Songstress Adelia Douw Hits High Notes in European Musical Theater

There’s a secret to musical success, and it’s sometimes called ‘talent’. The natural kind. From the table-decorated patio of a wine estate restaurant, breathing fresh breezes under small sun-blocking umbrellas, one hears the rich, clean tones of a female vocalist supported by a mentoring trumpet and backline players. Sounds follow the eye’s gaze piercing the rich green hills of South Africa’s ‘Wine District’, renowned for its gorgeous mountains and abundance of wine estates boasting various items of attraction, such as cheese production, live wild game viewing, etc. That afternoon, of 12 December 2020, the Muratie Wine Estate outside of Stellenbosch hosted a stunning afternoon of jazz with ‘Adelia and Ian’, accompanied with delectable offerings of the Estate’s Melck wines and a whopping menu of culinary fancies, not to mention the great weather.

Adelia Douw Quintet with Ian Smith (trumpet) at Muratie Wine Estate 12 December 2020

Adorned in colourful African dress, Adelia took to the stage with flare in what one could only describe as a ‘wow’ two sets of impressive vocal pitch and control. She and her band of equally capable musicians (Blake Hellaby on piano, Sean Sanby on bass, Kevin Gibson on drums) led by trumpeter Ian Smith, swung through South African tunes and jazz Standards which clearly delighted the maskless audience celebrating a break from COVID haunts. But it’s when Adelia slinked into Nina Simone’s tender, ‘My Baby Just Cares for Me’, this writer perked up her ears, enthralled that this beautiful young singer could hit those very high notes. Where did all that vocal control come from?

On the cruise ship in 2019

Young singer Adelia Douw, now 27 years old, grew up in one of Cape Town’s more dour, crime-rough townships of Delft, joined the Delft Big Band of teenage and maturing musicians being groomed by master trumpet man, Ian Smith (Virtual Jazz Reality band), and flew her musically endowed wings onto various world stages.

Ian Smith’s Virtual Jazz Reality Band

All Jazz Radio caught up with Adelia before the concert:


Starting at age 3, Adelia Douw’s vocal chords entertained. She grew her talents by joining the church choir and participating in school concerts, church plays and community activities. As a teenager lead singer with the Delft Big Band, under Ian Smith’s tutelage, she performed both domestically and overseas, gradually migrating into a residence with smaller quartets and trios on the jazz scene with the likes of Smith, pianist Andrew Ford and other jazz legends. No one musical genre characterises this charismatic songstress; rather, this past decade has groomed her to sing, act, and dance through jazz, blues, folk, R&B, gospel, and pop musical theatre.

Her CV reads like a delicious tapas menu of successful performances, from winning the Capetown International Jazz Festival’s youth scholarship in 2014 to study at Boston’s prestigious Berklee College Summer Program, to attending various jazz festivals in Europe, to two 6-month contracts leading musical productions on a German cruise liner in 2018 and 2019.

My first contract was around the Mediterranean to the Caribbean. The second took me to India, Dubai, and around southeast Asia – Hong Kong, Vietnam. My work involved theater production, all in German, which meant spending two months in Berlin learning the material and language, then working for six months on the cruise performing. I was a lead vocalist in the theater shows with a cast of 20 people – 8 singers, then dancers and acrobats. These were quite big German productions! All this gave me lots of experience, gave me chops, I learned a new language – German – and lots about musical theater.

We joked that she was becoming a German.

I fell in love with Germany. I think Europe is just gorgeous. I never liked America… it’s too much like South Africa….with so much American influence here!! I love the old history and buildings of Europe. And Europeans love South Africans, too. The entertainment Director on the cruise I worked with was amazed with my solo performances ….. He, an American, asked me: “How do you get these Germans to do these things without you even speaking German that well? …….. You’ve got such a stage presence I’ve never seen on any of these ships …. We’re very much lucky to have you here….but please, don’t stay here forever!”

Any young creative seeks guidance, or at least, a ‘wing’ to hover under while learning the ropes. Besides her ever-mindful and faithful mentor, Ian Smith, and several fellow musicians, like Blake Hellaby and bassist Shane Cooper, Adelia made friends and found mentors during her European tours and residences. Who nourished her talents there?

I worked closely with my musical leader on the German cruises – Tobias Cosler – who is a well known pianist in Germany. He wrote a song for me and I added the lyrics, in his album, ‘Without Control but Free’. Also, I wrote a song with Ian Smith.

Her very busy schedule these past six years has left Adelia with not only voluminous amounts of materials and experience in singing, acting, and dancing on large stages, but also with a zest for the quiet, for listening to the body, for just resting up. The COVID-19 pandemic curtailed her movements considerably, keeping her home in Cape Town, but was Adelia affected negatively by this?

I saw my fellow musicians writing. But for me, I am creative when I am busy on projects. During the lockdowns, I just welcomed the time to not do anything under pressure, and just rest up. On cruise ships, every day is a performance, and you’re always busy, smiling, on stage, rehearsing, etc. So I could just relax at home and do nothing – just read, meditate, and exercise. I asked myself: “Why am I forcing myself to write?” I’m just going to listen to my body, avoid any stress, and take it day by day.

Adelia was honest. She could afford to be, and just wait out this pandemic period until she could return to a German home which awaits her. Finding live gigs within South Africa, in the meantime, has been like a celebration, to be able to play again with her band. Has she composed her own songs at all?

I do compose, but I haven’t performed my original music yet. I am my biggest critique, and sometimes don’t complete a song. Even my friend, bassist Shane [Cooper], encourages me. I’ve done a lot of collaborations, like with my pianist Blade Hellaby….and have been writing in all genres. But for now, I’m focusing more on R&B and jazz vibes, but that will move on. I want people to listen to my music for years to come.

So what will year 2021 look like for this well seasoned diva on the European stages?

I’m planning on moving to Germany as the State Theater in Hamburg is very interested in me. I’d like to get established in the live theater scene in Hamburg, use it like a ‘Broadway’ base, and then go around the world with musical theater from there.

Well, there’s musical theater and there’s musical theater. Adelia has her preferences, and will continue to audition for roles as opportunities emerge. What are those preferences?

I like ‘The Colour Purple’, that Quincy Jones musical produced by Oprah. Also, ‘Hamilton’, and the ‘Tina Musical’ in Hamburg – the story of Tina Turner. I auditioned for that Hamburg production, but because I was lockdowned in South Africa, I couldn’t travel back to Germany. Last July, I was going to fly to the UK to audition for West End, but that theater got cancelled. So, I’m very into the musical scene.

See Adelia Douw live at the Artscape Youth Jazz Festival 2015 singing ‘Good Morning Heartache’ and various other performances on the cruise ship in 2019

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