Listening to world-class musicians perform live in Camana Bay Cinema is not something most people get to do every day. But an auditorium full of music lovers got to witness just that on Feb. 7 when flautist Nick Cartledge played with Glen Inanga at the piano as part of the eXtra Cayman Arts Festival 2019.
Not only was the recital impressive, with a challenging and varied repertoire that Cartledge played on a 14-carat handmade rose gold flute, but it was also made even more spectacular with Inanga accompanying on the Cayman Art Festival’s new beautiful Shigeru Kawai concert grand piano.
As the evening wrapped up, Cartledge pointed out something that many take for granted on Grand Cayman: that Inanga is a world-class musician in his own right and that the Cayman Islands is lucky to have him in our midst.
“We feel better about our lives when we are making a difference,” said Inanga, one of the founding members of the Cayman Arts Festival, recently. “People have to respond to things that are needed.”
Inanga was not just speaking about people feeling better about themselves when they give to those in need; he was also referring to the idea that fulfilling a need in the community by using one’s gifts is an obligation that cannot be ignored, like a calling that must be honoured.
Inanga discovered this as he developed into a world-class musician. Born in Nigeria to working middle-class parents who taught at the country’s best university, Inanga sometimes took the privileges that he was experiencing for granted, as young people are wont to do. Studying music and being guided by his mother, who was a music teacher, helped propel Inanga forward in a country where only one other young person was studying music at his level.
“I have been extremely lucky,” he said. “What started as a hobby and passion became so much more.”
Knowing he needed a larger network of support to continue to develop musically, Inanga moved to London. Once there, Inanga first studied engineering to ensure he had a solid profession, but he never gave up on his piano studies.
After earning an engineering degree from Clare College, University of Cambridge, he studied at the Royal Academy of Music and then went on to earn a Master of Music degree at the University of London, with distinction in piano performance.
Inanga was ambitious and continued to develop. He wanted to record music, play concerts and live the jet-setting life of a world-class concert pianist. That door opened when he paired with another talented pianist, Jennifer Micallef. The duo was marketable and gifted and they took the music world by storm, touring, winning competitions and achieving international attention.
COMING TO CAYMAN
When Inanga came to visit Grand Cayman for the first time to visit his then girlfriend — and now wife — he fell in love with the island.
Eventually, a not-for-profit organisation called Cayman Classical Music Society invited Inanga and Micallef to Grand Cayman to play a concert. They did and it was a huge hit. Inanga said that even more importantly, both he and Micallef were profoundly affected by the need in the Cayman Islands to support young musicians and talent — especially for those who did not have access to the resources that more privileged children enjoyed. Thus, with education as one of its core purposes, the notion for the Cayman Arts Festival was born.
The concept for the festival was Micallef’s idea, Inanga said, noting that she put more into the vision, and marketing the concept, early on. Both of them, along with local attorney Sharon Roulstone, officially formed Cayman Arts Festival in 2003.
“We did a lot of research, talking to organisations on the island,” Inanga said. “It had to be a non-profit for sponsors and it came through in 2003. We did everything — from leveraging our contacts, to using our own funds.”
After a year and a half of planning, the inaugural festival was held in the early part of 2004.
“The festival wasn’t about me or about Jennifer,” Inanga said. “This was evident very early on. It was owned by the community. There had to be as much local collaboration as possible to ensure its longevity and staying power. It was about the people.”
Since then, the Cayman Arts Festival has hosted more than 1,600 students at workshops or masterclasses with the musical talent brought in to perform at the main biennial festival, the alternating biennial eXtra festival or at various periodic special events.
Now, everything Inanga does relates back to helping students gain access to resources so that they can have opportunities to develop, just as he did.
“I had a duty as part of this community to do whatever I could to respond,” he said. “That has been my guiding light.”
Inanga’s hope is that by helping students reach their musical potential, they will find their path to perform internationally or bring their talents back to the Cayman Islands.
Although Inanga’s piano performances bring beautiful music to the ears of residents, it’s his fierce dedication to the musical youth of the Cayman Islands that is creating a legacy that will impact lives, and the musical culture of the country, for many generations to come. Cayman is indeed lucky to have him.