Khanyisile Mthetwa is the 2022 winner of the South African music awards for the best classical and instrumental album as well as the Whitestar best Newcomer of the year. Her debut album titled "African Bird" seeks to raise awareness about social justice issues and highlight works composed by Female composers, People of color and the LGBTQ community who are often sidelined in classical music. She Rose to international acclaim when she was the first African to be awarded the Myrna Brown international scholarship awarded by the National Flute Association of America. She is the Principal flute of the Johannesburg philharmonic orchestra and a passionate Ambassador for African classical music.
What are your top five career highlights?
Performing at the opening of the soccer world cup with Andrea Bocelli and Andrea Griminelli.
Winning the Myrna Brown international scholarship in 2019 and then traveled to Salt Lake City and attended my first ever NFA convention.
Playing principal flute in the Johannesburg Philharmonic orchestra (so many amazing flute solos and working with incredible conductors and soloists).
Being selected as one of the top 200 young South Africans by the Mail and Guardian newspaper for my work as a teacher in Townships and Dedication to music.
Winning 2 South African music awards in 2022 for my album "African Bird" in the Best classical/instrument album and the best newcomer categories.
What do you like best about performing?
Looking out into the audience during the performance and seeing people's aura shining bright and witnessing the healing power of music.
My Debut Album "African Bird" is available on all digital platforms for streaming and download. Physical copies can be ordered through my website. It's a passion project that has taken me 10yrs to complete, from first having the idea to actually securing the funding to produce it independently and a whole year of recording and editing. Finding the right music and also powerful South African poetry probably took me about three years.
What does your schedule look like for the next six months?
Lots and lots of symphony concerts until the middle of December. Currently working on a collaboration project with a DJ and also playing flute on several recordings. Traveling to Cape Town to play at one of the biggest festivals we have in South Africa in November. Traveling to the USA to find a new flute in early January (so exciting).
What are your goals personally? Professionally?
Currently also working on several long-term projects. Two of them are writing a book, and the second is a movie about my life. We are already about 3yrs into these projects and will probably come out in the next two or three years. I am a bit of a perfectionist and always want to produce a very polished product. I hope my story of how I grew up in the Township in Soweto in an abusive environment and played on a broken borrowed flute for the first five years until where I am now will inspire young people who come from difficult backgrounds to reach for their dreams and persevere through difficulty. On a personal level, getting my kids to school on time by 7h30am remains a goal. I am not a morning person at all!
What inspires you the most in life?
The "Why" that drives me is definitely my kids. I am a single Mother and provider to my children, so I work to a standstill to ensure that they are well taken care of, have access to the best education, and have a chance at an incredible future. It also informs the work and projects that I do as there are things as a black woman musician who loves the flute that I have experienced that I hope they never have to go through. I'm sure all parents will agree when I say, " My actual job is my kids; all this other stuff pays for that job."
What has been your greatest professional challenge?
I still remember Trevor Wye asking me after a masterclass if I come from money because you are going to need a lot of it in this industry. He was so right. I come from the township in Soweto, and affording a flute or traveling abroad to study or have classes was my biggest challenge. For the first five years, I played on a borrowed flute that was on its last legs until I won 3rd place at a competition and the adjudicator, who eventually became my teacher, asked me how are you even getting the sound of this instrument and helped me to get my 1st flute. As a professional, my biggest challenge was subconscious bias and racial segregation. So many uncomfortable situations, but I knew that the universe would not let this happen if I was not strong enough to get through it and eventually thrive.
What has been your greatest personal challenge?
Five years ago, I decided to get out of a very emotionally abusive marriage, raise my children on my own, and focus on my career as a flutist. I was probably at one of the lowest points of my life in terms of self-esteem, but, looking back at it now, I am also very proud of myself that I found the courage within to take back my life and be who I want to be, which is a flute player.
Who were your music mentors? and what did you learn from them?
Michael Masote, my first theory teacher, best quote was, "there is no such thing as common sense because sense is not common to everyone."
Strike Machobane, my first flute teacher who borrowed me his spare flute - " Sound is everything, blow them away with your tone" My flute teachers and people I have had summer schools with -John Hinch, Trevor Wye, Ljubisa Jovanovic, Jacques Zoon, Robert Dick and my woodwind colleagues in the Johannesburg Philharmonic.
Can you give us five hobbies or passions?
Astronomy and planet watching. I am on cloud nine with all the images that the James Webb telescope is sending back. I have a telescope on the roof of my house, and my kids and I always follow the star charts to try and see planets and any other interesting cosmic events.
I am a Foodie- My son and I are on the hunt for the best restaurant in the world. So we try a new restaurant as often as we can.
What three things would you offer as advice for young people?
1. Results don't lie. If you are dedicated and put in the work and hours, no one can ever take that away from you.
2. Ask for help if you need it- We can't do many things alone, like getting an instrument or recovering from difficult life situations.
3. Figure out the WHY that drives you. Once you know why you are doing something and why you deserve it you will survive anything thrown your way and fight hard to reach for your dreams. The answer that the girl gives in the movie ballerina summarizes everything I believe as a Flutist and human.
Why do you dance?
"I dance because it lets me live and breathe and be myself. It was there when I was a baby, and it's here today and always will be."
Mozart flute and Harp concerto, which was my covid baby. Preparing for this performance in 2020 was probably the only thing that kept me sane.