Musician Abel Selaocoe’s amazing journey from Soweto to celebrating Africa Oyé in Merseyside

South African cellist Abel Selaocoe merges classical and African music together.

South African cellist Abel Selaocoe took to the stage at Birkenhead's Future Yard on Thursday night as part of the 30th anniversary celebrations of the Africa Oyé festival.

Africa Oyé has been billed as the UK's largest free celebration of African music and culture and the festival itself, which first started as a series of gigs in 1992, will be taking place on June 18 and 19 this summer.

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Selaocoe was joined in Merseyside by the Manchester Collective, to perform The Oracle, featuring some of his own stories and compositions and backed by African percussion.

The Birkenhead performance started an eight city tour of The Oracle.

Abel Selaocoe performs with the Manchester Collective. Image: Manchester Collective

Selaocoe, who grew up in a Soweto, was surrounded by music from an early age.

He told LiverpoolWorld: "Music has always been part of my life, everybody sang all the time, either in church, school or at cultural ceremonies.

"The idea of trying out classical music came from my older brother. He was really into a music outreach programme in the township.

"He and his friend played the bassoons which at that time was really unusual, but they were determined to find their passion when they were young.

“They wanted to have control of their paths in a township where there was poverty and sometimes not much to do.

"When my brother was 16 and I was nine he decided to take me along to the outreach programme and experience a different life from the township.

"He saw there was opportunity to see more of the world through this vessel and it turned from opportunity into passion.

"He said he thought I should try the cello."

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As there weren't many cellos available in the township, Selaocoe said four or five children would share an instrument and then only at weekends.

"My brother and I started drawing the cello strings on paper and I would practice in that way all week with a pencil. When I was back at the outreach programme they noticed my progress and soon enough gave me my own cello.

“From that moment I felt the responsibility to work hard," he explained.

Selaocoe was given a full scholarship at the age of 13 to St John's College in Houghton, Johannesburg, where he boarded and was thrown into a different life with access to a concert hall, recording studio and swimming pool.

He said: "It was so different from my home and as my brother had prophesied music was giving me a better life."

After finishing high school Selaocoe auditioned for various music schools around the UK and in 2010 ended up at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester.

He said: "I felt I could be an individual and I was in this new world of privilege where people help each other, the standard of playing was really high and I had teachers who knew not one size fits everyone, they said I could improvise but I also needed to play some Bach.”

Abel Selaocoe. Image: Manchester Collective

Selaocoe met Adam Szabo at the Royal Northern College of Music as they were in the same cello class.

Szabo went on to co-found the Manchester Collective and in 2016, Selaocoe formed Chesaba, a trio specialising in music from the African continent, including many of his own pieces.

Both took part in last year’s BBC Proms and the groups have collaborated successfully previously and are now touring with The Oracle, which Selaocoe says holds messages of faith, joy, wellbeing and ‘transcending what was before to look further ahead’.

Selaocoe is part of Oyé's celebrations this year, but has also been to the festival several times himself to enjoy its atmosphere: "What a great festival. It feels like an African gathering, and for people far away from home it can be a blossoming space for hope.

"There are some incredible artists who take part and the whole event just imparts joy.

"As a child I was malleable enough to see you can merge classical and African music together and I now have the opportunity to use my voice and an instrument to get that across to an audience."

Abel Selaocoe's single On the Sharp Side is out now and his debut album Where is Home?(Hae Ke Kae) will be released on Friday 23 September 2022.

Abel Selaocoe’s tour dates in the UK

01 April 2022, 20:00 - Manchester Collective - Saffron Hall - Saffron Walden - Essex - Abel Selaocoe: The Oracle

07 April 2022, 19:30- Manchester Collective - Djanogly Recital Hall - Nottingham - Abel Selaocoe: The Oracle

08 April 2022, 19:45 -Manchester Collective - Howard Assembly Room - Leeds - Abel Selaocoe: The Oracle

15 April 2022, 19:30 - Manchester Collective - The Bridgewater Hall - Manchester - Abel Selaocoe: The Oracle

20 April 2022, 19:30 -Manchester Collective - University of York - Abel Selaocoe: The Oracle

22 April 2022, 19:30 - Manchester Collective - St George’s Bristol - Bristol - Abel Selaocoe: The Oracle

24 April 2022, 16:00 - Manchester Collective - Queen Elizabeth Hall - London - Abel Selaocoe: The Oracle

15 May 2022, 15:00 - BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra - Glasgow City Halls - Glasgow - Abel Selaocoe: Ka bohaleng - Giovanni Sollima: L.B. Files - Thomas Dausgaard (conductor)

17 June 2022, 19:45 - Warwick Arts Centre - Warwick University Arts Centre - Coventry.

18 June 2022 -Through the Noise / Chesaba - Oslo Hackney - London

05 July 2022 - Nevill Holt Opera - Manchester Collective - Nevill Holt Opera - Market Harborough, Leicestershire - Manchester Collective: Sirocco