Internationally known, Skaila Kanga has been active largely in the U.K., first as an orchestral harpist and freelance artist and later as a soloist straddling the worlds of classical and pop music. Kanga has played with a varied assortment of musicians, from Plácido Domingo, Joan Sutherland, Luciano Pavarotti, and Kiri Te Kanawa to Frank Sinatra, Elton John, Barbra Streisand, and Paul McCartney. She has worked closely with composers, like Einojuhani Rautavaara and Gareth Wood, in the shaping and editing of their harp concertos. She has also worked with John Williams, Richard Rodney Bennett, Mark-Anthony Turnage, Henry Mancini, Jerry Goldsmith, and many others. Needless to say, she has performed works by these composers and a long list by Mozart, Schubert, Saint-Saëns, Massenet, Debussy, Ravel, Tippett, and many more. In her work with the British chamber group, the Nash Ensemble, Kanga was involved in the premieres of 32 contemporary works over a 25-year period. Kanga has appeared on British television and radio many times and has made numerous recordings for a variety of major labels, including Chandos, EMI, DG, Virgin Classics, Naxos, and ASV.
Skaila Kanga was born in Bombay (now Mumbai), India, on January 8, 1946. She came to the harp relatively late, beginning lessons at 17, though she had played the piano from the age of 5. She studied at the Royal Academy of Music; among her most important teachers were Vivian Langrish and Tina Bonifacio, for years the harpist in the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
Kanga launched her professional career as the harpist for the BBC Concert Orchestra. She also freelanced in other London orchestras and gave chamber and solo concerts. 1977 was a pivotal year in Kanga's career: she formed a duo with harmonica player Tommy Reilly, and over the next 22 years regularly concertized and recorded with him; she also began making regular, highly acclaimed appearances with the aforementioned Nash Ensemble, until 2002.
Throughout these early active years Kanga also regularly worked in films and television, including the 50th birthday celebrations for Andrew Lloyd Webber (1999). From 1988 Kanga has served as professor and head of harp studies at the Royal Academy of Music. She still holds this post and remains active in the concert hall and recording studio. Among her more acclaimed appearances in the new century was her performance in Moscow at the 2005 Russian Harpists' Festival, where she played at the opening concert.