On hearing his name, most people will ask him to repeat it. Not only is his name fascinating, but as well what this young musician has been able to achieve so far.
At age 14, Zukeli Inniss copped two awards at last year’s Spirit Of The Nation Show: Most Impactful and Parish Talent Winner, 2015, with his saxophone rendition of John King’s How Many More?.
Lest you think last November was his first time in winners’ row, come again! Zukeli has already won a Speech Day prize for music –– Award For Excellence In Music donated by Crystal Cummins-Beckles; and was the 2015 winner of the Ministry of Education, Science, Technology and Innovation Schools’ Music Festival.
As if those accomplishments were not enough, last month, Zukeli played alongside Barbados’ top saxophonist Arturo Tappin at the country’s launch of the 50th Anniversary Celebrations Of Independence.
“It felt good to know that I was playing with a well-known professional saxophonist,” a smiling Zukeli reminisced, especially after Tappin told him “good job” afterwards.
The Alleyne Secondary School fourth form student actually “fell into” playing the saxophone.
Coming from his Hillaby/Turner Hall Primary where he played the steel pan and drums, Zukeli was a first-former when he turned up for practice with The Alleyne School Band in the hope of being its drummer. After realizing the band already had one, he turned his attention to the saxophone instead.
Dad Michael described Zukeli, the third of four children, as “well-behaved” and one who “does not give any trouble”, while mum Elmonda says her only son is quiet.
It is no surprise, since the Yearwood Road, Hillaby, St Andrew resident’s schedule does not leave any room for that that is not orderly. Zukeli has practice with the school band a few times weekly; and is a member of the Waterford Music Community Band that meets at Combermere School on Saturdays and of the 1688 Orchestra.
When he is not practising with any of them, he might be found at the Hillaby Church Of The Nazarene where he plays with the church band on Sundays.
And just how did this teenager end up performing at The Gymnasium of the Garfield Sobers Sports Complex last year?
It was after the chairperson of the St Andrew Independence Committee had approached his mother that she signed up both Zukeli and his older sister Akeiba, a singer.
When the Parish Talent Show was held at The Alleyne School, coincidentally, Zukeli’s sister came out on top.
As for his feelings after the performance, Zukeli recalls: “I was kind of shocked; but then again, not really, because I messed up at the show.”
He went over the allotted time and Lean On Me was not Barbadian, he explained.
“I told my sister, ‘All right, you win this one; but not the other one’.”
And he was right. Zukeli went on to win that zonal show, and got the opportunity to represent St Andrew at The Gymnasium.
“I just went to perform,” he said, giving no thought that night to how he might place. “But when I heard third and second places announced, with the person who had come second, I knew I had won,” said Zukeli.
His favourite subjects are music, mathematics, geography, English and “physics sometimes”. His next step is to complete the music programme at the Barbados Community College and then, hopefully, go on to Berkeley.
Zukeli also represents his school in the javelin and shot putt; and during the little downtime he has, he enjoys a game of football with his friends, or watches television –– that is, when he is not practising the sax at home.
One of Zukeli’s greatest wishes is to play with either Kirk Whalum or Gerald Albright, his favourite saxophonists, and for his music to reach around the world.
At this stage, the soft-spoken teen is caught between becoming a pilot and a musician. “If I become a pilot, then I might be away from home too much; but, then again, if I want to be a musician I might not get the chance to play if I’m a pilot,” he remarked.
He has high praise for The Alleyne School Band leader Gary Goodridge and Kevin Moore of the 1688 Orchestra for his musical development; but it is the support of his parents and other family members that is most important to him.