Short Bio

My childhood was spent in Clermont (eNdunduma), a South African township cradled in the thunderous hills beneath a capacious dome that was perennially emptied of dark clouds to reveal an azure sky of infinite light. The abundant nature was my refuge from the perpetual violence of apartheid. I immersed myself in the natural environment to connect with the wholeness of my self. I experienced the infinite symphony of natural sounds – birdsong, the rhythmic calls of insects, the flowing rivers, cascading waterfalls, the burst of colour, and of course the multi-tongued narration of the rain.

The skies would tear open and unleash a torrent of sound onto our corrugated tin roof. I remember my siblings and I having to hastily place tins and buckets of all kinds directly under the holes in the roof to collect the leaking drops. Because of the different sizes of the holes and the varied sizes and materials of the receptacles placed all over our humble home, the dripping water filling the containers would produce a whole range of notes, rhythms and timbres; and together these sounds would become a beautifully harmonic symphony. This was my first experience of symphonic music.

As I prepared for sleep, it would still be raining tumultuously, and I would listen to the microtonal harmonies and play with the sound of cupping and un-cupping my ears. It was just heaven – it was bliss. I would unwind to this enveloping music and make a gentle transition into a state of having all my fears washed away and ready for beautiful dreams to fill my sleep.

I started writing poetry at a very young age in South Africa. In my early twenties I became involved as an activist in the Steve Biko-led Black Consciousness Movement of the seventies. My principal roles were as an artist and driver for Biko and the movement. I drew the first clenched fist icon that symbolised the people’s power in the struggle for freedom from apartheid.

I was forced to flee into exile in 1980. I settled in London, where I joined my fellow exiles as an activist using my creative skills to campaign for the end of apartheid. I became Director of Oval House Music School, a platform that launched me into my career as a workshop leader within the major orchestras in the United Kingdom, including the London Sinfonietta, London Philharmonic and Royal Scottish National Orchestra. This led to me being highly regarded as a community music leader and visiting professor at leading arts academies such as the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, the Royal College of Music, the Purcell School of Music, Aldeburgh Young Musicians and Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance.

My skills became popular around the country, resulting in me being invited to bring my work to a host of countries across the world.

“Eugene is probably the best workshop leader in the UK”

Africa Oye! Music Festival

“An absorbing masterclass delivered with the panache of a virtuoso instrumentalist. Music lessons were never this much fun.”

The Sunday Times

“The vocal contribution from South African poet Eugene Skeef is particularly ear-catching.”

Basic Soul Radio

“Amongst the student attendees, who seemed deeply appreciative of the range and quality of the different sessions, possibly no session was more talked about than Eugene Skeef and Tajma Kurt’s presentation, “Healing Through Music and Media in War-Torn Bosnia. ””

The Association for Moral Education ’98 CONFERENCE REPORT Dartmouth College, USA —November 18-22, 1998. The theme of the conference: Informal Influences on Moral Development: Family, Faith, Media and Community.

“Eugene Skeef is a legendary educator/percussionist/composer (and father of Mpho Skeef!). He is part of the same South African generation as Bheki Mseleku (and a great friend of the pianist). His experiences in South Africa make my difficulties look like a tin of baked beans! His story-telling, as obviously inspired by events, and also his love and brilliance in performance, result in what you hear.”

Robert Mitchell on Eugene’s contribution to his track Shukran (dedicated to Bheki Mseleku) on his latest album, TRUST

“Thank you so much for creating and guiding us through a wonderful 3 days last week. Your expertise and leadership (from behind some of the time!) helped us all create, whatever our background and skills.”

Anne Snelgrove – Curriculum Leader, Creative and Expressive Arts, Surrey County Council.

“…thank you sincerely for your recent visit in which you delighted us with your musicianship and performance skills. Despite their initial shyness and reluctance to perform, the students gained enormously from the experience you afforded them; so, too, did the staff who attended and took part. I was most impressed by your ability to inspire a large group of inner-city children of mixed ages and abilities to -produce collaborative, creative work – and a performance – in such a short time. For myself I enjoyed the session immensely and learned a great deal.”

