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Credit: Kate Green Photography

"The music I do? That’s a very complicated question. I’m not someone who’s really restricted to one genre of music. I like to be what they call a free spirit," says 17 year old Tawananyasha Riley Mamvura, one of the recipients of B:Music's Scholarship, a new scheme for young musicians who have shown raw and exceptional talent on their instrument, but who may not have the financial means to develop their skills and achieve their potential. "Because in music, learning never ends. If you stop learning, you stay stagnant."

At three years old, back in his home country of Zimbabwe, Riley was already playing the drums. "I believe I started playing when I was still in the womb," he says, carrying the same charm as when he joined his fellow B:and Together Jazz and Gospel band members on their takeover of the Jennifer Blackwell Performance Space a few days before our conversation. “I grew up in a church background. I used to play the drums a lot, you know, looking at our elders and learning from them. That was my first instrument.”

It wasn't only the community that taught him, music runs in the family too. "My mum was an acoustic guitar player. A lead guitarist. And my dad used to play a bit of chords. I started learning a bit from them, taking their knowledge." Riley's first bass lesson was with his mum.

It wasn't always smooth-sailing though. "Everything was going well and then COVID-19 hit. I spent almost a year at home. I didn't have a guitar because of circumstances and I didn't get to practice as much," Riley recalls. "One thing I would say to people is to never stop practicing. Never. The moment I went back to school and picked up the guitar I felt like I couldn't play anymore. I took twenty-five steps back."

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All the work that I've spent doing for 5-6 years? Down the drain. And it took hard work to pull it back.

In early 2023, Riley moved to the UK from Zimbabwe at age sixteen. As he details his journey with music, he always brings the story back to his first mentor. “My dad has been the biggest part of my music life. He’s the one who mentors me, the one who leads me. He was the one who actually introduced me to B:Music’s Summer School.”

Riley recalls his first time visiting Symphony Hall. “I didn’t know places like this even existed. We were rehearsing in the big hall. That was the room we were doing our sessions in. I was in awe. It really gave me a bigger picture of what music is like,” Riley admits. “I was kind of limited to one style of music. I didn’t know as much. But when I got here, I was learning more and getting to know people who have different minds.”

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People always ask: How are you so good? They don't look at how much time I put into the instrument and how many times my father reminded me: “Son, you have to work on this."

“That’s when I started to see what music can do," Riley adds. "It’s a lifestyle. That’s what this place showed me. It showed me that music is more than just listening. It’s love. It’s appreciation. It’s communication. It’s learning. I thank God for the team at B:Music. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be here right now. I wouldn’t have had this opportunity."

The B:Music scholarships aims to support the individual by paying for ten one to one instrumental lessons, as well as tickets to performances in our venues that they may not normally have access to. "I'm very happy that I got this scholarship. Not so many people are privileged to have that," Riley says. "My bass skills improved. I had three teachers for the Scholarship, three different people with three different mindsets and different skills. It also gave me the opportunity to join the gospel and jazz sessions. Jazz is something that I only heard about. It's not something I've gone deep into or played."

Credit: Ibi Keita

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I feel like this scholarship is the best thing ever. I'm looking forward to go further in my musical journey.

Thank you to the WED Trust and the Brian Shaw Memorial Trust for supporting this year's scholarship.

Find out more about how you can support B:Music's goal to inspire a love of live music, through performance, participation and learning across Birmingham and beyond.

Interview by Lerah Barcenilla, Marketing & Communications Officer

Photography by Ibi Keita, Digital Marketing Assistant

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