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Festival theme: Rebels

In 2021, Oslo World’s festival theme is “rebellion”.

It feels like the right moment for it. The last year, obedience to government regulations has been viewed as absolutely necessary by many, if not most. And all the while, during the pandemic, things have occurred that has made us associate rebellion not only with legitimate peaceful protest, but with violent insurrections, and a potentially dangerous resistance against a common ground of discussion, and empirical facts. Everything has been mixed together. When you think back on the events unfolding since the start of 2020, will you associate the term “rebellion” with BLM protests or the attack on congress - or both? Will you think about the protests against the imprisonment of Alexei Navalny in Russia, the polish protests against abortion restrictions, feminist rebellion in Chile, or will your mind turn to mass opposition against vaccines and cautionary public measures?

This reminds us that the rebel has never meant just one thing - many icons of resistance have been reactionary figures. The reasons we still feel they are needed, in spite of all this, are as relevant as ever in 2021: In the years ahead, after lockdowns and mass restrictions, civil society needs to retrain its democratic muscles, and find ways of resisting the numbing effect of the last few years.

For a festival with a global outlook on the cultural scene, it’s natural to focus on the rebels and the rebel movements who speak up on behalf of minorities and marginalized groups. We also want to focus on urban development. In our home town, Oslo, the increased inequality and the fight between commercial interests and independent or non-commercial urban culture has become more obvious than ever.

Last, but not least, we obviously want to highlight the role of the rebel in music. People who value the power of music have a tendency to exaggerate its influence on events, to put songs and artists at the centre of change in society. As the sparks that light the fuse. For a music festival, it is tempting to do the same. But this kind of story telling ignores both the complex reasons for political change and the fact that music just as easily can be used as a tool of oppression. A more modest claim is that music always will find a way to tell its own stories about rebellions.

This year, we will invite artists and activists that, whether they wanted to or not, have found themselves at the centre of fights for freedom around the world. To become a symbol is a demanding, complex role to play. It poses tough questions about artistic ownership and freedom of choice. Often, we view the rebel as a person with an inner urge to resist and revolt, but look closer, and you will find many individuals who just find themselves in that position, through fate or circumstance. Not because they have a choice, but because the present moment somehow demands it of them.

It is easier to talk about rebellion and revolutions in music history, where the rebel is one of the most beloved characters. The rebel demands room for something new - or something old. The musical rebel can just as well be the figure railing against modernity, who looks back towards something we might have forgotten. In its own time, the artistic rebel can be a reactionary figure, almost comical. Vindication might come years, decades or centuries later. The artists who start stirring the pot become heroes and villains of music folklore - in the end, we always tell the history of music through them.

This is one of many ways that musical reality is easier than the political reality surrounding it. Oslo World’s role is to aim for the border area in between - where the music becomes rebellious and the rebellion becomes musical. We will see you all in november.

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