Harry Owen – Head of English, Shorefields Community Comprehensive School, Liverpool.

“SEROTE SPEAKS is a performance in dance based on a poem by the South African poet, Mongane Wally Serote….I enjoyed most of all the music, composed and performed by Eugene Skeef on a variety of traditional percussion instruments.”

Ian Spring – The Scotsman

“The children and adults who participated in the workshops experienced the most unusual and profound of musical experiences and all eagerly await your next visit to Ireland.”

Mary Sheehan – Project Director, ACTIVATE Festival of Theatre for Young Audiences

“This was an experience of experiences. It has given me a self confidence that I never knew I had. I look forward to many more…”

Tom – prisoner, life sentence, Wormwood Scrubs

(PS from Sara Lee, Education Officer: “this man is still buzzing and many people have noticed the change in him. A constant smile on his face never seen before”).

“His unique powers of communication and understanding were largely responsible not only for the success of the project but also for the cataclysmic effect it had upon the players.

…..The foundation for this was laid by Eugene Skeef, who by the simple expedient of walking around a circle playing his talking drum, as in the case of a hall of 1,200 children, walking through the hall creating polyrhythmic clapping music, managed to engage every single child present…. we witnessed a complete transformation as Eugene created some haunting vocal music with them. Their inhibitions fell away as they abandoned themselves to the singing with increased joy…….. One of our flautists, who played as she never had before, said, ‘I’ve never wanted to play as much – I’ve never had a reason to.’”

Josephine St.-Leon – Classical Music

“Just to let you know how delighted we were with the workshop last week. And to thank you for all the energy and sensitivity which you brought to the project. The men here really appreciated the music and the skills which you have passed on to them. I can still hear the music all around me in the Department this week. I think the group has sowed some really positive seeds for the future. Thank you again for a wonderful week of creativity.”

Stephen Plaice – Education Dept., Lewes Prison

“Your work during the last two weeks presented a significant advance in the regime of the prison service… we are all grateful for your efforts. Everyone who saw the performances was thoroughly impressed by the professionalism but, more importantly, the particular performance for the prisoners’ families (which, as you know, was the first time we had undertaken such an event) was exceptionally successful and, as a result, is likely to be repeated in the future. Thank you for your commitment and energy”

Alex Pollock – Education Officer, Wormwood Scrubs

“On behalf of everyone concerned, I do want to thank you very, very much for the guidance and help that you gave the students and teachers during the World Music project. Your work was invaluable and enormously appreciated….. Everyone learnt so much and was so excited and inspired by the opportunity of working with you. You certainly enabled them to produce amazing compositions and performances at the Barbican too! Many thanks for all your patience, encouragement and hard work.”

Mary Cadogan – Project Coordinator, County Music School, East Sussex

“…thank you so much for your wonderful input into the World Music project. Working with you was one of the main inspirations for the whole thing, and your support was invaluable throughout. I especially valued your contribution in the schools, which seemed to me to be a model of release and rigour… The feedback from the people involved and from members of the audience has been fantastic. I hope we can work together soon.”

Gillian Moore MBE – Head of Education Music, South Bank Centre

“… a walking lesson to us all….”

“….the embodiment of everything I would like to be….”

London Philharmonic Orchestra players.

“….extraordinary talent for communication without words.”

Musician – Journal of the Musicians’ Union

“Eugene (Skeef) demonstrated how the ‘power’ of simple music making using  voices and bodies can be woven into a complex tapestry that is totally inclusive  and who can forget the image of  him transforming a dangerous personal  situation when he first arrived in this country from his native South Africa, when  he was surrounded and effectively mugged in the underground, into a jamming  session with his assailants. Such is the charisma and charm of this wonderful  musician.”

Leonora Davies –  Chair of the Music Education Council

(CHANGING TUNES – Music leadership for the 21st century.)

