Long Beach is well known for it’s diversity in just about everything, including music, but it’s not every day that our “diamonds in the rough” are recognized with one of the highest musical accomplishments possible. While many big name acts have come from the city, very few have actually won Grammy’s for their musical work. We had a chance to talk with recent Grammy Award winner Omar Akram who one for his recent New Age album entitled “Echoes of Love”. Not only does Omar call Long Beach his home but he is also the first Afghan-American to win a Grammy which has been big news in Afghanistan as well as across the globe.
Shea [LBI]: When you first heard the news that you were nominated what were you feeling and thinking at that moment, was it something you were expecting?
Omar: No, actually, I was not expecting it at all, the Grammy’s are a pretty complex process. Basically you have CD’s from every genre from all around the world to be submitted to the Recording Academy of America and then there is a panel that actually selects who can qualify to even be nominated. There are about 90 CD’s that qualified in my genre of New Age. So the panel basically decides who is qualified and then the voting members of the recording academy, I happen to be one myself, voted for who is going to be nominated and my album Echoes of Love was nominated. That was a pretty big surprise even for me, I knew I was in the running obviously, I knew that, but there were so many great names in it that I was really surprised to find out that I was nominated.
Shea [LBI]: As you say there is pretty stiff competition in your genre, when you found out you won were you at the ceremony or did you have some idea before hand that you were the winner?
Omar: No no, we have no idea. When you are nominated there are a few weeks in between the nominations and the awards and you have no idea because there is a second round of voting that goes into this. So your nominated first, then they put out the music and then the members of the Recording Academy listen to the music and then they vote again. So there were 6 nominations, of which I was one, and then they voted and we have no idea, but at the Staples center when they called my name I was very surprised. Its a great feeling to win a Grammy Award obviously.
Shea [LBI]: So this is your fourth album?
Omar: Yes, this is my fourth album and its called Echoes of Love. You know, I have been doing it for a while so this has not been an overnight thing.
Shea [LBI]: Tell me more about your style of music. Its very layered and has a great mood to it. Each piece seems to exude a different vibe. You can really envision and imagine where you are at when you listen to it.
Omar: It’s obviously piano driven, that’s my main instrument, that’s what I do, I play piano and compose the music. We have some great musicians involved in the project, so altogether it was an overall great project. I think a lot of it is also the fact that I have traveled and lived in different countries and a lot of those cultures came through my music. I think maybe, I mean I’m not sure, but I think that’s partly what the Recording Academy recognized and saw and I think that’s also part of what made this album successful. So yeah, it’s been great.
Shea [LBI]: So, versus your previous albums, this one you have kinda drawn a little more off your world experience or you have just had a little more experience since those other albums were produced?
Omar: I think so. I think all of my albums have those world influences infused in my music, but I think this time the Recording Academy recognized that, from the little bit of feedback I’ve gotten, that’s what they picked up on a little more this time, and I’m not sure why. In the genre you can kinda blend in, but I think that is what kinda sets my music apart, my background and cultural background, being an Afghan-American. Both of my parents were Afghani’s, but I was born in New York and you know I traveled a lot. I think the culmination of all of that is what makes my music unique.
Shea [LBI]: Right, each experience and each place you visit is kinda like a stepping stone eventually building the masterpiece.
Shea [LBI]: So you said you were born in New York, and obviously you have traveled and lived all over the world, how did you end up in Long Beach.
Omar: Well my father worked for United Nations in New York and from there we traveled because my father was an ambassador for different countries. So we lived in Czech Republic, we lived in Cuba, and we traveled to other countries. I think not just traveling there but living in those countries for an extensive period of time that’s where you sort of kinda get into the culture and learn the language and it really influenced my music a great deal.
Shea [LBI]: So this was as you were growing up, your entire life pretty much right?
Omar: Pretty much yeah, eventually we came back to the states and I have been living in California since 1993. We were living back east before that but I have been living in Long Beach for the past 3 years.
Shea [LBI]: How do you like Long Beach in general, living here as an artist?
Omar: I think Long Beach is a great city. First of all, where we are, living across the street from the beach, it’s nice, I take my daughter out for walks everyday and I think the population is a nicely mixed population too as far as culture and there are a lot of artist living in Long Beach as well.
