Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 November 2019

Fiery performances and thought-provoking discussions are all part Oslo World’s mission

The Norwegian music festival returned with another stimulating programme of gigs and music industry seminars

Bombino performs at Oslo World in Norway on November 1, 2019. Courtesy Oslo World / Helge Brekke
Bombino performs at Oslo World in Norway on November 1, 2019. Courtesy Oslo World / Helge Brekke

When attending a music festival renowned for keeping its fingers on the pulse, you can expect a few surprises.

Such was the case when Oslo World returned for its 26th year last week. Concluding on November 3, the six-day festival once again lived up to its reputation for showcasing the latest sounds coming from relatively unknown corners of the globe, in addition to hosting seminars discussing issues facing creatives today. Here are four things we learnt:

There were two big no shows

When an invited artist fails to show up to a festival, it can be an irritant for organisers. However, if they are two important guests, then it is the stuff of nightmares.

Intriguingly, it wasn’t a total disaster that Lilian Chela and Mon Laferte couldn’t make it to Oslo World. In fact, their nonappearance added an extra layer of pathos to the festival discussions, which touched on the youth-led civil unrest occurring in the world today.

Chela, a Lebanese graphic designer and multidisciplinary artist, had to pull out of her November 2 seminar on Arab futurism after she sustained an arm injury last week as part of the ongoing protests in Beirut.

When it came to Laferte, the Chilean folk singer and actress elected to stay home with her family and community while the country experiences wide-scale protests against government austerity policies.

“It is difficult to sing for you, as Chile is going through difficult times,” she said in a video address beamed to the audience in the opening ceremony of the festival on November 29.

“That’s why I came here, to be with my family and also to be here for whatever is missing. And that my voice can be the voice of the people and to be with the people that really need someone to represent them.”

Both Chela and Laferte’s absence highlighted the comforting and inspiring roles artists have always played in societies influx.

Artists should heed Bob Marley’s message

When it seems that politicians today are increasingly creating polarised societies, it is up to the artists to step and heal those divisions. This is the message Hindi Zahra gave to the crowd and fellow musicians in her "In Conversation" session on October 30.

But it can be a tough road, she cautioned. The Moroccan singer and actress has faced severe criticism for performing a show in Israel in 2011 and Turkey in 2018, from supporters of the BDS movement (the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) and Kurdish activists respectively.

In comments that will surely inflame her critics, Zahra provocatively states that she does not support any form of cultural boycott, no matter its cause, and went to question its effectiveness.

“The cultural boycott is like the cancel culture now. It is popular to cancel people when you don’t agree with them,” she says.

“I want to build a bridge and have conversation with the good people. If we follow the cultural boycott, we don’t give any options for peace. It is very easy to build a wall because it doesn’t take a lot of architectural skills. It is just one stone over the other, but to be build the bridge you need knowledge and it’s not easy.”

Zahra says her worldview has been shaped by the teachings of Jamaican singer Bob Marley.

“He had a universal message for everybody,” she said. “He was talking about a history that can be applicable to all people. I think artists should do it but in their own way.”

N3rdistan are one to watch

Meet your new favourite band.

The Moroccan electro duo N3rdistan were a standout in this year’s festival as they delivered a blistering gig as part of a showcase organised by the Beirut and Beyond music festival.

Based in France and comprised high school friends Walead Ben Selim and Widad Brocos, N3rdistan music is a dystopian distillation of the Arab world’s past and future. The electro production is abrasive at best: the synth line strike your synapses like darts, while the beats heave shudder.

On top of it all is Ben Selim who, in the spirit of Rage Against The Machine’s incendiary front man Zack de la Rocha, raps and sings the politically inspired poetry of Arab greats such as Mahmoud Darwish, Nizar Kabbani and Khalil Gibran.

“When we first started doing music our goal was simply to go to jail and we moved on from that obviously,” Ben Selim told The National before his show. “Our shows are intense because the material demands so. When you are performing the words of Darwich, for example, you don’t do it soft. You go hard and all the way.”

Bombino wants to come to the UAE

A message to the team at New York University’s Arts Centre: Bombino wants to slay your stage.

The guitarist from Niger may be an absolute guitar beast when he is on stage, but if you catch him away from the gig, the man is a gentle soul.

While his intense European tour meant that he couldn’t do press interviews, The National managed to catch up with him in the hotel lobby on the way to the next gig.

“If you invite me, I will come,” he said. “I think I have only flown over the UAE on the plane. The deserts reminded me of home and it made me feel good.”

Updated: November 4, 2019 03:48 PM

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