Who or what inspired you to take up the piano & pursue a career in music?
I was drawn to the piano from a very young age (5 or 6 years old). Playing music and making music was always a passion of mine and this grew stronger and stronger as I was introduced to different kinds of music and really as I watched more live performances. I saw a Rachmaninoff piece played live as a teenager that really sparked something inside me and I wanted to learn more classical music. Then I saw an Usher concert and loved the energy and power of that. I was always drawn to the classical style of playing as well as the excitement of a huge concert. Thankfully I’ve been able to experience both from playing keyboards for artists like Tinie Tempah and Leona Lewis to now performing my own music with my Orchestra.
Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?
Although I have many many influences, the biggest influence is probably Ludovico Einaudi. When I was introduced to his music I connected with it straight away and thought that his style of music was what I’d heard in my head for years but I’d never actually heard in the world. It really inspired me to create my own album.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
I’ve had the most challenges since becoming a solo artist. Previously as a session musician, a lot of the tasks are managed for you from your rehearsal and tour schedule to the promotion of the shows. All you essentially have to do is turn up and give a great performance. As a solo artist in this era, you have to be aware of social media, marketing your image, selecting your musicians, dealing with venues and promoters and a whole host of other tasks.. and of course then create and record the music. It’s a huge task ..but one that I absolutely love. I think you have to love it – without the passion for it, it soon becomes hard work and I think people would give up easily. But the passion and the hope to fulfil the vision I have in my mind for where my music can go keeps the love strong and the energy high.
Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?
I’ve had a really special performances – these spring straight to mind:
Performing at St Giles in the Fields Church with my orchestra for the first time. You can see that here
Recording my debut album ‘Xiro’. The whole process felt like an honour – to be filled with so many musical ideas and get to record them as I heard them. I think I’m proud because it FEELS how I intended and I think it’s that feeling that is resonating with people all around the world
Performing live for 100,000 people for the first time over in Israel. This was with Russian singer Sergey Lazarev and it was also being broadcast live across the country. We had a 10-minute section of just piano and voice. I think this is when I truly learnt how to control/manage nerves under a huge amount of pressure.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
The O2 Arena is special to me. Thankfully I’ve performed there 4 times – look forward to performing my own music there at some point in the future.
As a composer, of which works are you most proud?
It’s difficult to choose a single piece so I hope you don’t mind if I give a few. These pieces are dear to me mainly because I’ve seen them have a profound effect on an audience and individuals. That is the most gratifying feeling – when you see someone else really connect with your music, even to the point of being moved to tears. Those pieces are ‘Mercy’, ‘Fifty Horses’ and the title track of my album ‘Xiro’.
How would you characterise your compositional language/style?
My style is very expressive, melodic and emotive. Although there are no lyrics I don’t feel like the music misses anything or needs to be lead by a vocaI. I feel that the melodies expressed on the piano fill that space and yet leave room for the listener to interpret the song as they wish. I hope that in my style, I can convey a range of emotions and a message simply through my music.
How do you work? (as a composer)
I have 2 main composing styles. I sit at the piano and start playing and see where my hands and my emotions at that moment in time lead me. Eventually something starts happening where it feels right and that is often how I find the beginnings of a new piece. From there I’ll refine the idea, and build it up and try variations of it until I settle on “the one”. I also like to listen for music – I often hear music in my mind.. sometimes entire pieces and all the parts and all the instruments. I actually then go and try to play it by ear, from listening to it in my mind.
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
Well as a composer – success is creating the music; simply the creation and completion of a piece of music. If it gets out to a mass audience that is the bonus.
As a musician, success is being able to pay your bills! I do think it’s dangerous to label ‘success’ with a musician as this is a never-ending journey. Somebody once said that “there is no mastery, only another level”. I agree and think this a wise mindset for any musician.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
Study other great musicians of various styles and genres. Aim for excellence in your craft, and then find your own voice – i.e. your own style of playing.
Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?
On tour – performing my own music around the world.
OKIEM performs at iconic restaurant Quaglino’s on 21st September 2017
OKIEM is a pianist & composer who’s music is described as “cinematic classical”. He creates his signature sound by combining piano, orchestral instruments and synthesizers.
He has toured on keyboards for many of the biggest artists in the music industry from Leona Lewis, to Tinie Tempah to opening up for John Legend & Prince, to most recently touring with Grammy-Nominated DJ/Producer, Duke Dumont. Prior to that he toured with and wrote songs for Russian sensation Sergey Lazarev which involved relocating to Moscow for 3 years. This unique wealth of experience with top class artists helps to shape his unique sound, compositions, and astounding live performance that continues to captivate his audiences.
Okiem has been compared to composers such as Ludovico Einaudi & Olafur Arnalds. His contemporary take on the classical genre is expressed in the debut solo album XIRO which he recently launched and is now performing with his amazing string section at venues across the UK.