Aliyah Ramatally CICA interview

An award-winning young Trinidadian composer has urged musicians to create music ‘that is an extension of themselves’ as they bid to repeat her success in the Commonwealth International Composition Award.

Aliyah Ramatally, from Trinidad and Tobago, won global plaudits after winning the audience vote in the inaugural Commonwealth International Composition Award (CICA), held in London last year and sponsored by ABRS

1) Tell us a bit about yourself:

My name is Aliyah Ramatally and I am a proud citizen of the lovely twin island Trinidad and Tobago. Presently, I am a first year student at Durham University in the United Kingdom where I am pursuing a BA in Music.

2) What instruments do you play? When did you start composing?

Music has always been something imbedded in me from a tender age. At the age of six, my parents enrolled me in piano classes. In my early teen years, I took an interest in singing, learning my national instrument the Steel pan, and soon after I began composing. My parents recognised my passion and enlisted me in an international summer program in Wells, Somerset where I had my first formal lessons in composition.

3) How did you find out about the Commonwealth Composition Award?

One day I decided to look for composition competitions online which accepted international submissions. That was when I stumbled across the Commonwealth International Composition Award. I thought that this would be a good starting point for me as a young composer. I was thrilled to be selected as a finalist, and even more overjoyed to receive the Audience Award for most online votes from all over the world. The receipt of the award cemented in my mind a new found confidence in my work and ability.

4) Tell us about the piece(s) you submitted for the CICA

The piece I submitted for the first elimination round was entitled Jive of the Jumbie. This contemporary piece integrated ideas of classical and Caribbean elements in music. It reflects my perspective on Caribbean Folklore as I used my music to portray the malevolent and mischievous nature of the Jumbie.

My submission for the finals was titled Mundo Nuevo- New World and it was written as a representation of the Caribbean Commonwealth Nations. It tells the story of our islands and takes the audience through a journey of the New World’s discovery, colonisation and independence. In both pieces, I took the opportunity to explore and experiment with infusing my country’s national instrument- the Steelpan- with traditional classical instruments like the Violin, Cello and Flute.

5) How did you find out about winning the award, how did you feel when you heard the news?

All of the the finalists were invited to attend the CICA open night for the live performance of our pieces. As I am a student in the UK, I was able to attend the event where I was fortunate to listen to all of the finalists amazing compositions. At the event they announced the Awardees and I was humbled to receive the Audience Award.

6) How has your life changed since receiving the award, has it opened up any opportunities?

My life has changed significantly in many ways. When I was selected as a finalist for the CICA, I took the opportunity to properly showcase the amazing diversity of the Steelpan. I was elated to know that my first work to be debuted in London would exhibit my culture. The night of the performances left me motivated and inspired for new ideas. It was a once in a lifetime experience having my piece being performed for many distinguished persons in London.

Apart from gaining confidence from this experience, I have been afforded many opportunities.

I am humbled for this opportunity with ABRSM to be able share my experience with the CICA and how it has changed my life.

In addition to this, I was invited to be the Youth Representative for Trinidad and Tobago at the annual Commonwealth Day Service at Westminster Abbey, London in the presence of Her Majesty the Queen. This experience was truly memorable. It was a proud moment for my family and I as I was able to hold my country’s flag at such a prestigious event. I am completely grateful for the opportunities that have come my way and I know through the CICA and ABRSM that there will be many more ahead.

7) What was the experience like for you?

After being chosen as a finalist, a personal mentor was assigned to me. My mentor was an experienced PhD student composer studying at the Royal Northern College of Music and was placed under the supervision of the well known composer Professor David Horne. I was given one month to write my piece for the finals and in that time I was able to get advice on my piece from my mentor to make improvements. After the month passed I was asked to submit my final piece and the musicians were given ample time to learn the compositions for the debut.

8) What advice would you give this year’s applicants?

Music is an exploration of a lifetime. I have realised that being a composer is a journey of self-discovery of your own purpose in life. By taking the time to be open-minded to the world and new experiences, you discover a whole new collection of ideas which act as inspiration for your music. Be passionate and love what you do. Create music that is an extension of you and your audience will be in awe of you and your music.

9) Have you been composing during lockdown?

Since the CICA award, I’ve composed two pieces. During this time in lockdown, I have spent my time reflecting and finding inspiration for my upcoming musical works by enjoying nature’s flora and fauna right here in my neighbourhood.

10) Would you like to attach a link to your music?

Yes, please see attached.

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