More than a decade after the release of his debut album, Grammy® Award winner Wouter Kellerman is recognised as one of South Africa’s foremost musicians, with an extensive, and growing, global following.
Over the course of seven albums, and through many high-profile live performances and collaborations, Kellerman has steadfastly built on the rigorous classical training of his youth, to create a signature sound that’s earned him both critical praise and multiple awards.
Among these was becoming the second only individual South African to win a Grammy® Award since Miriam Makeba was honoured by the Recording Academy in 1966. Kellerman’s Winds of Samsara, a collaboration with Indian composer and producer Ricky Kej, was named winner in the Best New Age Album category at the 57th Annual Grammy® Awards in 2015.
This wasn’t the only accolade received by the critically acclaimed album: Winds Of Samsara reached #1 on Billboard’s New Age Chart and also peaked at #1 on the Zone Music Reporter (ZMR) Top 100 International Radio Airplay Chart in July 2014, going on to win both the ZMR Album of the Year and Best World Album awards a year later.
Kellerman followed-up Winds of Samsara with Love Language which once again earned the flautist international attention, being nominated in the Best Contemporary Instrumental Album category at the 58th Grammy® Awards. The album was singled out by critics for Kellerman’s stunning ability to traverse a diverse musical terrain, in a way that never loses focus.
“From the music of Africa to western classical music to jazz to gospel and on, Kellerman captures the spirit of what it is to be a truly alive and loving person,” noted a review on mainlypiano.com.
His songwriting was a particular highlight of Love Language with “The Long Road”, a solo flute piece written by Kellerman for Nelson Mandela, winning the Global Peace Song Award in the public-voted Acoustic/Contemporary Music category.
Drawing on musical influences from Senegal, Spain, Cuba, India, Greece and the USA, Love Language amply demonstrated Kellerman’s ability to dominate global charts, debuting at #1 on Billboard World Music Charts and reaching the top position on the ZMR Top 100 International Radio Airplay Chart in August 2015. Among the 14-track album’s many accolades was a nomination for Best World Album by ZMR in 2016, as well as a South African Music Award (South Africa’s equivalent to the American Grammy®) for Best Instrumental and/or Classical Album in May of the same year.
His following adventure was a collaboration with the Soweto Gospel Choir, Symphonic Soweto – A Tribute to Nelson Mandela. The album sees the two Grammy® winners reconceptualise traditional music, freedom songs (including Mandela favourite, “Lizalis’idinga”) and popular songs by South African legends (including Brenda Fassie, Lucky Dube and Miriam Makeba), from a symphonic and choral perspective – as part of honouring Nelson Mandela in the year he would have celebrated his 100th birthday.
Symphonic Soweto won the 2018 SAMA for Best Adult Contemporary Album - Kellerman’s seventh SAMA award, once again reinforcing his standing as one of South Africa’s foremost musicians. His first SAMA nod came in 2008 when his debut, Colour earned a Best Instrumental Album nomination. Since then Kellerman has earned multiple SAMAs - Best Instrumental/Jazz/popular Classical DVD for Colour Live (2008), and Best Instrumental Album for Two Voices (2009). In 2015, Kellerman won a trio of SAMAS for Winds of Samsara - Best Instrumental Album, Producer of the Year and Best International Achievement. Kellerman's 2013 album Mzansi has also added to his awards collection – winning America’s IMA (Independent Music Award) Vox Pop award for Best World Beat Album in 2014.
From Symphonic Soweto, Kellerman’s collaborative composition Soweto Travels won the USA Songwriting Competition for Best Instrumental Composition. His ability to work in World and Roots music by exploring the versatility of the flute, and fusing classical and contemporary sounds, is remarkable.
During a corporate event in late 2018 Kellerman worked with the Ndlovu Youth Choir (a rural choir based in Moutse in the Limpopo province of South Africa) - and was overwhelmed and enchanted with their spirit, enthusiasm and sound. Wouter has a long history of supporting children, so he decided to collaborate with the choir and help showcase their talent – together they created a South African version of Ed Sheeran’s Shape Of You. The song became an internet sensation, going viral with tens of millions of views on social media, and pushing the Ndlovu Youth Choir firmly into the international limelight. Soon after, America’s Got Talent saw the clip and were so impressed that they ended up scouting the choir to enter the 2019 competition. Ndlovu went ahead and delivered a sensational first few rounds, going all the way through to the finals of the competition, showcasing South African music and spirit in the process. Their collaboration is part of Kellerman’s latest album In A Different Light, in which he re-imagines and re-shapes some of his favourite melodies by approaching them from a different angle.
In a review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange by Mark S. Tucker, Kellerman is described as “a masterful player, sensitive to every least nuance in the songs, the sort of winds musician you have to sit down and listen hard to because there are layers within layers within deceptive layers in what first oft appears to be a light hand but is instead calmly crusted over with a wealth of well-thought-out choices and inflections, tradition and expansive individuality linking arms”.
It’s admiration that Kellerman consistently lives up to, through his songwriting, recorded work, and performances. Indeed, Kellerman is one of South Africa’s most in-demand and hard-working artists. Over the past few years he has travelled extensively, performing in places like Berlin, Shanghai, Delhi, New York and Sydney, Grammy Museum (LA), including sold-out concerts at Carnegie Hall in New York City (in 2014, 2015 and 2018) and the opening of MIDEM in Cannes (as part of a South African Department of Art and Culture delegation).
His 2012 U.S. tour included appearances at the prestigious Kennedy Centre in Washington DC, at Summerstage and Joe’s Pub in New York City, and at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. Among Kellerman’s many high-profile appearances in South Africa have been the 2010 FIFA Soccer World Cup Closing Ceremony (to a global television audience of 700-million people), while the flautist significantly expanded his domestic fanbase in 2013 with a performance of 'The Long Road' on Nelson Mandela Day in front of a stadium of 80,000 people. A 2016 highlight was a performance in Johannesburg for the visiting Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi and a television audience of more than 200 million people.
Passionate about teaching and empowering young people, Kellerman has sponsored the living expenses of ten children in the SOS Children’s Village in Ennerdale, South Africa for the past 16 years. He has also financed the building of a house in the SOS Children’s Village in Rustenburg, South Africa.
For his continued efforts in helping give these children a better life, Kellerman was nominated by the SOS Children’s Villages for the Inyathelo Special Recognition Award for Philanthropy. He continues to facilitate the teaching of young dance and music students in his country.
All of this is a long way from Kellerman’s first appearance as a soloist with the Johannesburg Symphony Orchestra in 1981, those early days starting a journey that has seen this trained electronic engineer take crossover world music to a global audience.
Whether it’s his strikingly original flute-playing that moviegoers hear on the soundtrack of the Emmy Award-winning film, Eye of the Leopard, or his own compositions that move listeners all over the world, Kellerman’s work is truly unforgettable.
In A Different Light
Listen: Love Language
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