“Britain’s Got Talent.” “BBC Young Musician.” Harry and Meghan’s Royal Wedding. These TV ratings magnets have been the steppingstones to superstardom for young Sheku Kanneh-Mason, a Black cellist from Nottingham who has cited as inspirations Jacqueline du Pré, Mstislav Rostropovich, and Bob Marley. Last April, not quite three weeks after his 21st birthday, and still a full-time scholarship student at the Royal Academy of Music, Kanneh-Mason was to have kicked off an American tour at the Kennedy Center, as soloist in the tempestuous half-hour rhapsody known to music lovers as the Saint-Saëns Cello Concerto No. 1. By that time, however, the pandemic had brought live entertainment to a global standstill.
Kanneh-Mason resumed touring in the U.K. in September, with Continental dates to follow before year’s end. Right now, the good news for his international fan base is this month’s release of Saint-Saëns’s Carnival of the Animals (Decca), a holiday album of music and story involving not just Sheku but a full court press of his siblings—his elders Isata and Braimah as well as the younger Konya, Jeneba, Aminata, and Mariatu, instrumentalists all, recording commercially en famille for the first time.