‘What many people don’t know is that Alicia Keys is a classically trained musician who knows music,’ Ofentse explains. ‘That was a big deal for me because I knew she picked me on merit.’
Ofentse Pitse is having a stellar year. The 31-year-old South African conductor has added working with some of the biggest names in television and music – among them Netflix, Shondaland and Alicia Keys – to her resumé.
Not bad, considering we’re only halfway through 2023.
‘There was a need for someone like me in music,’ Ofentse says of her recent success. By ‘someone like me’, she means a young woman dynamic enough to shake up the traditionally male-dominated world of classical music.
And that’s exactly what she’s done. Ofentse first caught our attention as the first black South African woman to found and conduct an all-black orchestra. Impressed by her passion, we invited her to join celebrity chef David Higgs and interiors retail great Chris Weylandt on the panel for Rupert & Rothschild’s Making Moments: Fireside Conversations event at Circa Gallery last year.
Since then, Ofentse has graduated to the world stage. In May this year, Netflix premiered its hotly anticipated period drama Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story. The show’s soundtrack features instrumental covers of several pop hits, including ‘If I Ain’t Got You’ by Alicia Keys.
To coincide with the series premier, Netflix and the singer released a reimagined recording and music video of the classic hit, featuring a 74-piece global orchestra made up entirely of women of colour. And who better to conduct them than Ofentse, who was hand-picked for the job by Alicia herself? ‘What many people don’t know is that Alicia Keys is a classically trained musician who knows music,’ Ofentse explains. ‘That was a big deal for me because I knew she picked me on merit.’
Even so, Alicia’s faith in her couldn’t curb Ofentse’s pre-performance jitters – especially when she arrived at the iconic BBC orchestra studio space in London and realised that the head executives of Netflix Global would be watching. ‘It was a big deal,’ she remembers. ‘I was so nervous! But as soon as the musicians sat in their seats, I knew nobody could do the job better than me.’
The Bridgerton spin-off is a ‘big deal’ in itself. Television mega-mogul Shonda Rhimes, who executive-produced the first two Bridgerton series, chose to write, cast and edit Queen Charlotte herself. It was important to Shonda that the fictionalised life story of the real Queen Charlotte (purported to be England’s first mixed-race monarch) was done right, Ofentse says. ‘Shonda took the time to speak to the true dynamism of black women. That resonated with me as I believe we will bring our fullness to the table if we are just given the chance.’
Queen Charlotte provided another opportunity, recently, for Ofentse to bring the fullness of her talent to the table. Netflix Africa approached her to help reimagine 2Face’s 2004 hit ‘African Queen’ alongside Msaki, Nikita Kering, FAVE SZN and a 22-piece, all-female orchestra. The result is a modern masterpiece.
‘It happened simultaneously with the Netflix Global opportunity [with Alicia Keys], so it was kind of crazy timing,’ laughs Ofentse. ‘But when they said they envisioned me standing on top of Table Mountain, conducting these three fantastic female artists representing South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria, how could I say no?’
It’s doubtful Ofentse will be hearing ‘no’ from anyone any time soon. As high-end brands clamour to feature her in their marketing campaigns, and musicians from around the world line up to collaborate with her, this young dynamo is surely destined for a place among the brightest of stars.
If you haven’t watched Queen Charlotte yet, we suggest getting into the spirit of the series by pairing your screening with a bottle of our aristocratic Baroness Nadine Chardonnay.
Stay up to date with @oftentse_pitse on Instagram.
Written by: Justine Stafford
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