Olas: Dancing, Singing, Palmas, Guitars, and the Oud

It doesn’t seem right to call Olas a band. A band is usually some cool people in the back of the club, bumming smokes, telling stories about Robert Plant, then going their separate ways. Olas is certainly cool and they might like Zeppelin, but there’s a relationship amongst the members that is deeper than most bands have. Practicing at each other’s homes while making food for each other and watching their children at the same time, Olas is more like a seven-member family. Family life helps to create their music, a beautiful ethnic sound that is unique in Portland. When you have such a distinctive group as this right here in Portland—or, in my case, right down the street—it seems like our music community has everything one could want. Olas might just make this city’s music scene complete.

“We create, congregate, and play for the love of playing,” says Lindsey Bourassa, who, six years ago, created Olas along with Chriss Sutherland. Combining music, words, and dance, their music is flamenco-inspired, but it also takes influences from Afro-Cuban, modern Turkish, and reggae music, as well as Americana.

Bourassa studied dance in France, Cuba, and Spain, and contributes footwork, voice, and palmas (the handclapping accompaniment in flamenco). Sutherland (voice and guitar) also spent time on and off in Spain, working on music and touring after years with brilliant local indie bands Cerberus Shoal and Fire on Fire. When he returned to Portland, he wanted to go in a new direction. The pair then teamed up with guitarist Leif Sherman Curtis to bring the music of Olas to life. At this time, the group also includes Megan Keogh (footwork, voice, and palmas), Molly Rose Angie (voice and palmas), Anna Giamaiou (voice and palmas), and Thomas Kovacevic, who plays the oud, an Arabic string instrument.

Olas’s 2010 debut album, La Perla, knocked me over. This was made in Maine by people from Maine? It was unlike anything else here, voluptuous and gorgeous. Sung in Spanish—confirmation that my two years of high school language classes weren’t successful—the vocals from Sutherland project proudly. But as I listen to his almost crying voice spin thoughts of love, family, and pride, I don’t feel like a foreigner. Sutherland’s delivery breaks through the language barrier and provides a different form of understanding. I’m not able to translate what he says, but I can feel it.

Sutherland and Curtis’s guitars vacillate between heavy and gentle strumming. Watching Olas, there’s an intensity that comes from not only the sound they create, but also from the spectacular dance performances of Bourassa and Keogh. With fully bloomed flowers in their hair and draped in flowing dresses, they dance and slide their feet beautifully to the poems that Sutherland cries out, while handclaps and foot stomps add rhythm.

Their third album, Cada Nueva Ola, is now available, but you need to experience Olas both on record and in person. In order to create a unique experience, the band has chosen not to play at traditional venues. Instead they’ve performed in locally grown food stores, elegant restaurants, art gatherings in warehouses, and homes with good wood floors. “When people ask me where Olas plays live, I have a hard time responding,” says Curtis. “I can never think of a space that feels like home to us.”

Olas has yet to find a home. But if the saying is true—home is where the heart is—then the heart of this family beats strong.

olasmusicanddance.com

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