National, Friday 23 feb.
Pacific's rising son
By HENRY OKOLE and SOLOMON KANTHA
Jason Hershey a.k.a. O-Shen is a name that is synonymous with the new
blend of tribal, hip-hop, and island reggae music. They call him Papua
Niugini's first son and Hawai?i's adopted son. He is also the first
artist in PNG to rap in tok pisin. O-Shen, 32, now lives in Hawai?i but
travels frequently to PNG.
He was raised from infancy until the age 15 in PNG by his American
parents, his father was a medical missionary in Finchafen in the
O-Shen was raised and educated in the village of Butaweng in Morobe
province and lived in Wau for over two years.
He grew up just like any other local boy and developed a strong sense
of cultural identity from a very young age.
We met O-Shen at his Pupukea home located on a scenic hillside
landscape overlooking the North Shore of Hawai'i, a two-hour bus ride
from the city of Honolulu.
The first few minutes of greeting will surprise any newcomer from PNG
that the white boy with dreadlocks resembles a quintessential Papua New
Guinean with his tok pisin slangs and fluency. He is quick with a joke
and can be heard mimicking the tok pisin accent of different parts of
O-Shen says that he is someone who has had the benefit of having lived
in two different worlds, a most traditional and the ultimate modern one,
where the former has had a significant influence on his life and music
He grew up in Butaweng, a place he regards as his primary home. He is
eloquent in the local Yabim language. Apart from this language, he has
recorded songs in pidgin, Nakanai, Aroma, Kiwa, Rigo, and has also
included Hawaiian, Fijian, Tahitian, Tongan and Samoan elements in his
music, an indication of his motif in embracing the different cultures of
the Pacific. But he has always kept his music rooted in the sights,
sounds and soul of his homeland, PNG.
In an exclusive interview with The Honolulu Advertiser in early 2006
O-Shen reportedly said America was really a foreign place to him when he
moved back with his parents to the US.
He felt so weird being surrounded by Caucasian people. "I was never in
a room full of white kids. Once I got to America, it was such a
different thing. It was about the clothes you wear and your style of
shoes. I am used to being real".
O-Shen saw the contrast between the two worlds and came to appreciate
the simplicity of rural life. Most of his experiences and views are
distinctly expressed in his songs. "Music is a form of expression of my
opinion", says O-Shen.
When asked how he coined his name, he says it rhymes with "ocean" and
is something that connects the people of the Pacific. Perhaps it is
fitting for a person who loves swimming, surfing and canoeing.
O-Shen speaks fondly of PNG's local artists. He can be heard singing or
humming to the tunes of Haus Boi, Quakes, K-Duman, and Leonard Kania. He
vividly recalls the day he saw Sanguma performed in Goroka in the 1980s
- a performance that left a lasting impression in his young life. He
says that George Telek was his idol and a primary source of inspiration.
O-Shen's passion in music took a decisive step when he became a drummer
for the Langema Band of Finch.
Years later, the boy from Butaweng got his first big break after he
sent a demo tape to renowned Hawai?ian local musician George Fiji.
Fiji was so impressed that he invited O-Shen to do a PNG pidgin rap on
his 2000 "Gratitude" disc.
O-Shen recorded his debut CD, "Iron Youth", soon after, and went on to
win the 2001 Na Hoku Hanohano award for reggae album of the year in
He has since recorded five albums both in PNG and Hawai?i and is now
working on the sixth which will feature the popular Jamaican group Third
World in one of his songs. One of his songs has been featured as a sound
track in the movie "50 First Dates" starring Adam Sandler and Drew
O-Shen has stormed the music industry in Hawai?i and is labeled as
one-of-a-kind artist and a master of dialect and diversity. By
integrating a powerful rhythmic mix of tribal, hip-hop and reggae and
songs in different languages of the pacific in his music, O-Shen has
drawn a large following from the region.
He is widely popular in all the regions of the Pacific. Perhaps the
song "Meri Lewa" in his award winning "Iron Youth" album was the song
that brought O-Shen to stardom in the Pacific.
Even though most of his songs are sung in pidgin and other PNG
languages, his fans in Micronesia and Polynesia could sing them
flawlessly without bothering to understand the words. A friend from
Palau told us that even though he doesn't know the pidgin words in
O-Shen's songs, he likes his music anyway.
O-Shen is a PNG-bred rising star of the Pacific and is gaining a huge
following and popularity in the region.
His down-to-earth and easy going demeanor has easily perplexed people,
especially those who expect him to behave like some big-time musician.
We were with O-Shen at a Pacific islands gathering one Sunday afternoon
when we overheard some Marshall islanders debating as to whether that
was really him sitting among the boys. Soon a long queue developed next
to him for photo shots after the islanders confirmed his identity.
O-Shen writes most of his songs. One needs to listen carefully to most
of his songs to hear the philosophical person singing. He is passionate
about the preservation of PNG traditions and culture just as he is about
the environment. He sings about political issues such as justice and
peace. With a foot grounded in two different worlds, he recognizes and
sings about the rapid social changes in the country.
"PNG is changing rapidly and a lot of people are being educated and are
leaving their villages for the cities and forgetting their language and
cultures", says O-Shen. He talks about how he was struck by the level of
materialism where a lot of people have given up their cultures and
traditions in favor of the urban life style.
"There are a lot of people that get brainwashed. So what I try to do
through my music is make people feel proud of their culture. Don't throw
away all the old ways and adopt new ways. A big concern I worry about
with PNG is people are not having pride in their culture and abandoning
it for Western ways," O-Shen laments.
"European colonization has changed a lot of our traditions, language
and even food. People are not making gardens like in the past and have
moved to towns and cities in search of better lifestyle and they forget
the value of land and our traditions", he adds.
In a way, O-Shen has captured an international stage where he is
enthusiastically promoting PNG.
When interviewed by The Honolulu Advertiser about what he thinks of PNG
he said: "I hope the uniqueness of what I do and the uniqueness of the
region the music comes from can be expressed. It's not known to the
world and is a very exotic place. It's one of the last places with
untouched jungles and tribes in the world. It has a real future in
eco-tourism, surfing and that kind of thing...One thing I'd like to do
is promote PNG and make it known that it's the biggest tropical island
in the world. How do you not know about it? Why do you still think it's
in Africa? It's the biggest island in the world if you don't count
Australia-so to promote the country and capture an international
audience, that's the big goal".