Eugene’s podcast


With Eugene Skeef

The primary agent in the affirmation of being alive in the universe is rhythm. The movement of the planets and stars, our breath and heartbeat, all these rely on pulsation for the propulsion of life. Nothing exists without rhythm. In my view the mastery of rhythm becomes the ultimate attainment in any creative situation, for creativity is the ultimate expression of being alive.

The harmony of living cannot be better achieved than through the resonance of rhythm. If we imagine that everything pulses – stillness and action, silence and sound, darkness and light – we will know that to become eloquent in the rhythm of self-expression is to embrace the symphonic scope of life’s vast creative possibilities.


i speak as an african child

i sing the body

During the Covid- 19 pandemic I have been writing a poem every day since lockdown. I have been sharing these poems on my social media platforms. Here is a selection for you to read. I hope you enjoy them. I will be updating them from time to time. Thanks for stopping by.


BBC Radio 3’s Sara Mohr-Pietsch talks to Eugene Skeef – composer, performer, teacher and founder of musical charity Umoya Creations.

Glynis German’s Radio Interview With Eugene Skeef

Glynis German Interview with Eugene Skeef


Chant Of Divination For Steve Biko

Chant Of Divination For Steve Biko


I have had the most amazing day today. This afternoon my Cree friend Joseph Naytowhow invited me to go for a long drive with him. I jumped at the opportunity to take a break from the Banff Centre. I invited Antonio, a Mexican bassoonist to join us, since it was the day after his birthday, and we had spent all night making beautiful music together.

Joseph was taking us to Castle Mountain in Blackfoot territory. It was such an elevating experience driving through the Rocky Mountains. There was a hint of snowfall coming from the clouded sky. The mountains stood silent in their black and white majesty. We drove past frozen lakes and rivers nesting in the grandeur of the surrounding mountains and forests of poplar, pine and spruce.

After some time we started to see Castle Mountain in the distance. It looked like an impregnable castle indeed, glowing with a golden hue. The sun was struggling to break through the soft billowy clouds. When we were close to the foot of the majestic mountain we stopped for gas and some snacks. The young woman behind the counter of the ancient looking gas station told us that there was no road to the top of the mountain.

The store sold tacky tourist models of the mountain and an endless array of Rocky Mountain souvenirs, maps and coffee table travel books. We drove along the foothills of the mountain until we found a safe spot to park the car. Joseph was bringing us to this mountain because it was at the centre of a dispute between the Canadian government and the Blackfoot people. The mountain was considered by the Blackfoot to be even more sacred than the rest of the land of their birth.

In the days of the pernicious European invasion of this land treaties were signed and agreements arrived at about the carving up of the Blackfoot’s traditional tribal lands. According to these imposed treaties Castle Mountain belongs to the Blackfoot; but the white man usurped the mountain, believing that the Blackfoot’s lack of written records would pose them no problem if they dishonoured the agreement. In accordance with the treaties large pegs were driven into the earth to demarcate the land that was bestowed to the Blackfoot by the white man. Now these pegs had been grown over, and without the appropriate documentation the white man thought the Blackfoot would not be able to trace the boundary of their land.

The elders of the Blackfoot relied on their oral storytelling tradition to go back in time to the moment of the signing of the treaty and the marking of their land with driven pegs. True to the story the pegs were located, and the battle to regain their land gained momentum.

So Joseph was taking us to the mountain to perform a ritual ceremony of solidarity with the Blackfoot; but also he was coming here to meditate on peace between the different First Nation peoples and to seek guidance from the Blackfoot, who are considered masters of positive medicine.

We stepped out of the car, Joseph carrying his Cree caribou frame drum and beater in one hand and a canister of tobacco, green and white ribbons and a small cloth parcel of medicine in the other. The snow was deep. Joseph led us, clearing a narrow path for us. He ploughed his way towards the edge of the forest skirting the mountain. Within seconds my socks were moist from the snow melting in my short boots. I couldn’t bear the sensation of my ankles starting to freeze. But I carried on plodding behind Joseph, occasionally needing to hold onto dried logs to keep my balance.

