Terminally-ill Sussex musician pledges to carry on gigging

It will be a poignant return to her old home town of Lewes for Joglaresa founder, musician and singer Belinda Sykes who has been diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Tuesday, 12th November 2019, 9:22 am
Updated Tuesday, 12th November 2019, 12:47 pm
Belinda Sykes

Belinda has vowed to spend her remaining time gigging and raising money for Sarcoma UK. Joglaresa’s The Enchantress of Seville will be on Saturday, November 23 at 7.30pm at St Michael’s Church, 158 High Street, Lewes, BN7 1XU – an exploration of the roots of Iberian song with a colourful and timeless kaleidoscope of music connecting the Occident to the Orient and the 11th to the 21st century.

Tickets £15, £8 (under 18) are available on https://theworkshopseries.co.uk/concerts-2019-20/

Belinda is widely regarded as one of the most striking and original voices in the medieval music world, with a sense of humour which is evident in her compositions as well as her live performance.

It is her deepest wish that she shares her story so that she can raise awareness of Sarcoma UK charity and also money for the work that it does.

“I think that anyone that gets a terminal diagnosis, you suddenly think ‘What do I want to do with my time? What do I really want to do?’ And I suppose I am looking at everything that really gives me pleasure.”

One of the things is being in water. As she says, she is even addicted to the smell of chlorine: “I just love that feeling of being afloat.”

But above all, Belinda adores making music.

“I did one concert when I was on my first cycle of chemotherapy. I didn’t know what state I would be in and so I booked an extra singer. But I just love lots of solo singers that all sing together. That gives me a pleasure that nothing else does.

“I am not feeling too bad at the moment. I finished chemotherapy about a month ago, and I am still a bit fatigued. It has trashed my heart a lot. I get out of breath a lot more quickly. I have lost 20 per cent of the function that pushes oxygen around the system.”

But while the tumour is still there, the good news is that it has been stayed for the moment.

“There is so little known about sarcoma and the type that I have got. They are just saying ‘Go away until we have to scan you again and just try to have a really good time.’ I have done what you are not supposed to do. I have googled scientific terms, and it is rare that anybody lasts an absolute maximum of two years with this, but half a year ago, I thought that I had about half a year to go. I only had about 20 per cent chance of the chemotherapy working, and I just feel incredibly grateful for that.”

And no, she doesn’t feel like she is being brave in any way. Far more pressing is her absolute passion for medieval music: “Throughout my whole life I have had a passion for medieval music and it is still not sated!”

Belinda had a total abdominal hysterectomy and bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy in October 2018. The operation left her temporarily unable to use her abdominal muscles, which meant she could not sing or play wind instruments.

As a result, her career ended rather abruptly just when she was about to collaborate with Evelyn Glennie at the Royal Shakespeare Company. Five weeks after her operation, Belinda was diagnosed with uterine leiomyosarcoma – a very rare form of sarcoma.

In March 2019, at one of her three-month scans, doctors at The Royal Marsden told Belinda that the cancer was back and growing at an aggressive rate of 1cm per week. But thanks to the monthly palliative chemotherapy sessions to help slow the growth of her tumour, she can now use her abdominal muscles ‘professionally’ again and plans to spend her remaining time and energy gigging with her beloved early music ensemble Joglaresa.

Belinda said; “Gigging with Joglaresa is what I live for and I want my remaining time to be spent performing and sharing the music I love with as many people as I can. One of Joglaresa’s unique features is that it is not a solo singer with backing band, but a team of soloists and we proudly allow our different vocal qualities to shine out (the antithesis of the ‘blended’ English Choral Tradition).”

Belinda and has championed women’s medieval song and extensively researched European Medieval music as well as music of the old Ottoman and Arabic Empires. Her ensemble Joglaresa is considered early music's 'bit of rough' who push, and often transcend, the limits of what is thought of as early music. Belinda has also been a regular contributor and presenter across BBC Radio and TV, performed in many live radio broadcasts around the world and has been vocalist and ethnic wind player for film and TV.

Belinda added; “I’ve spent decades finding characterful singers who can be both divas and team players. The greatest joy I have in life is standing amongst these singers.”

Joglaresa are performing a series of concerts across England over the coming months and will be donating 100 per cent of the sales of their back catalogue to raise money for Sarcoma UK, the only bone and soft tissue cancer charity in the UK focusing on all types of sarcoma. To donate visit: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/joglaresasarcoma


Belinda Sykes was raised in Sussex listening to English folk songs in Lewes Folk Club with her musician father. She studied the oboe and recorder at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama in London, then researched European Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque music and music of the old Ottoman and Arabic Empires. She also has a Master's Degree in Ethnomusicology and Arabic music from London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies. Belinda studied the Arabic language, vocal and dance styles, and Judeo-Spanish song, voice and improvisation during her extensive fieldwork in Morocco, Bulgaria, Spain, Jordan, Israel, Syria and India and studied Arabic, Spanish, French, German, Latin, Bulgarian and Italian.

Belinda founded Joglaresa in 1992 following their first gig at St Catherine’s College Chapel on 29 September the previous year. Considered the most popular and busiest British medieval band, of which she is the director, the ensemble is constituted of remarkable international performers from different musical backgrounds (classical, jazz, world and folk). Joglaresa has a sound that is both traditional and contemporary, incorporating elements of Flamenco and Celtic, Medieval and Middle Eastern music. As an oboist, Belinda has played for the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the Gabrieli Consort, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, The Hanover Band and The English Concert, and won the Reichenberg Award for Baroque Oboe in 1990.

As a vocal soloist, Belinda has performed at The Royal Albert Hall and The Carnegie Hall and performed with The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic and The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Belinda has also collaborated with many great composers, including Harrison Birtwistle, George Fenton, Orlando Gough, Karl Jenkins, Trevor Jones, Dominic Muldowney, Jocelyn Pook, Howard Shore and Gabriel Yared. She has sung on soundtracks with diverse artists including Master Musicians of Joujouka, Norma Winstone and Ladysmith Black Mambazo and since 2000, Belinda has been Professor of Medieval Music at Trinity College of Music. She has also taught at the Guildhall School of Music, the Royal College of Music and the Royal Academy of Music.

Belinda is a keen sportswoman and has completed a triathlon, the Tough Mudder, the Dunwich Dynamo (115 mile overnight cycle) and her level 1 and level 2 RYA Dinghy sailing exams.