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Okiem to wow audiences at Quaglino’s

LIVE: Okiem

OKIEM, THE pianist and composer who has played with the likes of John Legend, Leona Lewis, Craig David, Jessie J and Tinie Tempah to name a few, is set to wow Quaglino’s tonight in London’s West End.

The London-born classically trained performer spoke with The Voice ahead of his performance where he admitted to entering the next phase of his long term and very ambitious plans.

The Voice: You first started playing the piano by ear as opposed to learning how to read music, is that right?

O: Yeah, it was by ear from about five-years-old and when my parents saw I could do that they got me classical piano lessons. I would hear something on the radio or on the TV and just start playing the melody of it on the piano.

It wasn’t until my mid teens that I actually started to enjoy it. You spend all of those years doing Mozart and Scales, learning what it takes to become a pianist, but that’s not really fun and is the reason everyone quits.

The Voice: Did you almost quit piano?

O: I wanted to quite and grade three. My mum made me play and told me there was no way I was going to stop. It’s important that parents help their children push through that bit.

It’s like anything, when you’re learning there is a bit where it’s not fun anymore and you have to have that bit of grit that helps you push through and then you get to the bit where you say to yourself that ‘wow, this is so much fun’.

That’s how it went for me and even though I was doing a lot of classical stuff, I was also doing some pop songs that I would hear on the radio. I would do a piano version of these songs and I just loved doing that and that’s how I go to practise playing songs. It wasn’t necessarily good for my classical development but it taught me how to enjoy the music.

The Voice: So when did you get your first big break and what did that look like?

O: It was a bit mad actually. I grew up playing classical piano but I wanted to be an athlete, I wanted to be a basketball player. Even up until I finished university I was playing basketball for England universities and we’d just won a gold medal.

After I graduated from uni I did two auditions and one was for a Russian pop star and I got the gig. So three months after leaving uni I was living in Moscow.

People who saw my pictures were messaging me wishing me congratulations but there were asking me what team I was playing for and it was quite funny having to explain to them that I was actually there to play piano as part of the tour. The artist, Sergey Lazarev, is one of the biggest in Russia.

The Voice: Sounds like you landed on your feet. How did the experience go?

O: Playing for Sergey was massive, we were on this huge tour, I think we did 100 cities and for a session musician the money was great. We had an apartment in the centre of Moscow, like, we can see the Kremlin in Red Square. Living was covered, we got an amazing contract, and they really looked after us.

The Voice: One hundred cities, how long did that take?

O: It was meant to be a six-month tour but we did it in four years. I live in Russia for over three years and I can hold a conversation in their language.

I had to learn to read and write in Russian as well, if you want to eat out or anything like that you have to learn it. It’s not like France or Spain where you might find a menu in English over there you had to learn.

The Voice: Any bizarre experiences on your travels?

O: When I was in Kazakhstan I had to have security, the attention I was getting was that bad. Nothing hostile, they were just curious to see a black person, a lot of them had never seen one before. I would be walking and they would shout out ‘Will Smith’, ‘Michael Jordan’ and come up to me to take pictures and give me gifts.

There were times people would be queuing up. If you imagine Sergey is one of the most recognisable people in Russia, and we would go out on New Years and he would wear a scarf over his face and make me walk in front of him because he knew I would get all of the attention.

The Voice: It sounds like you came into the business and the bar was set quite high from the beginning, so where is it now?

O: I came back from Russia and wanted to keep playing for major artists but no one knew who I was in London. I told a few people but nobody knew who Sergey was. I had to show them videos of concerts in front of hundreds of thousands of people, I literally had to start again.

I was back playing in pubs and clubs with unsigned acts, which I didn’t mind because I loved the artists but I had to network all over again.

After a while the work started to come and I started working with Tinchy Stryder and the big one was Tinie Tempah who I played with for three years. At the time I worked with him he was massive and I enjoyed that period, he was killing it. We did good stuff all over the world.

The Voice: Any gigs you didn’t get or would like to get?

O: After the Tinie gig I knew that was what I wanted to be doing. I wanted the Adele gig, I’ve never played with Adele but I worked with Leona Lewis a few times and her voice is unbelievable.

That’s been one of my favourite things. I’m still riding this wave. In London it’s going well, even though it was tricky to start. Obviously going from playing arena’s to six people in a pub wasn’t the best start.

The Voice: Do you feel lucky? You’ve done so much in ten years, where does you’re ambition take you next?

O: The ambition now is to get my stuff out to the masses. The first phase was proving that it was worthy, and that it had a place, also me finding out who I was an artist. My thing is beautiful simplicity, finding that thing that somebody is going to feel something from.

I’m more like, right, let me bring everyone in and let them have an experience that is more about the music than look how spectacular my piano skills are. I really want to develop that and the orchestra I have now and my live show.

The goal now is to keep the music pure going forward and as I said, I want that mass market. I think it deserves that place. The first goal has been achieve, the live show, we’ve created it now, people are connecting.”

Okiem performs at iconic London restaurant Quaglino’s tonight from 9pm.


Event Information:
Date: Monday 3rd June 2019
Time: Performance begins at 9pm
Address: Quaglino’s, 16 Bury Street, London SW1Y 6AJ

Booking: Contact quaglinos@dandlondon.com or call 0207 930 676

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