“Hereness is the first of all sacred things.” – OkCello
Okorie “OkCello” Johnson is an American cellist-songwriter whose artistry integrates cello performance, live-sound-looping, improvisation, and storytelling – all culminating in original compositions that collide classical with jazz, EDM, reggae, and funk.
His music is inspired by the exploration of African Diasporic melodies and narratives and their intersection with people’s perceptions and assumptions about the classical and european nature of the cello. As well, his work with improvisation attempts to embody the phenomenon of wordless prayer.
He is a recipient of the Alliance Theatre’s 2018 Reiser Atlanta Artists Lab grant, and a 2018 Creative Loafing Readers’ Choice winner for Best Local Jazz Act. His sophomore album Resolve was named one of ArtsATL’s top local albums of 2018.
In 2019, he had the honor of performing at SXSW for Choose ATL and the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau, performing at the Oak Hill Stage of the Atlanta Jazz Festival, opening for Grammy award winning artist Van Hunt, being a featured artist on the Story2019 festival at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center in Nashville, opening for Grammy award winning recording artist Maxwell at the Cadence Bank Amphitheatre at Chastain Park, and being invited to perform in Havana, Cuba at the classical music festival Habana Classica, which coincided with the 500th birthday of that capital city.
In 2020 Okorie has been commissioned by Flux Projects to create improvisational work entitled “Stir Crazy” directly responding to the isolation that stemmed from the COVID19 quarantines, and has collaborated with visual artist Fahamu Pecou and poet Jon Goode to create a performance art piece entitled HUE+MEN that, in response to the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, asserted through sound, imagery, and poetry the sanctity and power of Black humanity.
Furthermore, over his career, Okorie has had the opportunity to perform and/or record with India.Arie, De La Soul, and Big Boi of OutKast, amongst many others.
Okorie describes his circuitous route to this unusual solo cello career in the following quote: “After years of putting my cello down and picking it back up, after years of deciding that the cello wasn’t financially practical, after years of thinking that my other voices were my native ones, I realized that the cello was the oldest, the most central and the most sacred part of me. I resolved never, ever, to deny it again.”
Resolve Album Description
Resolve marks his evolution as a communicator and a storyteller who reveals personal truths: of time travel, of the African Diaspora, of a deep love for women and of unspoken prayers. “Resolve is the moment in my life where the tension of uncertainty gives way to a harmony of ‘me’, for which the cello and its dancing drone are the patient core,” says the Washington, D.C.-born, Atlanta-based musician who began playing cello at age six.