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Small Omara Portuondo Oslo World2022 Lars Opstad 085
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Yohan Shanmugaratnam's opening speech

Yohan Shanmugaratnam moved us all with his opening speech.

We have actually received e-mails from our audience asking us to publish it. Read it here:

"Thank you for your very kind introduction. It’s a great honor to be invited here to open this festival. I’ve been told that usually these speeches are made by politicians. Obviously, I’m not a politician. I’m not the minister of culture. I’m not even the former minister of culture.

Which means that I didn’t come here with any grants or bags of money I can hand out to all you talented and struggling musicians out there.

I haven’t brought anything but words.

A few years ago, I discovered something. I realized that my father, who happens to be a great music lover, did not know who Bruce Springsteen was.

No idea. Never heard of the guy.

Other dads I knew in our middle class, Norwegian suburbian neighborhood - our little PhD ghetto - they loved Bruce. But if anyone had walked up to my dad and started to talk about “Bruce”, I’m pretty sure he would assume they were talking about Bruce Lee.

That made me think. Growing up in an immigrant family, in my case a Sri Lankan-Japanese one, means you don’t have the same references as other kids.

We didn’t have a single Bob Dylan record in our home. But we did have records by Bob Marley.

We never watched Clint Eastwood in “Dirty Harry”. But we knew very well who Harry Belafonte was.

Many, many years before others were dancing to Ravi & DJ Løv, we listened to Ravi Shankar live - here, at this very venue.

Western power ballads never impressed my parents, but the Japanese ballads they heard back then, when they met in Kagoshima, left lasting impressions on both of them.

I wish I could say that my point is simple. But it really isn’t. See, we moved a lot when I was a kid. From Jaffna to Colombo. From Colombo to Kagoshima. From Kagoshima to Tokyo. From Tokyo to Ås here in Norway.

We didn’t listen to The Rolling Stones. We were rolling stones.

All this movement probably affected my musical input. I grew up with Indian ragas and Japanese enka, but also with Grieg and ABBA.

Later I discovered Public Enemy and Run DMC, but also Metallica and Guns N’ Roses. And eventually I also achieved Nirvana, not the one my parents had learned about, but the band. I did look for Norwegian groups I could identify with, but couldn’t find any - not until many years later.

Music is movement. It’s strings and bodies vibrating.

But movement also makes music. It’s words and tones migrating.

It’s what happens here at Oslo World. It’s also what happened in Oslo Spektrum, those ten evenings in August. There I saw a Norwegian rap duo perform together with musicians and dancers representing more than 20 nationalities.

India and Iran. Morocco and Mali. Tunisia and Thailand. Somalia and Sri Lanka. And even Japan.

And yes, Norway.

I listened as the sound of Harpreet Bansal’s violin blended with the tones from Mira Tiruchelvam’s flute, pierced by the voice of Emilie Nicolas. I watched Ibou Cissokho get up on his feet as he played the kora to the beats of Sidiki Camara’s djembe and Karpe’s dj.

I’ve never seen so much distance disappear so fast.

I’ve never felt so much at home.

Today my family has stopped moving around, we settled down a long time ago. Bruce Springsteen has been put on our pedestal, right next to Bob Marley and all the other small Gods in our already crowded temple of music.

What I’m going to say now, is something we all know. Still, it sounds like news:

Diversity is not a goal; it’s a fact.

Diversity is not utopia; It’s society.

Diversity is not an ideal; It is reality.

And today, thanks to the artists who move across borders and insist on taking their lyrics and sounds with them, the acceptance of musical input from far away is broadening fast also in this country.

And by insisting on mixing, musicians build bigger temples, places in which we all have a corner, places where we all can seek to find solace, whenever the road home feels too long.

It’s a great pleasure for me to announce the official opening of the Oslo World festival 2022. And now, please give a warm welcome to a living legend, the one and only - Omara Portuondo.

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