 8 Distinction on the cello, which she studies with Ben Davies at the Primary Royal Academy of Music alongside piano teacher, Fiona Harris.
Although she did not appear with her siblings on Britain's Got Talent, Mariatu performed with the Kanneh-Masons for Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall in March 2017.
Where do the Kanneh-Masons live?
The Kanneh-Masons are based in Nottingham, in the Midlands (UK). As children, they would travel down to London at the weekend to attend music lessons and rehearsals at the Junior Department of the Royal Academy of Music.
Who are the Kanneh-Masons’ parents?
The brilliant Kanneh-Mason siblings were raised by parents Stuart Mason, a business manager, and Dr Kadiatu Kanneh, a former university lecturer.
Both parents played musical instruments in their childhood, but never pursued music professionally. Born in Sierra Leone, Kadiatu used to lecture in literature at the University of Birmingham, while Stuart – whose family is from Antigua – works for Belmond, a luxury hotel chain.
In 2020, Kadiatu penned an award-winning book House of Music: Raising the Kanneh-Masons, conveying her experience of bringing up a musical family in Britain.
After Sheku won BBC Young Musician of the Year, his mother told the Financial Times she had always been determined “never to remark on the lack of black people in classical music to our children”.
19-yr-old Sheku Kanneh-Mason won us over with his beautiful cello-playing at the #RoyalWedding. But, he's not the only talented one in the family. Turns out, he's got 6 other classically-trained siblings. Meet them, his parents & learn their story--> https://t.co/kKbJO6gSUQ pic.twitter.com/9eieouVmQw— Shelley Wade (@shelleywade) May 21, 2018