“So I really appreciate the city and the fact that there is so much being done to advance culture in the city of Long Beach.”
Shea [LBI]: As far as musically, is there anyone in Long beach that you collaborate with or do you ever find time to check out the local music scene?
Omar: I do a little bit, like I said I have a 9-month old daughter so it’s kinda hard to get out. I do preform at the House of Blues, but that is off Sunset, so it’s not that far from here. I became a resident artist at the HOB in LA and my next performance is April 6th. Eventually, once I get into the preforming arts circuit, I would love to preform right across the street from here at the Long Beach Preforming Arts Center. I haven’t done too many local shows here in Long Beach, but I would love to. I think that’s part of what I would like to do in the future.
Shea [LBI]: Yeah the music scene here is certainly a unique one with all different genres of musicians. Finding another gem like your music and you living here in Long Beach and being a recent Grammy winner is just another testament to that. You find that diversity like you are talking about here, you’re a New Age artist and there are so many variations of styles of music in Long Beach but somehow it mingles together and works and it’s a lot like your music I feel, it pulls from a lot of different cultures. It’s great the fact that you’re living here and producing your music in Long Beach.
Shea [LBI]: Where did you produce this recent album at? “Echoes of Love.”
Omar: It was produced by a friend of mine who is a smooth jazz artist named Gregg Karukas. He’s been in LA for the last 25-30 years, he is mainly a smooth jazz guy. He plays with a lot of the top guys like Peter White, Dave Koz, those guys, so we have been collaborating for the last 7-8 years on my last two albums. He definitely did a great job, producing the album and we co-wrote the songs together as well. He has been a great asset actually on this project.
Shea [LBI]: All the music you do is instrumental pieces, have you ever experimented with any vocals at all? Even like ethereal stuff that might be more instrumental type sounds versus being actual lyrics?
Omar: I would like to, yeah. That’s definitively in the works you know and I would like to do something like that in the future. I don’t go into the studio with preconceived ideas, if vocals were something that came up we would have done it. As a matter of fact, one of the pieces from Echoes of Love has vocal samples on it in the beginning, but if that surfaced while we were creating the album we would have brought in singers or background vocals, but I would love to do that in the future at some point.
Shea [LBI]: Is there anything that you are working on right now? Obviously you just accomplished a lot with this new album, do you already have some stuff in the works or are you taking some time off?
Omar: No, actually I am working on some new material right now which is a compilation or sort of a “best of” the last 4 albums I put out. I am also creating a few new tracks for that album so we are hoping that album will be released this year hopefully by August, so yeah, I am busy in the studio.
Shea [LBI]: It seems like since you won this Grammy, and obviously just being a Grammy winner is a lot of recognition, but it seems like you are getting a lot of international press and recognition not only in Afghanistan but also across the globe, you just did an interview with BBC correct?
Omar: Yes, that correct. It’s been interesting, because not only is winning a Grammy a huge honor, but being the first Afghan-American to win a Grammy that really made international headlines because you know they are not known to win Grammy’s and Oscars. It’s a poor country there has been a lot of war and not so many good things happening there so this being such a positive thing happening for that country that it’s really just been great. I think that is another reason it’s made headline news throughout the world, although a Grammy’s pretty big and you get a lot of recognition but to the extent that I have been getting recognition is way beyond what you would get normally, so it’s been amazing.
Shea [LBI]: For something like this type of music, which seems like a very peaceful and loving type of music, the title of the album “Echoes of Love” kinda states that from the beginning. Where did that title come from?
Omar: I think a lot of it stems from my personal life. I got married while I was working on the album and I had my first child during writing the album and Echoes of Love is a culmination of that, my personal experience, so that is how it came about.
Shea [LBI]: Wow, what a great story, thanks for taking the time to talk with us!
Omar: Yeah, this was great thank you!
Omar Akram will be playing at the House of Blues Los Angeles in the Foundation room starting at 7:00pm. You can find more information on the HOB website or BUY TICKETS HERE and make sure to check out Omar’s official website for more music and support your local artists!