Collins Pratt 'De Champ' receives British Empire Medal for services to Music

Sierra Leone's Collins Pratt has been honored for services to Music in the West African community in South London. The New Year’s Honours list 2019 recognizes the outstanding achievements of people across the United Kingdom. Sewa News spoke to Amanda Ann, Collins's wife of more than 20 years, to find out more about this popular musician. 

Collins Brian Ade Pratt, a.k.a 'De Champ' has been in the music industry for four decades. The sounds of his musical instruments have resounded in scores of churches and community halls, crossing continents as well as classical, dance, and highlife genres.
Primarily self-taught, Collins learned to play by ear in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

When he was only 16  he was appointed an assistant organist at Freetown's Buxton Memorial Methodist Church.

Under the guidance of the late Lloyd Beckley, Collins made his debut into the organ music world. At the time, the young musician was also a pianist at the Prince of Wales School in Sierra Leone's capital and a founding member of the school’s brass band.
In December 1977, Collins had one of his most memorable organ performance. Sadly, his father did not live to see it. He passed away in April the same year. Encouraged to join the church choir, Collins began what was to become a lifelong career in the church.

Together with other young organists, he made a name for himself in the secular circuit and won an invitation to the USA. Cautious about the pitfalls of a music career, Collins's mother advised him to stay home.
Undeterred, Collins continued to perform with the Buxton Church Choir on what was acclaimed to be the best organ in Sierra Leone at that time.

His first cantata, Mendelssohn's All men, all things was followed by Elijah, Handel’s Messiah, and Maunder's Olivet to Calvary, to name a few.

“I create and perform from scales, harmonies, melodies and the mind," says Collins. "That which pleases God and man, blended with sound and silence. This to me is called music.”

When Collins got to England, he was advised to do something traditional at college because Sierra Leone offered little opportunity for musicians. Initially, he enrolled in an electronic engineering course, but this was short lived."It was a tearful time at Buxton Church when he left on the 20th June 1982 for the UK," his wife recalled. 

Once the young musician was discovered by the late Rev. Vic Watson (OBE), Collins became a regular organist at Walworth Methodist Church in Camberwell, South London. Soon, he was appointed Organist/Music director.

Later, Collins started a church choir and then the Voices of Sierra Leone Choir made up predominantly of Sierra Leoneans based in London. While he developed a music ministry, he traveled across the UK to churches within Britain's West African community.

"Added to all of this, his passion for writing and producing music brought about his first album Feeling Good in 1989," his wife said.

His second album, which included popular tracks like We nor tire took the Sierra Leonean diaspora by storm and led to tours in the UK, the USA, Sierra Leone, and a total of 14 albums to date.

In 1998, De champ recorded his first gospel album entitled, E go well with di Righteous, which was warmly received by his church community, West African immigrants in London, and Sierra Leonean Christians around the world. 

Collins has also produced music for folk and pop stars like Bunny Mack (Let Me Love You) and SE Rogie (My Lovely Elizabeth); King Masco and John Gbla. 

Collins produced, arranged and recorded the hit song We lek we Salone with Bunny Mack (writer) and King Masco. The three musicians are shown together in the undated photograph at the top. Mack died in 2015.
As a music teacher, Collins rose to head of music at Walworth School, London following teacher training at Goldsmith University in 1997.

With this experience under his belt, he was able to start the Dechamp Music Academy in Camberwell, London in 2007 teaching young, gifted and talented musicians. 
In recent years,  he has made strides to help children and adults in Sierra Leone achieve their goals through a Music Academy, which offers skills training and education. 

A recipient of no less than 12 awards and globally recognized certificates, the addition of a British Empire Medal (BEM) in the 2019 New Year Honors means Collins is the winner of the highest accolade ever given to a musician of Sierra Leonean descent.

When he's not working, Collins enjoys playing jazz on Soprano Saxophone and performs regularly, sometimes with his son.

Here's how De Champ's entry appeared in The Gazette.

British Empire Medal

Civil Division

Central Chancery of the Orders of Knighthood

St. James’s Palace, London SW1
29 December 2018
THE QUEEN has been graciously pleased to approve the award of the British Empire Medal (Civil Division) to the undermentioned:

Collins Brian PRATT

For services to Music in the West African community in South London.

In total, 70% of awards in the New Year’s Honours list went to people who have undertaken outstanding work in or for their local community. 


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