Parisian beatmaker, Onra, catches up with HAYLEY DAVIS for some honest truths before bringing his eclectic mix of sounds to the southern hemisphere.
Arnaud Bernard, known better as Onra, developed a passion for music as early as ten years of age but for a long time he was purely a hip hop and R&B fan. He was isolated from much of the world of music without an Internet connection until he moved to Paris to study marketing at business school. It was then that he began to discover a whole other world that has allowed for the diversity in genres we hear in Onra’s albums. In anything he does, there’s always a healthy undercurrent of hip hop, soul and funk – cool and collected just like the man himself.
“I’m not really giving you the stuff newspapers want am I?” he says in a late night interview from France. But fluffing up a media appearance with well-drilled key messages isn’t really Arnaud’s style. “I’m just going to be honest.” His 2010 LP Long Distance is probably one of his best known and has a very strong old school hip hop feel, while also mixing ‘70s funk, ‘80s boogie and some more modern beats. Though he isn’t prepared to divulge the surprises he has in store for audiences on this tour, he says most of the shows this time around will be entrenched in these classic sounds.
Onra dabbles in several different genres so has a diverse range of music he could choose from. He just recently collaborated with Boddhi Satva for the Yatha Bhuta Jazz Combo project. In 2011 he embraced his oriental influences in another well-known album, Chinoiseries. He was fierce about avoiding the assumption that he went to Vietnam seeking to pay homage to his heritage. Chinoseries, “…was not because my grandparents are from Vietnam,” he says. “I really didn’t have an Asian education, it’s not my heritage. If you’ve ever dated a musician and go travelling with him you’re always going to spend at least a day in a record store.” And that’s just what he did, coming home with a collection of Chinese and Vietnamese records that he then began experimenting with and eventually led to his second album.
He attributes much of his creativity to his innocence and loneliness, having lived by himself for most of his life. “I’m quite a lonely person,” he says. “I’m happy doing my own thing, not letting myself be influenced by anyone else.” A career as a musician hadn’t even crossed his mind when he started making music. “Having a CD in a store is even more than a dream,” he says. Some memorable influences he had growing up included Dr. Dre and Ice Cube, who he credits with fleshing out the crude part of his vocabulary. He remembers buying a rap compilation in 1991 that featured Run DMC, Public Enemy and Cool J. After moving to Paris he then got into some classic soul of the ‘60s and ‘70s. He also loved classic jazz, Miles Davis, ‘70s and ‘80s funk, some rock and reggae.
Arnaud is bringing renewed focus to Perth this time around. “I expect to give a better performance,” he says. “Last time I was drinking during the shows and I’d get sloppy so I’m not doing that anymore. I don’t want to disappoint.” He’s also sticking to his minimal production techniques, with two MPCs. “I just like to keep the performance raw like my music – straight to the point.”