From Madadeni youngster to international musician, Dr Mhlambi

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Celebrating successful newcastillians, we introduce Professional Cellist, Dr Thokozani Mhlambi. A person who has gone from a Madadeni youngster to an international musician.  

Recently he performed at the KZNSA Gallery in Durban, as part of the Africa Month celebrations. On the day, the audience learned how he has impacted the musical world, standing out both nationally and internationally with his cello.

According to the musician, he moved away from performances expected from a cellist and introduced something unique with the instrument. “There are many people who play the cello from all over the world. But many choose to abandon the formal structures of classical music, and explore other ways of being creative with their instrument. This is how I have chosen to be inventive with my cello.”

However, as he explained, it has not been an easy journey. “It has been an uncertain journey. Simply because the arts can be a struggle economically. But at the same time, it has been an exciting journey, it has allowed me to lean about life, and see what happens. It has brought me into contact with people from all diversities, people I would never have met otherwise. In the long term, I wish to establish an institute for creativity and innovation in Newcastle. So that my local community can benefit with a treasure,” he enthused.

Chatting about his roots, Dr Mhlambi said that he was born in Madadeni and attended Newcastle High School. From a young age, Mhlambi stated that he always knew that his future lay in the beauty of the artistic world of music. 

“I always had an inkling that I have something of value to bring, to people, to my nation, my civilization—my home. Art is a powerful way of reaching people. I am humbled that I was able to have all the aspects of my childhood that would harness this gift. I am grateful that today, I get to call myself a musician.”

Describing his take on the artform, Mhlambi states that he uses his art and exhibitions to convey African stories/philosophies.

Determined to embrace music to the fullest, he pursued music studies at the Royal College of Music in StockholmSweden, and the University of Cape Town where he received his Ph.D.

The locally born musician has showcased work at leading venues such as the National Arts FestivalBaxter TheatreSoweto Theatre and the State Theatre in Pretoria—where he drew audiences from all walks of life.

Adding to his illustrious career, Mhlambi has also been a visiting lecturer at universities in Finland (Jyvaskyla), and Brazil, to mention a few. And has had opportunities to perform and speak in places such as New Orleans (Tulane), São Paulo, Maputo (Mozambique), New York and Vancouver (Canada).

Moreover, he is known for incorporating art with music, having held an artistic residency at the prestigious Cite International des Arts in Paris France, and having his music used as a soundtrack for an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In this intimate concert, Mhlambi presented a set of Zulu songs, performed on the cello and sung by him.

Recently, Mhlambi’s rendition of Lizalise Idinga Lakho by Tiyo Soga (from his debut album Zulu Song Cycle), was featured in an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York

Mhlambi was also an invited contributor to the roaming academy of the Dutch Art Institute, an itinerant program fostering a variety of creative practices at the intersection of art and theory.

Additionally, in 2019, he collaborated with revered Chinese visual artist Dachan, in a live performance/installation at the Zeitz Mocca Museum in Cape Town.

In 2020, Mhlambi was selected as an Artist-in-Residence at Cite Internationale Des Arts in Paris, supported by the Institut Français. He used the time to connect with artists from different parts of the world, and more specifically the African continent, and to develop new creative work.

In 2021, Mhlambi contributed a sound piece called ‘Playing with Tape’ as part of a group exhibition “Here History Began. Tracing the Reverberations of Halim El-dabh,” which took place at the Savvy Contemporary in Berlin. The piece was composed from a soundscape of the Durban beachfront. 

Mhlambi highlighted that he presents a multi-disciplinary program; combining aspects of storytelling, opera voice, jazz rhythms and African song. 

Reflecting on his recent performance in Durban, Mhlambi said, “Obviously, during the pandemic, most artists had more time for themselves than for their audiences. This gave me a chance to go deeper in my art. I hope audiences relate to my new sound. It’s not so different, but the post-pandemic atmosphere gives the music a fresh breath.”

From all of us at Pixeflsh Marketing and the Newcastillian – Online News, Well done Dr Mhlambi keep making us proud.

Photo credit: Clayton Morar Media

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