Kwamé Ryan (Gonville & Caius ’96)

Kwamé Ryan is a world-renowned conductor and music educator in the Caribbean. 

Born in Canada to Trinidadian parents, Ryan spent his early life and education in Uganda and Trinidad. He attended the University School and Fatima College in Trinidad. Though Ryan discovered his passion for classical music at an early age, opportunities to develop his talents in Trinidad were rare. So, at age 14, he left Trinidad to pursue classical music in the United Kingdom where he studied conducting, piano, voice, violin, and double bass at Oakham School. By the time he was 17, he had become the Principal Double Bassist in the National Youth Orchestra, and in the National Youth Chamber Orchestra of England.

Ryan came to Cambridge in 1989 as a Commonwealth and Choral Scholar, where he pursued his BA degree in musicology from Gonville and Caius College. During his time at Cambridge, Ryan performed as a tenor at a college choir that sang for religious services in college chapels. He later pursued an MA at Cambridge, graduating in 1996. In the interim, he went to the University of Tübingen in Germany for an exchange program, where he also worked as a Teaching Assistant. Following this, he studied orchestral conducting under Peter Eötvös, a Hungarian composer and conductor, and specialized in conducting at the International Eötvös Institute in Szombathely, Hungary. 

Ryan has an extensive conducting career, serving as the General Music Director of Freiburg Opera from 1999 to 2003, and Musical and Artistic Director of the National Orchestra of Bordeaux Aquitaine from 2007 to 2013. He frequently works as a guest conductor in a range of high-profile national orchestras in Europe, the United States, and Asia. A laureate in the Anthony N Sabga Caribbean Awards, his works has been recognized all over the world. 

Ryan describes his time at Cambridge as “a very special experience,” giving him the resources, support, and confidence he now draws on as a music educator in Trinidad. Ryan dedicates a great deal of time to educational and community development work and has partnered with the Heroes Foundation charity to create a music mentorship event. He combines freelance conducting with a role as Director of the Academy for the newly-founded Academy for the Performing Arts at the University of Trinidad & Tobago (UTT). Using his professional network, he organizes workshops and concerts for young Caribbean musicians with international orchestras. In 2015, he launched the musical youth exchange, CONNECTT, subsequently renamed The Youth Music Exchange (YMX) to host international peer exchange programs at the UTT.

Through his work, Ryan emphasizes the preservation of the unique cultural traditions, alongside modern and innovative performances to produce “a world-class but uniquely Caribbean institution”. His contributions to music were recognized with the prestigious Sabga Award for Caribbean Excellence in the field of Arts and Letters in 2017.

Medomfo Owusu, a Music Student at Selwyn College, is currently working on a project through the Black Cantabs Research Society called “Black Musicians of Cambridge Project” to document the experiences of past and present Black students, like Kwamé Ryan, who were involved in music.