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Wouter Kellerman wins GRAMMY for Winds of Samsara

Wouter Kellerman’s latest album, a collaboration with Ricky Kej entitled Winds of Samsara recently won the GRAMMY award for best New Age album.

Some time ago, Indian composer and producer Ricky Kej contacted local musician Wouter Kellerman, ‘out of the blue, and asked if I would add flute to… this track, that was so incredibly beautiful… I really loved it, so I spent a lot of time to add something special’. This initial meeting of minds led to further collaboration between the two, much of it conducted via the Internet. ‘We started talking and realised that Mahatma Gandhi spent 20 years of his life in South Africa, and developed his ideas of peaceful resistance here – and Nelson Mandela was very influenced by those ideas. So we wanted to write a song for Mandela and Gandhi. We really enjoyed working together, so we just kept on creating. It sort of just grew organically… and when we looked again, it was this epic project.’

‘This epic project’ was to become Winds of Samsara. According to Wikipedia, Samsara refers to ‘the repeating cycle of birth, life and death (reincarnation),’ although Kellerman notes that, ‘when I heard the word Samsara, I thought of an exotic planet… it’s more about what kind of ideas and feelings the music evokes in you when you listen to it.’ The album incorporates the skills of some 120 musicians from several continents, including choirs and extensive string sections.

Winds of Samsara recently won the GRAMMY award for Best New Age album. While in South Africa or Australia the album would be described as World Music, the United States is somewhat more purist about these things: as the album combines both Indian and South African musical influences, rather than only one or the other, it is classified as New Age. Also, ‘New Age music is very peaceful, and generally has a positive message,’ explains Kellerman. ‘This album is more peaceful than any of my previous albums; and the focus of the album is Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi and their ideals of peace, love and tolerance. So there’s a very positive message.

Winning a GRAMMY is quite a process, it seems. Having been submitted for consideration, an album is checked for eligibility by several committees before going through to the 12 000 voting members of the recording academy. ‘Each member can vote for five people in each category,’ says Kellerman. ‘The nominees get announced after the vote has been tallied, and there’s a second round of voting, where people vote for the winner.’

‘There’s an overwhelming amount of music on this ballot list, and nobody has the time to listen to everything. So not only do you have to make a beautiful album, but you also have to do enough promotion to make sure that people are aware of it. We did quite a big promotional drive over there – we were number one on the Billboard charts, and number one on the radio charts, and we toured. It took that triple effort: sales, radio and touring, to make people aware of it, so that they would even consider it,’ says Kellerman.

All of which has meant that Kellerman and his team have been putting in long hours. However, he still finds time for yoga, which, he says, is important: ‘As an instrumentalist, you have to cross-train, you have to really look after your body, if you don’t, you get repetitive strain injuries. If I don’t do the yoga… I feel it very quickly’.

Simply being nominated for a GRAMMY award (never mind winning!) ticks off one of Kellerman’s life ambitions, as did performing at the World Cup in 2010. So what’s left to aim for?

‘A duet with Norah Jones!’ he says.

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