The Brixton Chamber Orchestra: Pulling strings in Brixton


Christmas is the best time of the year to try new things, they say. Swap beer for wine, turkey for a nut loaf and reggae for classical music.

That is exactly what a bunch of Mozart aficionados are trying to do in Brixton. Brixton Chamber Orchestra has made performing in odd and unexpected places an artform.

The group of classically-trained musicians have been mixing grime, pop and gospel with the likes of Beethoven for crowds in tenant halls across Lambeth for a year now.

This Christmas marks their boldest move yet – a series of Christmas concerts across the borough.

The Orchestra’s performances come at a seminal moment in Brixton’s cultural and social history.

The area has changed regularly since once being a rural area known for its game and strawberries in the late 18th century.

A string of department stores littered Brixton’s skyline in the 1920s, making it the shopping hub of South London.

Afro-Caribbean families who arrived after 1948 on HMT Empire Windrush helped rebuild post-war Britain and brought with them new food, art and, most importantly, music.

Calypso and ska, a forerunner to reggae, were the sound of Brixton in the late 1950s, while Tipa Irie and Linton Kwesi Johnson were influential innovators in the emergence of reggae – whose chart impact hit its peak in 1982 with a namecheck for one of its streets in Eddy Grant’s Electric Avenue.

The area also produced its own list of musical celebrities including David Bowie, Paul Simonon and Mick Jones from The Clash.

Now Brixton Chamber Orchestra want to be pulling the strings in the middle of yet another change.

Sarah and Imogen at the Cressingham Gardens Estate in July 2018. Main pic, the orchestra in Electric Avenue in August

The group performs concerts and educational programmes for free or at a peppercorn price but desperately need the community’s financial help to continue.

Musical Director Matthew O’Keeffe said: “We want to contribute to Brixton’s status as a cultural centre by engaging in exciting and artistic musical collaborations for those in the area.

“We also want to stand as an aspirational example of music making for young people – using vibrant performance to exemplify what dedication and hard work can achieve.

“We want to give an opportunity for communities to come together and enjoy an element of our shared culture – an uplifting musical experience.”

The orchestra has set up a crowdfunding page for £4,000 which will go towards paying its 15 band members, advertising, and logistics.

Brixton Chamber Orchestra work with music charities and schools to bring classical music to new audiences.

They have performed concerts in Loughborough, Angell Town, Moorlands, Tulse Hill and Cressingham Gardens estates and are looking for new members Mr O’Keeffe said: “If you play the violin, get in touch.”

The orchestra is touring five estates in Lambeth in the coming days.

To hear the music go to:

  • December 15, 6pm – Brixton Wings, Angell Town
  • December 16, 7pm – Moorlands Community Hall
  • December 17, 7pm – Loughborough Estate Management Board Centre
  • December 18, 7pm – Jubilee Hall, Tulse Hill Estate
  • December 19, 7pm – Rotunda, Cressingham Gardens

To donate, go to brixton-chamber-orchestra-christmas-tour.

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