Mzansi-born muso hits high note with Grammy nod
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Multi-award-winning flautist and composer Wouter Kellerman says he is humbled by the results his hard work is yielding, making reference to his nomination in the 64th Grammy Awards for his latest album “Pangaea” in the “Best New Age Album” category.
No stranger to the awards stage, the Joburg-born muso bagged a Grammy in 2014 for his “Winds Of Samsara” project that debuted at number 1 on the US New Age Billboard charts before spending 11 weeks in the Top 10.
With such success preceding him, Kellerman says he can only hope for the best.
Speaking via a telephone call all the way from the US, with the vast time difference between us, Kellerman could not hold in his excitement about the honour that such recognition brings with it.
“In the acting world there is the Oscars or the Golden Globes but in the music world, there's really only the Grammys that's International. So it really has weight even more important than the Oscars in the film, perhaps, to musicians.
“Similar to the Oscars, it (Grammys) gets voted by your peers, so you're judged by other people who know what they're doing. So it definitely has meaningfulness to it and it's kind of recognised all over the world. So when you do get nominated or if you do win, people do take you a little bit more seriously and it really helps your career because it kind of puts you on a faster pathway, on a higher level and it assists you.
“It does happen that some people get nominated or win and it doesn't really make a difference to them, but it does give you the tool to do the marketing and with that tool, you can now achieve more and allows you to do less promotion in the future and focus more on the music – which is something all of us musicians want to do,” he said.
“I am super excited. It's just so exciting because you know we try to create beautiful music, whether you so by yourself or with other musicians, but you never know what other people are going to think about it. So it's always a relief when it turns out (that) people do love it. It's really exciting because we worked so incredibly hard on this music and it's really beautiful when it actually connects and works.”
The global awards announced their nominees on Tuesday, under 86 categories, with local DJ Nkosinathi Black Coffee Maphumulo bagging a nomination alongside other African artists like WizKid, Angelique Kidjo, Burna Boy and Femi Kuti.
Deemed as the highest awards ceremony in the music industry globally, the awards are set to take place in January next year.
Pangaea is Kellerman’s sixth offering and is a collaboration with American composer and music producer David Arkenstone who celebrates his 5th Grammy nomination.
“The album and the music carry two main themes – unity and that of taking care of our world. So Pangaea is the supercontinent that existed before it broke apart to form the existing continents. So the music is symbolic of being united. It calls for unity in a divided world and also calls for us to care about the earth.
“Working with Arkenstone has been amazing, especially considering his caliber, with 65 albums and has been famous since the 70s. He has been a big influence in my own career and it has been such a beautiful experience working with him.”
The pair started working together last year, right at the beginning of the pandemic although the conversation of working together had been looming for some time.
“We found a lot of time during the pandemic and managed to release it this September,” he added.
Kellerman found his music passion from a tender age, growing up in a house where only classical music and one Miriam Makeba album were played. His love quickly ballooned when his parents took him to a symphony concert and asked me which instrument he wanted to play.
“I loved the idea of expressing myself on the flute and using my breath, you know, like in talking or singing, and since the moment I started playing, when I first touched the flute, I just completely fell in love with it. As a 10-year-old boy, I had an amazing encouraging teacher and she just encouraged me, and it's been a love story since then.”
The kack of money to further pursue his music lessons pushed him towards engineering, where he got a bursary to explore his other talents in mathematics, but even while working as an engineer, he always and hoped to return to music.
“I had kids early and life became expensive. Every few years, I'd try to swap over from my engineering career to a music career and then would run out of money and then go back to engineering. So it took me decades before I could finally make music my full-time profession,”
He released his first album in 2007.
“I was already in my 40s when I made the swap from engineering to music, and I wasn't young and sexy anymore. I had so many people telling me that I’m crazy to make this transition. I think it would have probably been better and easier if I had done it earlier, but it still worked out for the best later on. And it's just amazing that we managed to make this my full-time job, to play the flute every day, travel the world, and perform everywhere. It's like a dream come true,” he said.
He attributes his music gaining recognition in international spaces to his hard work exposing himself to those markets, something that he decided on early on in his career.
His music is a combination of influences, from Tango to South African sounds to Indian, Irish influences, etc.
“Wherever my heart takes me but underpinning all that is a kind of a classical feel, but also an African rhythmic passion.
“My career is a culmination of many years of dedication and hard work, you know, and was not by accident. The other thing is because of my business skills gained from running my own engineering business. And because these days music is run like a business, you have to do your own marketing promotion.
“I do my own engineering, I record myself, and do my own editing, something most musicians don't do. You kind of have to take responsibility for the whole music business and treat your music business as a full 360 business,” he said.
Kellerman has won eight SAMA awards and he has impressive collaborations under his belt like with the Soweto Gospel Choir on the Symphonic Soweto – A Tribute to Nelson Mandela album and in 2018 working with the Ndlovu Youth Choir and together they created a South African version of Ed Sheeran’s Shape Of You which became an internet sensation, going viral with tens of millions of views on social media, and winning awards like the HMMA (Hollywood Music in Media Award) for “Best Independent Music Video”, that propelled the choir onto international grounds.