Finally we reached a clearing in the forest. Apart from the odd animal tracks the snow was a pristine blanket of frozen time. We stopped. I could not hear a sound, except for the soft buzz of the silence of snow and my tinnitus. Suddenly, straight ahead of us I noticed a slender tree that had grown into the shape of a perfect arch. Crested with bits of snow, it straddled the eastern boundary of the clearing like a rainbow or a bridge between two silent forces. We looked at each other in silence, knowing that we had the same thought: This was the perfect place for Joseph’s ceremony. I turned my head to the south and through the dense trees I could see some light reflecting off the golden rock face of Castle Mountain. The sun had finally managed to shine through the clouds.

Joseph handed us each a colourful striped sweet and told us to place it in a location of our choice. This was to appease the little spirits before he addressed the greater ones. We unwrapped the sweets. I placed mine at the foot of a tall spruce, while murmuring a small prayer of thanks to my ancestral spirits.

Joseph passed me his drum and beater. Then he opened the canister and took a pinch of tobacco to continue his ceremony. He sprinkled the tobacco at the foot of an old tree, then tied the green and white ribbons onto a branch of the same tree, before resting the little cloth parcel in the confluence of two small branches. All the time he murmured incantations in his native Cree.

He stepped a few paces back from the tree then began to increase the volume of his incantation. Antonio and I turned to look at each other as out of the silence of the forest gradually emerged the sound of a strong wind that made the trees dance and creek like the bones of the elders. The wind raged through the forest with increased velocity as Joseph intoned our names and those of all the creative artists with whom he was connected. At the end of his dialogue with the spirits of the sacred forest the wind stopped with a suddenness that accentuated the enveloping silence.

Joseph opened his eyes and began to determine the direction of the south. The sun had shyly taken refuge behind a cloud, making it difficult to find our bearing. As I passed the drum to Joseph I noticed that the pure whiteness of the snow highlighted the gentlest of shadows. So I held it and swung it in such a way as to see its feint shadow against the snow. Joseph took the drum and turned to face south. I felt a tingling sensation rush up my spine – and it was not the cold – as I was taken over by a feeling of pride that my Cree brother was addressing the hemisphere of my birth, where the drum is also used to communicate with the spirits. As I bowed my head in supplication I noticed that when I had briefly rested the drum on the snow the support cross-strings on its underside had left an imprint of a compass, with the cardinal points in perfect position. Joseph proceeded clockwise to direct his prayers towards each of the remaining 3 points.

He drummed and sang two songs to honour the ancestral spirits of this disputed mountain. This time the silence of the forest sank even deeper in awe of his powerful open-throat voice. Antonio and I stood with our eyes closed, listening to this Cree man flying with the coloured ribbons that symbolise the shedding of negative traits and encumbrances. Time seemed to freeze. At precisely the point when Joseph ended the last phrase of his second song a raven from the southern reaches of the forest, where Castle Mountain stood steadfast, let out a loud cry as if in response to a celestial conductor. We could only look at each other in silence. Then as the sound of the spiritual bird faded away Antonio exclaimed that Joseph had been heard.

We made our way quietly back to the car and as we drove off I asked Joseph if we could use a different route back to the Banff Centre. Halfway there we spotted two elk quietly grazing, their antlers gently swaying in a dance of entreaty to the heavens.

Eugene Skeef

Banff Centre – 8 March 2006




On 12 October I will be participating in the 24th annual Poetry Africa festival, presented by the Centre for Creative Arts at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, South Africa. I am so excited about this – not least because this international festival is based in the city of my birth.

Eugene Skeef at Poetry Africa 2020

Eugene Skeef at Poetry Africa 2020 – click text below for link

Eugene Skeef at Poetry Africa 2020

Workshops masterclasses


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