Adham Shaikh’s musical journey has led him from classical piano to synthesizers and electronic dance music, and then exploring a love for the sitar and an every-expanding group of world music instruments.
His music, with the help of many musicians he’s met and made a part of the Outworld Orkestra, is a dance-friendly, often experimental mixture of all these things, with a view to turning the dance floor into a bridge between cultures.
He and the Outworld Orkestra will be performing at Errington War Memorial Hall (1390 Errington Rd.) on Friday, May 25. They’re returning, having previously performed at the hall in March of 2017.
“I think that we all as humans, we’ve all been dancing since we can remember,” said Shaikh. “Whether it’s the older generations dancing to big band and swing and all of that, or the younger kids dancing to calculator sounds and everything in between.
“I think the commonality is that we love dancing, and that, to me, has been a sort of central connective point for the Outworld Orkestra. It’s like bringing people together, dancing, celebrating music from all these different cultures and styles.”
For this upcoming performance, Shaikh is bringing vocalist and dancer Gemma Luna; vocalist and violin player Shireen Nabatian with a background in Balkan folk music; Shine, a renowned Australian didjeridu player; Ben Johnson with musical influences from India, Greece, Turkey and Persia; as well as possibly a few other performers.
“We have everything from electro-swing through funk through world and tribal, Middle Eastern, Australian, eastern European… we have this really interesting blend and yeah, it comes together quite nicely,” said Shaikh.
Coming from south-Asian heritage, Shaikh developed an interest in the sitar and tabla from India, but his first musical love was the piano in Kindergarten.
“I was fortunate to, probably from about six or seven years old to 20, do classical piano studies and went all the way to university with it.”
But at about age 15, discovering the high school music department’s first synthesizer led Shaikh into electronic music.
“That was suddenly this fascination. I used to go there at recess and lunch and started skipping classes to go play in the music room.”
What was exciting was the options a synthesizer made available to him at the press of a key.
“(Synthesizers) suddenly offered all this other tonal possibility that, as a piano player it was sort of like, you hit a key and that’s the sound of the piano. You can do a certain amount with your technique and stuff, but to a certain extent, it still sounds like a piano. And so I think the real fascination for me was that it was the same interface, the keyboard… yet a synthesizer offered all these other dimensions of sound and texture.”
Yet, Shaikh came to recognize that, despite the freedom electronic music offered, there was something lost.
Describing his love of the piano and live acoustic music in general, he talks about the complex vibrations that real instruments create.
“These instruments create these very rich, harmonic frequency ranges and spectrums,” said Shaikh. “Lots of overtones and frequencies that you didn’t totally create. Like the chaos is there when you hit two strings, the way they vibrate, there is this other, sometimes the sound is larger than the sum of its parts.”
Shaikh wanted the best of both worlds, and got it by creating the “loose collective” that is the Outworld Orkestra.
While the group has a good core of songs, they also leave plenty of room for live improvisation and experimentation.
“If we’re playing at a festival and you see some amazing artist also playing, it’s maybe walking up to them and going, ‘Hey, do you want to come and join us?’” which happens fairly regularly, Shaikh said.
That’s just another way he and the Outworld Orkestra bridge the gap between various cultures.
“I feel like especially in this day and age in our world, where we’re all so insular and we’re having all of this right-wing propaganda telling us that people from elsewhere are different than us and you’ve got to be afraid of all this stuff, I feel like, no. You listen to the music of all these rich cultures, and how can you really feel anything but commonality? So I’ve been really interested in connecting music from different cultures here in the West all together on the dance floor, which feels to me like a common ground for everybody.”
Shaikh and the Outworld Orkestra perform Friday, May 25, at 8 p.m. at Errington Hall. Tickets are $20 at Errington General Store, Cranky Dog Music in Parksville, Heaven on Earth Natural Foods in Qualicum Beach, or online for $22.50 at erringtonhall.tickit.ca.