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Steppin' presents: OTION & The Submarines

As we sit down with the multifaceted artist OTION, the Master Of Sceneries reflects on his artistic journey. Highlighting the significance of finding the right collaborators and nurturing a creative environment conducive to growth, his trajectory is marked by synchronicities. Drawing inspiration from an eclectic mix of artists like Reggie Watts, Moses Sumney, and Bobby McFerrin, OTION's journey is a testament to the power of authenticity and the boundless potential of artistic expression. Together with the premiere of a mesmerizing video recorded during the Birdhouse session, we invite you to immerse yourself in a realm where music, storytelling, and spiritual exploration converge.



How are you feeling in this phase or chapter of your personal artistic journey? And how has the journey been so far?

I feel good. I feel that I'm in this moment where all the stars are aligned, everything is put in place, and if I now take the right step, I can really elevate everything that I do to another level. Having a production house that I now work with, management, and just the right people around me. Most of my journey with the loop station was always in my mind until the right people arrived at my little spaceship where I was traveling by myself. I always wanted to work with other people, and I just want to create worlds and invite people in these rooms, and music is a big part of that. But also, as it became clearer for me what I want to create and who I am as an artist, it also became very important that whoever I work with kind of resonates on that same frequency. It’s been a long journey. But now, everybody that's here is so right, that I'm just really excited. I feel like life right now is really saying “Yes, you can. You can expand.”


I started this journey as a dancer, and I was always dancing and singing. Dancing took off at some point, and I never even thought I wanted to become something, I was just doing my thing, which generated energy and possibilities. And then I just kept going. It was always very logical for me to sing and dance, and I’ve been writing songs since I was a kid. Just for myself. At some point, I got really shy, but the songs were always there. I was writing them on the bus ride home, imagining stories. 


I studied performing arts at LMIPA in Amsterdam, and finished my Bachelor at the CODARTS Rotterdam Dance Academy, which was in the same building as the Conservatory. To me it was just so amazing to be surrounded by all of these musicians, my roommates were musicians, so I’d go to jam sessions a lot.

Sometimes I would sing, so I was the dancer that also sang. And then I pulled my hamstring, so I couldn't dance for a while, and I was asked to join the band Hipnotik Orchestra. After that project, I wanted to do it more. Didn’t know how. Around the same time, a friend of mine, Adriaan De Kroo gifted me my first loop station, because he wasn’t really using it.


I never bought a loop station. All loop stations were gifted. It’s just weird how that goes. So this was a small one. And then I met Tad Fray, a producer from Belgium that choreographer Sedrig Verwoert connected me with. I just called and said: “Let's make some music”. I went to Belgium, we were in the studio with onesies the whole weekend, making music. He also had a loop station that he wasn’t using, so he gave it to me, and that one I used for about 10 years. For my 36th birthday, my manager gave me the next station. It all just sort of made its way into my life. 


Tijmen de Nooy Photography

Were there any artists you looked up to during this time? 

When I started with the loop station, I found out about other people doing it. I saw Reggie Watts doing a TED talk with a loop station, and Moses Sumney. He's so in his own universe. Visually, the voice, the songs, the poetry, I feel related to him. It reminds me a lot when I lived in New York, I saw serpentwithfeet play live somewhere. I realized you can just do anything. I love it when artists break out of the genre, becoming their own person. You can’t even describe them with words.


Or Bobby McFerrin, one of my biggest inspirations. The foundation of how I use my loop station is his album ‘Circlesongs’. Once I saw this performance by a dance company in Central Park, they were doing their whole piece to the entire album. That’s how I discovered it, and was blown away by it for a good month. This is it.


I started to create with the loop station. It was like a fun game, trying to recreate 90's R&B songs only using my voice.

I once wrote a spoken word piece for a theater production by Gianni Grot called "I'm Not Black, I'm Deep". When I was asked to perform the piece for an event around the work of Hip Hop photographer Ilja Meefout, I combined the performance with music created on my loop-station. After that, several people approached me for a booking. One of them asked me to do a 20 minute set, so I proceeded to figure out how to put a set together from the songs that I have. And that's how it started. 


I did musical theater before, so there was always music. But this was the beginning of the  OTION journey. For the longest time alone, and later I started to look into starting a band, very carefully. I love the loop station, and I'm also finding new ways of expression at the same time.


With Nathan and Tez, we had our first performance last year at the National Opera for the Opera Festival, as OTION and the Submarines. And that was such a great moment. I would still like to add a drummer/percussionist, and the loop station will always be a feature but I'm also almost ready to slowly let go. 




How did you become OTION, has it always been your artist name, also as a dancer?

People called me Guillermo, Gimo, and later Gimotion, since I was dancing. Then there was a point where I felt like I wanted to do something with the name.

About 5-6 years ago, I was playing around on my computer, trying to make a logo. The first three letters of GIMOTION shifted out of the screen, reading OTION. I always had this thing with water, so it felt like serendipity, and became me. Some people don't even know my name is Guillermo.

