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An unforgettable summer for Australia's OKA

Indigenous reggae-dub trio perform at the Garibaldi Lift Company



In a 17-minute chat with Stu Boga Fergie (a.k.a. DidgeriSTU) of Australian reggae-dub trio OKA, the conversation flies around the world.

It has been a hell of a summer, mostly in a good way, but capped off with a long weekend accident that could have ruined everything.

"We had a incident between Vernon and Kelowna. We were cruising on the highway and we're not totally sure if it was a rock that got kicked up or if the car next to us threw something at our side window. Anyway, it blew out," Boga Fergie says.

"It was a pretty busy section with a big drop. If it had hit me (he was driving) we would have all gone. It was pretty scary."

Thanks to safety glass, the family member sitting next to the window was only showered in glass cubes. The band spent two extra days in the Okanagan because the garages were closed for the Labour Day weekend.

Now, on to the good stuff.

OKA plays the Garibaldi Lift Company on Saturday, Sept. 6 at 9:30 p.m.

The group is one of those musical fusions that has at its core the Australian Aboriginal music of Boga Fergie's people, with the pounding, hypnotic sound from his yidaki (didgeridoo) playing. Combine that with the love of reggae, jazz, house and world music, and they are unique.

Founded in 2001, there is a new lineup since the last time OKA performed in Whistler in 2011, original member Boga Fergie is joined by flute, saxophone and gypsy guitar-player Lee Hardisty and drummer Julian Bel Bachir, a specialist in African juju beats.

The band's current album is Free Spirit, released at the end of 2013.

OKA went on their first European tour earlier in the summer ("It's a really exciting time for us," says Boga Fergie). Their last attempt at Europe was cancelled at the last minute two years ago.

What Boga Fergie describes is a watershed moment for OKA, where they discovered a new, live fan base after selling their music strongly there for years.

"We had a bigger than what we expected response," he says. "We were just going over to do a bit of a promotional thing and get an idea of how Europe works, but it went out of control — in a good way! It was fantastic."

And then there's funk god George Clinton, who OKA opened for at The Forum in London's Kentish Town, their last night on tour.

"It was a religious experience. We're all big fans and grew up on it. It was a weird thing for us to be asked to do it, but we said, 'Sure!' The promoters were watching our tour as we were going. We were in Holland and found that each festival bumped us up," Boga Fergie says.

"Even with the George Clinton show. We were supposed to be the opening act and then we got bumped up until we were the last band on before him."

OKA held a band meeting to decide what to showcase.

"We went through the whole thing of, what do you do? Do you play all your funk stuff? Do we funk everything up a bit? In the end, we just got excited about doing our sound. It went down really well," Boga Fergie says.

"We had great feedback, even from George. It's just not a sound that they hear over there. We were blown away. We were coming off stage and they were coming onstage and they were asking us for our CDs!"

And the best bit was the silence respectfully granted OKA by the audience as they performed.

"It seems like years ago already," Boga Fergie says.

After the Whistler show they head home for a three-day break and then start an Australia tour.

In Canada, OKA has connected with Ontario First Nations electronic music trio A Tribe Called Red after meeting them at the Winnipeg Folk Festival four years ago.

"We did a mentoring program with them for young indigenous music groups just starting out. They were paired with us and we met in Winnipeg. They've just blown up here in the last couple of years; it's been fun to watch that whole journey," Boga Fergie says.

"The way OKA and A Tribe Called Red are in each of our countries is very similar, our music, how we are part of our community. When we get together, we spend most of our time talking. We talk about them being our 'twin-dians,' we're like brothers. We have the same backgrounds, the same issues against us."

As well as being friends, the two groups have already started collaborating on music, both drawing on their respective indigenous heritages. The song "Rise Up Lights," from Free Spirit is their first collaboration.

"When we have time, the next project is to finish this album," Boga Fergie says. "We've collaborated on one track and I think we'll stretch it to seven tracks. The idea is to develop a tour in Australia and bring them over late this year or early next."

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