OMA Enchants With a Distinct Mash-up of Electronic Pop
The duo, Gaël and Romane Marimoutou, moved from their home on Réunion Island to pursue their dream of making music together.
Photo by Nicolas Janes
If you’ve ever fantasized about escaping to a faraway tropical island with soft, sandy beaches, coconut trees, coastal lagoons, coral reefs, and towering volcanic mountain ranges, then you may find it interesting, even strange, that someone from such a place has been fantasizing about coming to Oakland.
Gaël and Romane Marimoutou’s fantasy became a reality when they made the move from their home on Réunion Island in the summer of 2017 to pursue their dream of making music together in Oakland. And after just a year, they’re already stirring the scene with their enchanting blend of alternative electro-pop and Maloya-influenced traditional music from their homeland.
If you haven’t heard of Réunion Island, you’re not alone. It is a small island situated in the Indian Ocean, about 580 miles east of Madagascar. The island was first settled by people from France and Madagascar in the 17th century, but today includes a mix of people from French European, African, Indian, and Chinese traditions.
Gaël is quick to point out that Réunion Island is not so much “multicultural” as it is “intercultural,” where communities effortlessly intermix, intermarry, and celebrate their common heritage, despite a deep history of slavery that the Reunionese people readily acknowledge. That worldly fusion of influences is easily recognizable in much of the music that Gaël and Romane produce together.
The husband-and-wife duo, who perform under the name OMA, recently released its first EP, E in Motion, and has been performing at several beloved Bay Area establishments such as Freight & Salvage, La Peña Cultural Center, The Uptown, The New Parkway Theater, and Revolution Cafe in San Francisco. Many of OMA’s songs feature Romane’s dulcet voice moving effortlessly over Gaël’s bare-bones electronic beats, hand percussion, chordal undertones, and electronic maneuvering that bring it all together.
The two met while studying at the Le Conservatoire à Rayonnement Régional de Musique and were instantly drawn to each other’s musical gifts and vision.
“The classes I had were just in front of her class,” said Gaël. “My door was just in front of her door, and we could hear and see each other. I was looking for a singer for my music production.”
“And I was searching for a partner because I had songs and I wanted someone to work with to develop them,” exclaimed Romane. They quickly found synergy in both life and art.
When asked what brought them to Oakland of all places, Gaël and Romane emphatically said, “Music!” The two had decided to relocate here because a teaching opportunity that Gaël received. Romane also wanted to continue her music studies. And both were seeking a vibrant cultural home to explore their musical performance together.
“I am also a teacher and received some opportunities to teach in Egypt, in Bulgaria, in Mexico, and here in America,” said Gaël. “We didn’t know anything about Oakland, but we made some research and learned all these extraordinary things that were born here — funk music, the Black Panthers, Bruce Lee’s martial arts school.
Added Romane, “Yes, we liked all the possibilities of art, music, and culture. That is what drew us here.”
OMA put out its first music video over the summer. It’s captivating and will soon be followed by another release this fall. As the music continues to bring sounds and cultures together, the observations Gaël and Romane have on life in Oakland offer insights into what audiences might learn from life in Réunion Island.
“When we arrive here as foreign people and Réunionese people,” said Gaël, “we don’t understand the cleavage of people here — the separation, violence, people on the street, people who are hungry and homeless. As a descendant of slavery, I believe we have to admit that slavery was a bad period of history and come to terms with that. People here need to do the same. This is how, in Réunion Island, we came to peace. We had no choice on this little island. We had to recognize that everybody needs everybody.”
He added, “I always say if you put two people in the same place for a long time enough, love will happen.”
Words to live by as residents work to find their own peace living elbow-to-elbow in this bustling Bay Area.
Learn more about OMA and upcoming shows at OMADreamer.com.