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  • David Bentley

The Outlaw Ocean Music Project, Part 2 - four new releases, December 2020

Back in July we reviewed some songs generated by The Outlaw Ocean Music Project, an initiative of journalist Ian Urbina, and which arose out of a project of his called The Outlaw Ocean, which is about lawlessness at sea, covering everything from piracy to slavery to environmental pollution. It spawned a series of reports in the New York Times and a best-selling book, published in 2019.

The Outlaw Ocean Music Project involves musicians from around the world making music related to this specific journalism. The way Ian Urbina sees it, musicians and journalists are both storytellers — one using sound, the other leveraging words. As of early November 2020, over 400 musicians from more than 60 countries have translated his stories into music that is heard globally on more than 200 music streaming platforms, including Spotify and Pandora.

Here is a recent article on the project here:

Now we have a fresh cache of songs specifically from Nordic musicians, which were released on 11th December.

I’m wary of politics in songs right now, in the midst of the one of the greatest upheavals in political history and with Lord knows what implications for all of us. But these songs aren’t overtly political in the main and in fact are quite relaxing; merely relaying the intended message calmly and with a similar restful musical theme to all of them. It is an analogy I have used often but most of them do remind you of those ‘lapping waves’ audios that you can sometimes access on aircraft to help you go to sleep.

The first one is:

Rand Aldo (Sweden) Far from the Coast

Rand Aldo hails from Falun, in central Sweden.

Probably the most overtly political of the four songs it starts with a statement of intent against drilling for oil in the sea in a particular location but then settles into a gentle guitar-piano-strings instrumental piece which I assume is representative of calm waters (it is from the album ‘This Water is Sleeping’ which is also inspired by the original Outlaw Ocean book.

Slusnik Luna (Finland) with Petri Alanko – We are two thirds water (From the album ‘Meri’)

I suppose that is a fact that it is all too easy to forget, especially if you live well inland as I do and rarely see the coast. Slusnik Luna (what a fascinating name) nails the concept in the opening part with what sounds like a power shower being turned full on before a repeating eight-note melody sets and carries the song through to the end, conjuring up an image of a yacht in a round the world race ploughing through the waves.

The monologue comes in the middle here. “The sea has always been many different things to different people…/ distinctly divorced from government meddling / an escape for some / the sea is also a prison for others.”

“There are few remaining frontiers on our planet / perhaps the wildest and the least understood are the world’s oceans.”

Deep stuff, but presented in a non-too-taxing manner.

Otesla (Denmark) - Wild Waves (from the album ‘Samudra’)

No, not an Irish version of an Elon Musk company, Otesla is Danish, from Copenhagen, and a hip-hop artist and producer. He says his goal is “to convey a sense of hopefulness and motivation”.

To be honest I’m not sure this kind of music, with a repetitive rhythm and beat, is entirely suitable to conveying the sense of a marine topic but the lyric is evidently heartfelt.

Erik Wøllo (Norway) Seafarers (from the album ‘The Abandoned Sea’)

The most ambitious piece in this quartet, the six-minute ‘Seafarers’ is almost orchestral, and verges on film score status in parts. There is no lyric apart from assorted shouts around 2/3rds of the way through accompanied by what sounds like gunfire and it may represent an attempted hijacking of a ship by pirates, which I know to be one of the themes the original articles and book dealt with.

This is the first time I have reviewed tracks from the project and I had not expected then all to be compositions like this, rather than verse-chorus-verse-chorus songs. They do make for interesting listening but at the same time I’m keen to hear other approaches to this topic which come at it from a different angle. As the project continues to grow they will undoubtedly materialise.

Find out more here.


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