OK World is no ordinary band. Norwegian jazz musician Bugge Wesseltoft together with his friend Shri Sriram, gathered together the best musicians they had played with after performing for years across the globe.
Featuring Khaled Yassine from Lebanon, Amade Cossa from Mozambique and Vivek Rajagopalan from India on percussions, Josemi Carmona from Spain on Flamenco guitar, Sriram on fretless bass and flute and Wesseltoft on piano and analog synthesizer, the band is now touring the world, sponsored by the Norwegian government and the Oslo World Music Festival.
“It started off as an experiment and has already reached a cohesive point, where the musicians need no more than a look to coordinate onstage,” says Yassine. Sriram approves: “Now it’s like we’ve known each other for years… we completely click... from the sound engineers to the guys filming, we have a great connection.”
The OK World musicians decided to perform first in each member’s country. They have visited India and Bangladesh. On September 5, it’s Lebanon’s turn to host them at DRM in Hamra, Beirut.
“We create music that is influenced by the city they are in, by its history, spirit, people, and flavors, to present the audience with a one-of-a-kind gig,” Yassine explained. Sriram also says that during the tour, they capture every city’s vibe and show it in their music.
“You can’t literally hear Bombay or Beirut in our music, but we can’t help not be influenced by our whereabouts,” says Sriram. The concerts start off with simple musical sketches, but when they find themselves on stage the rest becomes improvisation. “On stage it’s all about the ‘musicianship’ of every member that turns those rough sketches into a great painting,” he adds.
OK World is not defined by a particular musical style; on the contrary it strives to be eclectic. “You will hear bits of jazz, electronica, elements of Indian classical, Arabic darbuka, and African drums… like a well-made dish, one shouldn’t be able to taste the individual ingredients,” says Sriram.
Percussions play a big role in the ensemble, with three of the artists being master percussionists, according to Sriram. “Boogie and I were thinking that we need to do a percussion heavy [group] because we all love percussions and it brings a fantastic dynamic over which you can really fly… it’s like surfing with really big waves,” he continues. “What most bands forget is to have fun; it has to be a party, onstage, at the breakfast table, after the concert… not an exam.”
The band’s Beirut tour also includes a two-hour workshop which they call a “musical meeting”. The workshop consists of one hour of sharing techniques with Lebanese musicians followed by an hour-long jam session. “The audience ranges from professional musicians to amateurs, but the attendees are expected to share, learn and interact,” Rajagopalan says.
OK World in collaboration with Blue Lyme and two Beirut-based NGOs are also organizing on Friday, September 7 a free concert for 250 Palestinian, Iraqi and Sudanese refugees at DRM.
“Concerts in general are for people that can afford to buy tickets,” says Alexandra Archetti Stølen, director of the Oslo World Music Festival. “However, there are also a lot of underprivileged youths that take interest in music but cannot afford going to a concert,” she explains.
After their Beirut gig, Ok World will be heading to Mozambique, Spain and Norway. In the fall of 2013 the band will be opening the Oslo Music Festival after which they will embark on a European tour.
OK World is performing on September 5 at DRM in Hamra. For more information, click here.
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