Late october, Oslo World kicks off its twenty-fifth festival.
It all started in 1994, a decisive year for Norway – whether you want to talk about the Lillehammer Olympics, the EU referendum or a host of other events centered around this year, large and small, that were all in some way harbingers of what was to come; decades of new wealth and a renewed sense of importance in the world. We earned more, we travelled more, we spent more and gradually, we expected more.
Our festival came into this reality, tasked with bringing new impressions to Norwegian culture – bringing the world to Oslo through exceptional musical experiences. The festival has grown in tandem with the city. Now, in 2018, Oslo can boast an impressive range of concerts and venues for different styles. We have worked with lots of them throughout the years. The last twenty-five years, have also brought tough debates about how this city should deal with new challenges – whether it is tied to migration, integration or commercialisation. We have not shied away from these discussions – on the contrary, we have invited them into the festival. At the same time, our main mission has been staying relevant through focusing solely on musical quality, no matter where it comes from. By inviting global icons, such as Cesaria Evoria and Gilberto Gil, side by side with new and exciting artists. Every year we pick a theme which we examine through different debates and lectures, and which provides our musical booking with a sense of cohesion.
This year, we have chosen the topic “Freedom”. Freedom to love, freedom to move, freedom to resist, to express and freedom for sale. If we look back on the festivals history, one could argue that it has always, in some way, been about freedom. After all it is a theme that is everywhere in the music we love the most. The freedom to break barriers, to express thoughts in new ways, to crush paradigms and to bring the listener to strange, new places. But also the freedom music lovers experience when they let loose to the music they know the best and love the most.
These forms of freedoms are pretty uncontroversial. However, we have chosen this theme because the word “Freedom” implies much more that the things that we all agree on. When Oslo World started in the mid-nineties, parts of the world seem to sense a common optimism, that the world was becoming freer in general. This notion has been challenged in recent years. The backlash against globalization and the scepticism towards individual rights is real. The concept of freedom clashes with other essential needs – safety and prosperity, to mention two important ones. We see discussions about what’s more important – “freedom to” or “freedom from” – popping up in a lot of different places.
“Freedom” is not a universal answer – it is an essential question.And obviously, it is a question of resources.
Ever since Oslo World started up, Norway has become a richer society. That is especially evident in Oslo, a city which has changed both its appearance and what it has to offer its citizens. It is an extremely affluent city. Many of its inhabitants can be counted among the world’s most privileged. It is necessary for Oslo World check our own privileges. We know that the curiosity towards other parts of the world, which we encourage, remains a faint notion for large parts of the world – they simply can’t afford it. To be a “citizen of the world” is expensive. Oslo World is a festival which advocates the freedom to move and to seek out new impressions and impulses – in order to understand our own role in the global picture. It is our responsibility to also discuss the fact that this has a price tag.
But we still think speaking on behalf of freedom is necessary. Many places in the world, this is not taken for granted. But we remain optimists. We believe in the individual artist. The ability one voice has to shake and move others. An artist like Fatoumata Diawara uses her music to speak up against phenomenons like genital mutilation and modern slavery. She could have chosen not to. A lot of artists and activists could have chosen not to. The spectre of totalitarianism should frighten us – but it should not cause us to abandon our belief in the individual, speaking on behalf of freedom. Because through them, the world changes.