Black History Month: Bethnal Green based orchestra traces the evolution of black music with Hackney exhibition

PUBLISHED: 07:00 02 October 2018

Tony Haynes, directing the Grand Union Orchestra, which he set up as a celebration of east London's different cultures. Picture: Tony Haynes

Tony Haynes, directing the Grand Union Orchestra, which he set up as a celebration of east London's different cultures. Picture: Tony Haynes


In conjunction with Hackney Museum, Bethnal Green-based Grand Union Orchestra will be running a series of performances as part of Black British Music in Hackney.

The exhibition will explore the history of African and Caribbean music, and the orchestra will be hosting workshops and shows based on the evolution of the music over the last 500 years.

The orchestra was set up 30 years ago by composer Tony Haynes, who was intent on bringing together musicians from different cultures.

“I wanted to work with musicians from a variety of cultures,” the 76-year-old said.

“I was interested in the idea of where people come from and migration. Experiences, good or bad, and our reaction to them.

“It’s my job as a musician to work with those who come from different places, and to allow them to express their experiences.”

Tony’s orchestra mostly began with musicians from the Caribbean, but he said as the demographic of east London has changed, so has that of his orchestra. They play pieces which follow the evolution of African and Caribbean music, from reggae and calypso to blues and jazz.

When Tony found out about the Hackney exhibition, he said it made sense for his orchestra to take part.

“We have a number of black musicians who live in Hackney so it seemed a good idea,” he said.

“I was thinking about Windrush 70 years ago, and how that wasn’t the beginning of migration.

“I wanted to do something which traced back and celebrated black music over the last 500 years.”

The programme will include workshops at Poplar Union, which will involve the youth orchestra, which Tony set up 10 years ago. The programme will extend longer than just the month, with it coming to close with a performance in December.

Tony hopes it will be a celebration, but also a reminder, of the importance of history.

“It’s important to learn from experiences and learn lessons, and it’s also a question of identity,” he said.

“History is part of who you are and the more you learn about where you come from, the happier and richer a person it makes you.”

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