Multiple stage sets, in-the-round configuration, pyrotechnics, and a unique approach to experimental production, Norwegian hip hop duo Karpe are delivering a world-beating spectacle for their hometown residency at Oslo’s biggest arena venue.
Taking over the Norwegian capital’s Spektrum this month for ten shows (an all time record in the arena), it’s an impressive progression from their last three-date run in Oslo in 2017.
Fans filed along the outdoor borders of the venue from the early afternoon, lining up hours before in the hopes to get as close to the stage as possible. They’d been avoiding Karpe social media tags since the residency kicked off so as not to have the surprise-and-delight production spoiled during their own initiation.
With no support acts, and an intro where dancers walked the perimeter of a centre cube stage, it was made clear from the outset that this was not going to be your average hip hop show. When the cube slowly lifted its lid to reveal the pair glued in an embrace, Egyptian-Norwegian Magdi Omar Ytreeide Abdelmaguid and Indian-Norwegian Chirag Rashmikant looked like conjoined twins who share a heart.
Across two hours with the help of 168 on and off-stage crew and performers, Karpe brought their latest EP Omar Sheriff to life. With 32 dancers, a nine-piece band, cameos from local acts Emilie Nicholas, Isah and Jonas Benyoub, and with the help of local booking agent TimeOut Agency, Karpe’s uncompromising vision delivered an incomparable performance.
Abdelmaguid and Rashmikant turned the arena into an elaborately decorated adult playground. The hydraulic platform stage was covered with sand for much of the show; and later completely covered by fake grass, flowers and an extended sprinkling of rose petals.
While this particular residency is far from anything fans have experienced from Karpe across their twenty-two-year career so far, the duo are known for their innovative approach to every aspect of their art. This is the same pair who previously bought a house for a fan event where they requested each fan’s favourite meal and served each fan their dinner of choice — a small thank you to those who had supported them along the way.
Karpe’s innovation was on full display last week. Held during the sold out annual music gathering Øya Festival, where Florence & The Machine, Gorillaz and Aurora headlined (attracting over 100,000 people across four days), Karpe does it all.
Abdelmaguid sang while riding a giant inflatable shark across the arena’s general admission area. And when the inevitable happened and he fell off far from the stage into the crowd, fans worked together to deliver him back to the giant centre square. Meanwhile, Rashmikant performed “Spis Din Syvende Sans” with a fan from the middle of the crowd on top of a wheeled-in piano, a wooden island in a sea of sweat-soaked zealots.
In a way, it helps that this show was announced pre-pandemic in 2019. With a three-year run-up, the suspense-filled years between announce and show night meant Karpe could do two things: book out Oslo’s biggest live music venue for a month to meet sheer demand, and build the kind of hype which resulted in 110,000 tickets being sold — that’s fifteen percent of Oslo’s population.
Remarkably, the non-Norwegian speaking attendees were just as enthralled, hanging off of every call-and-response, every bit of between-song banter, and every change in stage set. Language barriers aside, they pieced it all together using the energy in the room and the visuals that matched it, noting when a political-leaning song like “PAF.no” had roused the crowd into shouting along with them.
Editor’s note: I was lucky enough to have Music Norway Project Manager and 0102 Management MD Erlend Buflaten with me, who translated Karpe’s heartfelt comments of gratitude to fans, family and crew for me.
Crucially, the duo have said they don’t plan to record their music in English to appease the Western masses. They don’t need to. They’re selling out shows across Scandinavia and have performed in the US before. Besides, English-speaking superfans spend hours poring over translated lyrics online, piecing together the mix of Norwegian, Gujarati, Arabic and English to gain as much context into this hip hop anomaly as possible.
They are an anomaly after all. Despite the clear love of Kanye West hinted at in songs like “Gunerius” and “Salmalaks”, their producer and guitarist Thomas Kongshavn, along with producer/musician Aksel (Axxe) Carlson have helped spearhead a vision that rails against much of contemporary hip hop, a genre-fluid mix of rap, acid rap and pop.
For Karpe, maximalism and eclecticism are at the forefront. To take a wild guess, the cost to produce the show would be nudging twenty million. But with more than two decades as one of Norway’s most beloved acts, the message is clear, deliberate and was even delivered over the loud speaker by an AI-affected female voice: This is the most beautiful show in the world.