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In Conversation... Composer Segun Akinola

In 2017, composer Segun Akinola was named as a BAFTA Breakthrough Brit, a programme which showcases and supports the next generation of creative British talent in film, games and television. With the 2019 initiative now open for entries, we caught up with Akinola, who last year took over composing duties for BBC phenomenon Doctor Who, to find out his thoughts about his year of BAFTA mentoring, advice and support. To use his words, he was “jazzed” about the whole experience. Interview by Paul Simpson

BAFTA/Jamie Simonds  - The 2017-2018 Breakthrough Brits alumni


Having played piano and drums since the age of five, Segun Akinola initially thought he might be a musician and music producer. But, as a lover of books and movies, he felt pulled towards a career that would allow him to tell stories. Eventually it clicked that composing for the screen would allow him to combine his love of both music and stories, and after a stint of work experience with a features composer, Akinola was convinced it was where his future lay.

After graduating with first-class honours from the prestigious Royal Birmingham Conservatoire and the National Film and Television School with an MA in Composing for Film and Television, he began building his credits as a composer for the screen. Before long, he would score BBC Two’s landmark series Black and British: A Forgotten History, and then made a breakthrough in features when he composed Shola Amoo’s A Moving Image. In 2018, Akinola scored his biggest gig to date, taking over musical duties from Murray Gold on Doctor Who as part of showrunner Chris Chibnall’s fresh take on the series. Akinola’s compositions take inspiration from Doctor Who’s musical legacy, while also refashioning them for a modern audience.

At the end of 2017, Akinola was named a Breakthrough Brit, earning a year of bespoke BAFTA mentoring and support. Here’s what he thought of the experience...

BAFTA: How was the whole Breakthrough Brits experience for you?

Segun Akinola: It has been truly amazing. I really can’t emphasise that enough. It basically does what it says it will do, which is quite substantial. That’s important: it’s easy for it to say, “It will do this”, or “It will do that” and “We will get you mentoring”, “We will essentially highlight you to the industry”. But I can look back and say, “My gosh! It really does everything.” It was everything I hoped it would be and so much more.

How did the mentoring work?

You are asked who you’d like to see and who inspires you and I put down this list of very well-known composers. I was very fortunate that some of the big names said they would speak to me, so I got the chance to speak to the likes of Paul Leonard-Morgan, Daniel Pemberton and John Powell, who have all been fantastic.

Daniel and John have been there the whole way through. They have been available and made time for me, and have said and do say constantly things that are really helpful. What feels nice is that they genuinely seem invested in my career and their advice has been invaluable. Going to talk to them is such a great opportunity to ask how they did this or that, but with both of them it was, “We’re not really interested in that – we want to talk about you.”

“The general sense and feeling that the industry really did take notice was quite a nice surprise.”

It’s been enjoyable to see how they view me and my career – where I am, what I can do and where it can go – and just be able to pick up more about how they’re handling being at the top of their game. They are at a particular level where it’s difficult to know what it’s really like on the ground, so the inside story on how things work for them is truly invaluable.

If you had to pick one highlight from the year, what would it be?

I’m really struggling to name just one thing. I couldn’t choose one, just because truly there are so many things. One of the best things was getting to meet the other Breakthrough Brits, other people from other disciplines who are at a similar stage in their careers and trying to push on. Everyone got on well. It was enjoyable discussing issues with them.

The 2017-2018 Breakthrough Brits alumni
BAFTA/Charlie Clift - Segun Akinola’s Breakthrough Brit portrait


Alongside that, some of the meetings that I have had were amazing – really top television production companies and producers and directors. It was amazing to be in the room with them and be considered to be someone who was all right as well, someone from the same realm. All these people I could ask questions of and understand things from – where they were when they did that thing that the industry considers to be massive, and how they’ve navigated it. The general sense and feeling that the industry really did take notice was quite a nice surprise.

Now I’m doing Doctor Who, and I can’t say specifically this thing happened and that’s why Doctor Who happened, but it definitely was quite clear, whether Doctor Who happened or not, it was going to be a turning point in my career.

The 2019 Breakthrough Brits initiative is now open for applications. More information can be found here.