“Improvising from Bach and Debussy to indigenous and refugee stories”

Born in the United Kingdom to a mixed heritage – English father and Australian mother – Sydney-based composer, musician, and educator, Keyna Wilkins spent her early days in a small rural village in Somerset, where she first discovered her passion for music. Her musical odyssey began at the tender age of seven when she embarked on piano lessons, igniting a spark that would fuel her lifelong devotion to music. With only one piano teacher available in her village, Wilkins embraced the opportunity to learn and quickly demonstrated her innate talent. By the age of eight, she had added the recorder to her musical repertoire. The Wilkins family’s move to Sydney at the age of nine marked a pivotal moment in Keyna’s musical journey, as she seized every opportunity to explore new musical horizons and added the flute to her band of instruments. At 19, Wilkins’ formal musical education took her back to the UK, where she finished a BA Music and completed a MA Flute Performance at Bristol University. Her education continued with composition at Bath University and an exchange year in Germany at Hildesheim University where she studied jazz piano. In 2016, it was back to Sydney where she completed her Master of Music Composition at Sydney Conservatorium. Along the way, she honed her skills in composition and performance, embracing diverse musical traditions, from contemporary classical to jazz, Cuban, Flamenco, tango and free improvisation, and a theatre project. Artistically, Wilkins found her true calling in the act of composition. From her earliest works at the age of ten to her current projects, she has remained driven by a relentless desire to bring new sounds and ideas into the world. With over 60 works published by Australian niche publishing house, Wirripang, her music has captivated audiences both locally and internationally, earning her acclaim as a visionary composer with a distinctive voice.

Wilkins has been developing her unique approach to solo performance since 2017, weaving together stream-of consciousness improvisations with her composed pieces and reinterpretations. Utilising tools like loop pedals and visual projections, she crafts a dynamic experience for her audience, tailoring each show to the venue and attendees. Her repertoire spans diverse themes, from human rights to astronomy to nature. Critics acclaim her Bach reinterpretations as intellectual exchanges, and her solo shows have been described as captivating blends of jazz, Debussy, and flamenco. Notably, Wilkins has collaborated with refugees detained in Australia for nine years, setting their poetry and art to original compositions. Her ninth album, Set Me Free, co-created with detained poet-artist Jalal Mahamede, serves as a poignant testament to their shared experiences. The celestial landscapes of outer space serve as a profound muse for Wilkins, who often integrates NASA footage into her performances. Her improvisations, born from a wealth of musical encounters, aim to unify disparate influences into a cohesive expression, fostering emotional resonance and meditative states. Beyond her solo work, Wilkins has co-founded the extraordinary indigenous-jazz fusion duo Yulugi, and breakout space-music Ephemera Ensemble, both celebrated for their innovation and virtuosity. With a diverse portfolio spanning multiple genres and collaborations, Wilkins continues to push the boundaries of musical expression. She has a plethora of other projects and performances going on. She has 10 albums on all streaming platforms and 50 YouTube videos, and sheet music published by Wirripang.

Her upcoming performances can be found here.

By Louise Levy.