Keith Waithe is a flautist, flute-collector, music teacher, community servant, entrepreneur, composer, and director. For over 40 years, this musical icon who hails from British Guiana, now, Guyana in South America, was born in Georgetown, and raised with three other siblings in the village of Kitty. At 7 years old, he was first introduced to music by his father, Darnley van Herbert Waithe, who taught him to play the trumpet. It should be noted that his father played in big bands at the time.
Keith’s earlier academic journey began at Smith’s Church Primary School, then on to Tutorial High School for his secondary education. During his formative years, he became a member of the Salvation Army Band where he played the trumpet and bass drum. When he left Tutorial High School, he joined the Guyana Police Force Band as an apprentice, where he stayed for approximately ten years. As an apprentice, his desire was to play the trumpet; however, there was no availability for a trumpet player, and he reluctantly learned to play the flute and piccolo, for which he developed a passion.
In 1973, Keith was awarded a scholarship by the British Council, which allowed him the opportunity to study in England, where he attended the Royal Military School of Music, Kneller Hall. In 1975, he graduated from this institution with a Licentiate of the Royal Schools of Music diploma. Following this, he attended the University of Surrey where in 1976 he achieved his Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE), which is a teaching certificate. His scholarship covered both theory and practice that equipped him to teach a variety of instruments. Upon completion of his studies in England, he returned to Guyana, spent two years, and left permanently for England.
When he arrived in England, Keith was offered a position as a parapatetic that allowed him the flexibility to teach music at primary and high schools, along with college levels. Simultaneously, he established Essequibo Music, an organization that oversees a range of contemporary Black British artists, storytellers, poets and musicians. As the director of Essequibo Music, he has worked with individuals such as Sandra Agard, storyteller/writer; Jo-Jo Yates, kora player/master drummer/percussionist; Darryl Le Que, Caribbean drummer and percussionist, and Helen McDonald, vocalist. The entity of Essequibo Music worked in educational, cultural and performance arenas by conducting workshops and collaborating with teachers and community project workers. Activities included but were not limited to a residency at the Eden Project in Cornwall, a workshop at Pitt Rivers Museum, a series of African-themed workshops for the British Broadcasting Corporation Symphony Orchestra, along with programs for schools in underserved communities.
As an entrepreneur, Keith founded the Keith Waithe and the Macusi Players, a group comprising musicians of Caribbean, South American, African and Indian heritage. The composition of this group represents his respect for multiculturalism, as he is known for passionately believing in the support of cross-cultural relationships. One of the purposes of this group was to establish an educational entity that would allow for the transmission of knowledge and skills in music. Another purpose was the opportunity to travel and engage in national and international performances.
From 1981 to 1989, Keith joined the London Borough of Ealing as a community development officer. He was responsible for the development of the borough’s projects and programs for
Black youth, especially, The Priory Center in Acton. This project came to an end due to a tragic incident, and he moved on to become the senior community officer of all the community centers for the Borough of Ealing. He stayed in this position until his early retirement which gave him the chance to further enhance his musical projects of the Macusi Players. As a matter of fact, he remained engaged with the Macusi Players while working with the Borough of Ealing.
Keith is a flute-collector. In supporting his views and belief of multiculturalism, to date, he has collected more than 200 flutes from around the world. His flute-collecting not only afforded him the chance to gain knowledge about the origin of specific flutes, but also the ability to learn the nuances of the sound quality of the instrument. This activity is relevant in his music composition as he creates music with eclectic sounds. Particularly, in the way he uses his vocal gymnastics to conjure up the sounds of animals and birds reminiscent of the tropical rainforests of his native, Guyana. He finds it fascinating that he is able to experience living in England, while experiencing much of Guyana. He is proud that his band represents Britain, and Europe, at the same time showcasing to the world that there is so much more to the Caribbean and South America, especially as he displays the vibrant culture of Guyana. Many fans have been treated to his frequent appearances at festivals in the United Kingdom. A few of these festivals are the Hay Festival, the Ealing Jazz Festival, Wessex Book Festival, Glastonbury Arts Festival, and more.
Over the years, Keith has been involved in a number of literary ventures. One of them he attended from 1982 to 1995, was the International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books that was organized by three prominent book companies: Bogle-L’Ouverture Publications, New Beacon Books, and Race Today. He is also versed in working with spoken-word artists and poets, including Kwame Dawes, Patience Agbadi, John Lyons, Jean Binta Breeze, and John Agard.
Keith’s work has been showcased by print, audio and visual media platforms. On multiple occasions, he was featured on radio programs: British Broadcasting Corporation Radio 4; Night Waves; British Broadcasting Corporation Radio 3; Mad About Music on Radio 2; and British Broadcasting Corporation World Services. In addition, The Caribbean Life Newspapers in New York City has carried an article on him in which he was described as a phenomenal flautist, one who has proven that he has gotten better with age, and appeals to a new generation of music lovers.
As alluded to earlier, Keith is a well-traveled musician. He has performed around the world, including India, Denmark, Italy, Lithuania, Estonia, Sudan, Ghana, France, Geneva, Peru, Guyana, Uganda, Columbia, The Cayman Islands, and the United States. He has worked with notable artists like Nitin Sawhney, Courtney Pine, and percussionist, Bosco de Oliveira. His recent activities include a 2015 national tour and the project, “Fusion Journeys” in the Victoria and Albert Museum – the India Festival.
Keith is especially proud of three of many international contributions. In 1983, the government of Cayman Islands, invited him to the conduct music programs in which he worked with school children; children with special needs; and shared his talent at the local prison. Later, in 2008, he attended the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Kampala, Uganda where he was a participant in cultural events that involved the bringing together of classically trained British musicians with traditional Ugandan music players. While there, he also worked with the African Children’s Choir. Lastly, in 2016, he was invited by the government of Guyana to perform at the country’s golden jubilee celebrations.
To date, Keith has one LP, two DVDs and ten CDs. His LP, done with various artists is called, Come From That Window Child — An Anthology of Poetry & Music (Friends of Bogle, 1986). His DVDs are Live in Lithuania in 1997; and Now is the Time — Keith Waithe & the Macusi Players, and this was done in 2003. His CDs are: Magic of Olmec (by Keda Records in 1995); Last of the Medicine Men (by BBC Music in 2000); Live in Concert: Rhythms of Freedom (by Essequibo Music, 2000); Music Orchids For You — Is We Ting (A Compilation of Guyanese Music; (by Guyana Cultural Association NY, 2003); Mellifluous: Blossoming Into Truth (by Twin Arrows Music, 2003); Diverse Canopy (by Essequibo Music, 2005); Gathering Echoes (Essequibo Music, 2009); Gathering Echoes (by Essequibo Music, 2010); Earth Flight The Direction (by Essequibo Music, 2014); and The Very Best of Keith Waithe (by Essequibo Music, 2015).
Keith’s contributions to the music industry have not gone unnoticed. In 2003, the Guyana Cultural Association of New York, Inc. awarded him with The Wordsworth McAndrew Award. This honor was bestowed on him for his meaningful contributions to the preservation of Guyanese culture through his music. In 2010, he was the recipient of the World of Music@TT (WOM@TT) Best of British Award.