I liked it, because the name itself gives me inspiration, and an opportunity to reinvent myself. Sort of a second life, because I've been onstage a lot since I was 13. And now it works, in combination with the logo, which is actually a symbol from my ancestry. We trace it all the way back to West Africa.


My ancestors were Akan People, and the symbols are Adinkra symbols. My cousin Zulile Blinker told me this, she showed me this page full of these symbols, and I felt I need to do something with them. Her father did years of research on this. The symbol that replaces the O in the OTION logo is called Kojo Baiden, it stands for cosmos / omnipresence. That same weekend, I read an article that said that the universe is actually full of water. So it's sort of an ocean.





Now I'm working on the website, it’s almost finished, and I wrote a philosophy called OTIONism. Sort of like a Webster definition.


OTIONism

/ˈəʊʃnɪz(ə)m/

noun

  1. Philosophy, and creative expression. This is OTIONs life philosophy rooted in the dynamic qualities of water, encompassing its various states, forms, shapes, motions, and transition. OTIONism serves as a unique approach to philosophical contemplation, creative expression, poetic vocabulary, physical and meditative discipline and spiritual inquiry. Drawing inspiration from the fluidity and adaptability inherent to the elemental essence of water. 


Oftentimes, I come up with things, and then throughout life, I figure out what they mean. It’s breadcrumbs, and this whole world starts to open. I really like to write stories.

 

How would you introduce OTION?

I'm a storyteller. I tell stories with dance, music, song, poetry… I use the music, the singing, the dancing, and the space for the story. I'm this hybrid of a preacher, a ceremony master, an emcee, sort of a combination of all these archetypes that hold space for ceremony. For me, going to the club is also a ceremony. I like to imagine every situation as ceremonial, adjust the setting in that way.

I'm very much of a neo soul kid. That's the foundation. Ever since I was a kid, Stevie Wonder, and those chords would just always bring joy to my spirit. My best friend Sarada Sarita introduced me to Erykah Badu when I was 16. I remember staying up all night, listening to ‘Mama’s Gun’ just loop on repeat. ‘Green Eyes’ is just so incredibly beautiful, and way ahead of it’s time. My high school friend and musical guru, pianist Timothy Banchet introduced me to D’Angelo when I was 19, people gave each other CDs at the time. He gave me the ‘Voodoo’ CD. And I felt complete ever since then. 


I just wanted to write songs because I wanted to make people feel what I felt with these albums. I had this huge passion for interludes, like Jill Scott, or India Arie, maybe also because I like this kind of stripped down thing. The loop station is also very naked, yet full. Timothy Banchet once told me, the music is also in the notes you choose not the play. And I always kept that in mind. A lot of music nowadays tends to be really full, and present. I love it when there's just a baseline, a drum pattern, and the vocal line, and it can already create so much. You can give people the space to feel the choices you've made.


Tijmen de Nooy Photography

Is there a message that you want to convey in your music?

It's an invitation. It's all about inviting people on this dive inside themselves. And I use my stories as examples, or reasons for it. But it's also an invitation to sort of let go, like this layer of sand on the shore when the water comes in. In that sense I like to be surprising, because water can show up in so many shapes.

What’s coming up for OTION in the near future? Are you planning to make an official release of your music?

At the moment I'm working on a theater production / Installation performance called UNBORN in collaboration with Ulrike Quade Company. Part of the music for the show will be released on my first EP. After that, more singles will be released throughout the year.


I have so many songs that have been laying around for some time, and I often wonder about what's relevant to say now, in this moment. Recording them also means to put a limit on what they can become, when they’re born. I spend a lot of time in the “unborn”. I’ve been out here performing, moving on stages in theater, and with my background that comes very naturally to me. I live for that moment.


Like Erykah Badu said: “Performing live is creating a moment, while recording is like perfecting a moment” and I’m falling more and more in love with that process as well. 

I’d like to release the website, announce the show, and in the meantime, I have some singles ready to be released throughout the year. Yeah. That's kind of the plan. To honor all these years of all these different versions. I now understand why I called this piece ‘Unborn’. I think I’m at this point where I want to bring it on Earth.


How has the session at Birdhouse been for you? 

Birdhouse was our second performance with the band. We’re still working it out with the Submarines. They help me elaborate my musical ideas. Within the session, I liked the take of ‘Channel Ya Soul’ the most, that’s the main reason I chose it. It's an ode to losing yourself in the music, and using music and rhythm to come into this altered state of consciousness.


In a way it is a reference to my spiritual background, and my family’s indigenous Surinamese / West African spiritual practice, which is always involved in dance, rhythm and transient states. But it was also the first verse I wrote after the first time I went to a club in Berlin and I was there for eight hours, feeling like Alice In Wonderland.


The song is very much of a celebration, but also a spiritual practice. A ritual. 


OTION's socials:


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