Each year, the festival chooses a theme to provide the booking of musicians and speakers with a direction. The themes may be broad, and not everything will be closely tied to them, but they are still useful tools, giving shape to both our message and the way we work.
But you can’t always choose. We are a festival with bookings from all over the world, often outspoken artists from places of conflict. And we are used to disruptions, that concerts are cancelled because of artists returning to their home country to join protests, or partner countries experiencing upheaval.
This year is different, though. The whole world is dealing with a pandemic. Therefore the theme of the year will be solidarity. It is what we have to expect from ourselves, and it’s what we want to use the festival to talk about. How both the field of culture and society at large deals with this in a way that takes care of the ones most at risk.
We still don’t know what will be possible in October/November, but we do know that musicians, the Norwegian and international festival family and the club scenes of Oslo and the world, are going to need all the help that they can get moving forward. There is still time until our festival, and what little breathing room that we have should be used to offer help to all of the above. A large institution like Oslo World has to consider the ecosystem we are a part of.
This spring, we have initiated two projects with this year’s theme in mind: maptheworld.no and Oslo World Live Sessions. The first is a map of the world where we have invited festivals from all over the world to share the music they love right now. Oslo World Live Sessions is a new concert series where we work with different scenes in Oslo, in accordance with the restrictions on cultural events, with a booking trying to point at new ways of looking at connections in the local scene.
Oslo World is part of a bigger musical family. Each year, we work together with festivals and musicians from South America, from Africa, the Middle East and the rest of the world. The work with Maptheworld.no has been a way of saying something about how the global festival family is connected. To make people think about its vulnerability, but also its strength. And the importance of sharing music, also in times of great turmoil.
Music does transcend borders, it is not only a tired cliché, it is the most apt description of how music works. How the music life will adapt to a period where travel becomes hard and where many great musical nations are struck by catastrophe, is hard to say. But those of us who can, have to discuss all of these problems and time and again we have to ask ourselves how we can be of assistance.
Normally, Oslo World arranges Children’s Art Exploration Days, which offers free cultural experiences for children all over Norway, in addition to Our Neighbourhood, festivals inviting neighbourhoods into asylum centers. We do it because access to culture is access to communities. To feel part of an audience can change your view of what is possible.
Access is weakened for everybody at the moment. This is a year when the most privileged among us gets a glimpse of how it might feel for people who usually are prevented from partaking in cultural events. It is meaningless if a festival like Oslo World, and others with it, doesn’t try to learn something from this. In accord with our chosen theme, we should use this different year to get closer to universal goals of access, across barriers like geography, health, cultural and economical prerequisites.
It’s still uncertain what kind of festival we can present this autumn. The alternatives range from an unlikely total cancellation to an at least as unlikely completely normal festival experience. The possibilities lie somewhere in between. We can think differently about how to present music. We can use technology as a way of inviting both artists and speakers from different places. And – as long as it’s approved by health officials, we can do things at our venues. Oslo World Sessions is a way of kickstarting that part of the project.
Perhaps other difficulties will present themselves. Perhaps other things will be possible. Perhaps Week 44 will look like nothing we can imagine right now. But our work starts and our goal is that Oslo World this year will be an event equal parts useful and enjoyable, both by the Oslo scene and the international music family.