Tony Haynes, composer/creative director of the Grand Union Orchestra, tells the inside story of his music for the orchestra, its musicians and colourful history.
The Artistic Director of Bengal to Bethnal Green is Yousuf Ali Khan, a highly valued and influential core member of the Grand Union Orchestra for 25 years.
Born into a famous dynasty of Bengali musicians and a pupil of the renowned master Ali Akhbar Khan, Yousuf began playing tabla at the age of five, later studying in Kolkata. He is now an internationally-acclaimed performer and accompanist of choice for Bangladeshi and Indian musicians visiting the UK.
Recruited from his home town Dhaka in 1980 by the Leicester Music Service, to help set up South Asian music teaching in the city, he has worked extensively as a music teacher/workshop leader and performer ever since. He currently teaches tabla, harmonium and singing in Tower Hamlets, Newham and Brent, and heads up Surtaal School of Indian Music in Edmonton.
Yousuf is well-known throughout the British Bangladeshi community, particularly in East London; he has released several CDs and published a book for young people with Music for Youth; he appears regularly on Bengali TV channels and currently has his own popular show on Channel S.
The idea for Bengal to Bethnal Green partly grew out of this show, where Yousuf talks to and performs with leading artists from the Bengali diaspora and discusses their history and the context of their work. Events at Rich Mix will be previewed regularly on this programme, and other UK-based TV channels.
Another inspiration is Yousuf’s membership of the Grand Union Orchestra, the relationships he has forged with its diverse musicians and the projects they have collectively created – and the many visits Grand Union musicians have made to Bangladesh, working with local artists.
Examples of Yousuf’s work with, and influence on, the Grand Union Orchestra can be found in the main blog, including an unusual workshop described in Post 6.
A fascinating documentary film of one of Grand Union’s visits to Bangladesh can be found here.