Abrama Ahlers and Erik Vosloo host a show on Radio Pulse 94.7FM in Geelong, Victoria. They recently interviewed South Africa's most foremost flautist Wouter Kellerman during a trip to Australia. His album Colour debuted to rave reviews.
Abrama: Wouter, please tell us how your musical journey started.
Wouter: I was born and bred in Linden, Johannesburg. At the age of 10 my parents took us to a symphony concert and afterwards asked us to choose a musical instrument we would like to learn to play. My brother chose the clarinet, but I checked out the orchestra carefully and saw that all the wind instruments pointed to the front, except for the flute, which pointed sideways. There and then I decided the flute must be a really special instrument and chose that.
A: Why, still up to this day, do you enjoy playing the flute so much?
W: I really like the idea that you use your breath to express yourself. When I started off with my flute lessons, my music teacher was ill and I could only look at the flute for about three weeks. My parents worried that I might break something if I put it together myself. When I was eventually allowed to play it, I was already on fire. I practised for three hours every single day! And I still love the flute – you can play pure classical pieces, but you can make many other colours with the flute. My passion is the “colours” of the music and how people can express themselves in a unique way. But then, of course, I had an excellent music teacher.
A: You travel a lot to perform in concerts. What are the Australian audiences like?
W: I am actually quite impressed with them. They are so open to new cultures and experiences. I have also done the intro for Johnny Clegg's performance here in Melbourne, which was very good for my profile in Australia.
A: You have brought along a few flutes. Teach us a little bit about your favourite instruments. What do you call that small one? It is not even as tall as a small ruler!
W: This is called a fife. It is actually a flute used mainly for teaching children as their fingers are so small. I love its sound – it can only play in C Major.
Erik: Wouter, your music is multicultural. You have spent time in many different countries and [amongst different] cultures.
W: Yes, I have been to Argentina four times already. I adore the tango.
E: And you have also visited Germany? How did they react to your brand of music?
W: They loved it! I think the African influence is popular. African, Irish, South African and, of course, Spanish influences like the tango and flamenco form an integral part of my music. That is what I have been experimenting with and what I like. My parents used to listen to classical music as well as Mediterranean music and I have also been exposed to African elements in music through my nanny. And, of course, I have travelled to South America, specifically Buenos Aires in Argentina. I feel that music has an inherent core that I try to communicate without adding too much extra. I want people to recognise the heart of my music and relate to it and appreciate it.
E: Do you feel lost or have withdrawal symptoms – like an athlete – if you do not play every day?
W: Yes, if I have not played that day, everything is not right in my world. To me playing is like a form of meditation: I breathe deeply, get to feel really calm and make good noises. Most of our music is usually written after we have practised some yoga.
A: Yes? How do you do it?
W: Paul (a yoga instructor) and I will do some yoga exercises and then we will feel like making some music. Sometimes we just make music without reading notes or thinking about it too much. That is how we have written some of our new songs. I have also attended David Matamela's dance classes. He is a choreographer for African Footprint. And sometimes Salome Sechele (the South African Latin American dance champion) would join us. That would be the origin of a lot of our music.
A: In 1997 you won the Perrenoud Foundation Prize from the Vienna Institute of Music. What did this award mean to you?
W: It is always very gratifying to win prizes. At that stage I took a few years' sabbatical to compete in the classical music field, but to be honest acknowledgement from within South Africa means more to me.
A: That statement makes my African heart beat strongly!
W: That competition was for performance only in the classical field, but I have always wanted to experiment with other genre. About six years ago the chance came along for me to start writing music in a different milieu and I could develop a new creativity.
E: Is it scary to make that change? Because you were trying something brand new.
W: I have never seen myself composing music. I just discovered it almost by chance when we, Paul and I, started playing music after the yoga. We just went where the muse took us and played whatever came into our heads.
A: Do you think you could attribute some of your success to yoga?
W: Yes. It helps me to be calm and relaxed and to clear my head. Then I am able to focus on music and creativity alone.
E: There is a huge debate about African classical music.
W: Yes, many songs are written from a classical base, but when you start playing around and adding other instruments and sounds, it is not traditionally classic any more. The song “Khokho” has a strong classical base, but we have added African sounds. The song starts off with water and if it is a live performance, we add water percussion.
E: You should see it! Lamine Sonko has a huge wooden bowl filled with water and then he starts hitting the water with his palms. It is very unique. How do you feel when something like that, sort of unexpectedly, turns out to be perfect?
W: You wait a long time for that moment because out of every one thing that works well, there will be 10 or more that have been mediocre. That means you really appreciate it!
A: Is there another CD in the future?
W: Yes, we have started recording in Johannesburg. Chris Chameleon, Nianell, Phresh Makhene and Zolani (from Freshlyground) will sing with me and there is also an Irish ballad with African voices and a guitar, but there is still a steep road ahead. I am a perfectionist when it comes to this. We hope to have it released in South Africa by April and a little later here in Australia.
E: What about your future plans? Where do you see yourself going with your music?
W: I just want to express my true self and live my life to the full through my music. You really want your music to touch people's hearts the way it does yours and to mean as much to them too. And, of course, if the opportunity arises, I like to travel and do concerts.
E: It is a huge process. You put yourself out there.
W: It is really good if you can express yourself successfully – that something you can share in no other way. Talking is just not the same.
A: Wouter, really, us poor fools have to make do with words! You do it in such a refined and elegant way. We wish you good fortune and happiness in your musical journey.
Abrama and Erik's show is broadcast on Radio Pulse 94.7FM every Wednesday at 6pm.
Read the full transcript in Afrikaans: www.sabona.com.au/1717a