When creating a biography for someone with as diverse, multi-talented and powerful a career as Juwon Ogungbe, it is not always easy to know where to start and what to include or leave out as there is so much and there are so many successes. Here with a brief chronology documenting major highlights and leaving much more to be discovered. Currently developing a mixed media new project sharing the Yoruba Orisha wisdoms that often inspire him, Juwon is composing and devising a work that will draw on many of his skills and typically involve different artforms and music styles.
Juwon Ogungbe’s unique musicality has evolved from his upbringing and education in both Nigeria and the United Kingdom.
His innate curiosity and inclination towards experimentation led him towards full engagement with the sounds associated with “World Music” in the 1980s. The ambitious musicianship of his peers in groups such as the Jazz Warriors and Loose Tubes attracted his interest around the same time, and he started leading bands that played with the Afro-Jazz sensibility that still intrigues him.
His flair for creating evocative songs and sounds was noticed by several theatre makers and Juwon was invited to compose for theatre productions. The theatre world made him feel at home, so he decided to study composition privately and later at Guildhall School of Music and Drama.
Juwon formed a music theatre ensemble and started creating concert theatre works, with a subtext of developing a new culture crossing African Classical Music Theatre, which were well received on tours around England. He started studying voice also, and was advised by a voice teacher to join an opera group. A new vista opened up for him in the world of opera, which has occupied a significant space in his musical vocabulary ever since. After working as a musical director on theatre productions for major companies such as the Royal Court Theatre and West Yorkshire Playhouse,
Juwon was commissioned to compose music for shows presented by the Royal Exchange Theatre Manchester, Greenwich and Docklands Festival, LIFT and the Royal Shakespeare Company, amongst many others.
Throughout this time, Juwon was developing his range and skills as a bandleader; highlights include an African Big Band tour that he led in 1996. In 1999 he decided to take a break from band leading to focus on developing his composing and singing. During this period he had creative projects within three artist residency initiatives – one on pioneering internet radio station Gaialive for the “Year of the Artist” programme in 2000, another for the V&A Museum of Childhood (2002) and the last for H.M.P Wormwood Scrubs (2003).
Juwon has also worked on many ambitious creative learning projects for a wide range of music and theatre organisations. One of the most memorable of these was “Tango Masquerades” – a project he devised and led for Lontano, the contemporary music ensemble directed by Odaline de la Martinez, in Buenos Aires, Argentina. This British Council funded project involved young people and orchestral musicians paying tribute to the Afro-Argentine progenitors of Tango music and dance.
Currently, Juwon leads two performing groups: The Vocal Ensemble of Africa, and his band. “Life Force Music” – Juwon’s debut album (produced by Noel Inyang, whom he first met at school in Lagos, Nigeria), was released in 2012.
In the same year, Juwon formed Paradise Players – a music theatre ensemble, in Zimbabwe. His music theatre adaptation of Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice received a standing ovation for its first performance at the Harare International Festival of Arts (HIFA). Later in 2012, Juwon was an international visiting scholar at the University of Richmond, Virginia, USA, where he composed music for a new show which saw first complete performances 2013.
Juwon Ogungbe is an inspiring and well respected musician, singer,
composer and band leader from London, of Nigerian heritage.
Placing African music at the heart of his work, Juwon also incorporates
pop, jazz and classical music into his expressive range.
Juwon’s concert and music theatre compositions consistently attract
interest from theatre and dance practitioners: commissions include
music for the Royal Shakespeare Company, Union Dance and the
Southbank Centre, amongst many others.