Eight Ray Music’s classical composer, Okiem, talks creating original compositions, dream venues and advice for aspiring musicians in an engaging Featured Act of the Month Interview.
An incredibly talented artist, Okiem is a pianist and composer of the highest calibre who splits his time between creating original compositions and performing alongside some of the music industry’s biggest names.
From Tinie Tempah, Duke Dumont and Leona Lewis to opening for Prince and John Legend, Okiem has enjoyed a stellar career so far.
Where his skill is truly evident, however, is in his original compositions which showcase a unique signature sound. This is created by combing piano, orchestral instruments and synthesisers, culminating in a genre he refers to as ‘cinematic classical’.
This genre permeates Okiem’s stunning debut album, XIRO. XIRO presents a masterful collection of songs that has drawn Okiem comparisons to top composers such as Ludovico Einaudi and Olafur Arnalds.
Eight Ray Music’s Featured Act of the Month for April, Okiem opens up about creating original music, performing with the best in the business, advice for aspiring musicians and what the future holds for him.
It’s an engaging read, so check out Okiem’s answers and make sure you watch his original composition, Fifty Horses, below.
“Okiem is talented beyond words. The most mesmerising gig I’ve been to” ~ Ady Dayman, BBC Radio Broadcaster
Tell us about yourself.
I’m a pianist and composer. I write a lot of instrumental piano-based music that is very melodic and emotional and hopefully sounds modern and fresh. I love performing live and I’ve been playing all over the UK doing solo shows right up to my bigger shows where I have up to 10 musicians joining me on stage.
How would you describe your sound?
As a genre I like to call it ‘cinematic classical’. The dominant instrument is the piano and I combine orchestral instruments and synthesizers to create my sound.
Who would you compare it with?
The artist I get likened to the most is Ludovico Einaudi which is a huge compliment to me.
Who are your inspirations?
I grew up as more of an athlete than a musician so my earliest inspiration is Michael Jordan. I think there are a lot of similarities between musicians and athletes and any roles where there is an incredible amount of work that goes on behind the scenes, in private, day in and day out so you can perform at a peak level on a stage. This training also helps me control nerves and really enjoy performances.
Musically, my inspirations range from pianists and composers like Ludovico Einaudi, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Ezio Bosso and Rachmaninoff, to artists I’ve listened to over the years like Pharell, Dr Dre, Jay Z, to electronically influenced artists like Sohn, Woodkid, Jack Garratt, James Blake, Calvin Harris… a really wide range of styles.
What’s been the highlight of your career?
Thankfully I’ve had many highlights. As a session musician, I’ve performed at Wembley Stadium, played with the opening artist on tour for Prince and John Legend and for tens of thousands of people at festivals with Tinie Tempah. Not to mention performing a song I wrote for an artist in an Arena in Russia – countless great memories.
However, somehow, even though the shows are now smaller, nothing feels better than performing my own music live with incredible musicians. So my real career highlight to date is my sold out headline show in London at St Giles in the Fields where I performed songs from my album ‘Xiro’ along with 10 other musicians. It was incredible and topped anything I’d ever done as a session musician:
Tell us about the inspiration behind your original compositions such as Fifty Horses.
This song came about from letting go of any thoughts of music, of genre, of ‘making’ a piece of music. This is creative freedom to me. When I let go and just play music this can happen. The refining and building of the song came after but the initial compositional idea came from a place of being free and just playing the music I felt.
Have you previously performed with anyone famous?
Yes I’ve played with quite a few famous artists. I was a session musician for years so I performed, recorded, and/or toured with artists including Tinie Tempah, Leona Lewis, Boy George, Idris Elba, Ella Henderson, Duke Dumont, Craig David and various others.
If you could play any venue where would it be and why?
I would love to play in St Paul’s Cathedral. It’s a majestic building so it sets an incredible backdrop and not a lot of people get to put on a gig in there. It would be very special.
If you could have a guest musician join you who would it be and why?
Kanye West! His energy, talent and musicality are amazing and it would be cool to combine our two styles and see what we came up with. I think collaborations with people from less obvious genres are interesting and lead to great music (for example, Hans Zimmer and Pharrell).
Any advice for aspiring musicians?
Before just doing ‘more practice’ spend time figuring out how you learn BEST. You’ll save so much time and therefore become a better musician. For example, I find it easier to commit music to memory when practicing at night (close to bed time) and repeating music I’ve learned 4 times in a row. Someone else may find morning practice and repeating songs continually for 30 minutes at a time is the best thing for them. So that would be my longer bit of advice. In bullet points! I’d say:
Practice regularly & consistently
Listen to more genres of music
Record yourself, listen back and analyse your own playing
Continually learn new music
Perform live as much as possible
Teach others – you learn when you teach
Decide what you want from your music career and go after it
Anything you’re particularly looking forward to in 2017?
Creating more music. Performing in front of more people and creating an incredible live show and experience. I want to keep working with great and creative musicians. I’m looking forward to taking the show to all kinds of venues and to all kinds of people from patients at Guy’s & St Thomas’s Hospital to Blenheim Palace.