Picking up Grammy and SAMA awards for his albums “Winds of Samsara” (2014) and “Love Language” (2015), South African flutist Wouter Kellerman has topped world music charts, and featured in concert halls and prestigious events around the globe, including MIDEM (the world’s largest music conference) and a FIFA Soccer World Cup closing ceremony. This month, we spoke to Wouter, about his latest collaborations, new departures in his style and more.
Parvati Magazine: You went from being an electrical engineer to a Grammy-winning artist touring the world. You didn’t make the switch until your 40s, however, and once you did, your success soared.
Wouter Kellerman: Yes, my passion has always been the music, but when I left school, we didn’t have money for studies. I could get a bursary to study engineering though, so that’s what I ended up doing while still playing the flute every day. Over the years I tried to make the transition to full-time musician many times. But the financial pressure of having had kids early took me back to engineering time after time, until I finally managed to make the move successfully in 2005.
Parvati Magazine: You went from World sounds of “Winds of Samsara” and “Love Language” to recently covering singles by pop stars such as Ariana Grande and Queen with an innovative combination of flutes and beatboxing. What brought you to pop? How did your fans react?
Wouter Kellerman: I’ve always listened very widely and love music from all genres. These albums, and especially the most recent album “Symphonic Soweto, a Tribute to Nelson Mandela” with the Soweto Gospel Choir and the KZN Philharmonic, have been epic adventures, taking a lot out of me, so I have been enjoying exploring a different field and just doing some fun singles. My fans have reacted very positively to the new songs – I think the language of music crosses boundaries and the same musical sensibilities can be communicated over different genres.
Parvati Magazine: What type of challenges or surprises did you experience by adding your own flavour to these covers that were different from your previous work?
Wouter Kellerman: Yes, it has been very challenging. I have found it harder in many ways to take someone else’s music and find a fresh way to present and interpret their work. These mini-projects have been a lot of fun, though, and I have enjoyed just doing one song at a time without thinking too much about an over-arching theme.
Parvati Magazine: You performed with the Ndlovu Youth Choir on the rendition of Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You”. It’s powerful, uplifting and full of spirit. How did this collaboration happen and what was it like to shoot the video? What have you taken away from this experience?
Wouter Kellerman: When my manager Tholsi Pillay discovered the choir, she fell in love with them, and so did I when she introduced me to them. I thought doing a collaboration might help them to get some very well-deserved recognition. The song took the world by storm with many millions of views across the social media platforms, and it’s been beautiful to see them going from strength to strength!
Parvati Magazine: You are have been sponsoring the living expenses of ten children in South Africa for many years with the charity SOS Children’s Villages. Compared to other philanthropy work, what has this long-term commitment meant to you?
Wouter Kellerman: I love kids and so it’s been a natural process for me to help the SOS Children’s Villages as much as I can. It is a long-term commitment indeed, because kids’ needs don’t go away when you have a tough year financially—so it has been a motivating factor to work just a little harder.
Parvati Magazine: Your music is greatly influenced by numerous countries and cultures. What draws you in?
Wouter Kellerman: I suppose in my case it’s just a natural curiosity. I love exploring and experimenting with all these beautiful sounds from all over the world. I feel like I’ve hardly scratched the surface—there’s so much to discover, and it’s a road I love travelling!
Chart-topping, internationally acclaimed South African world music flutist Wouter Kellerman has won Grammy, SAMA and USA Global Peace Song Awards. His performances include Carnegie Hall, UN Headquarters in Geneva, and a FIFA World Cup closing ceremony. Motivated to give back, he supports opportunities for children and environmental consciousness.