>>> Riding the Resurrection Roller Coaster
January 4, 2005
Happy New Year, friends. It's been a few weeks since I updated this journal, but when I'm in the middle of a recording project of this scope while balancing nightly gigs and full band rehearsals at the same time, it's pretty hard to pop onto my site and let all of you know what's been happening. Nevertheless, I assure you that there are wonderful surprises in store, and while I won't let the cat out of the bag, I did want to tell you about my ride on the "Resurrection Roller Coaster". Wheeee!
"Resurrection" is actually one of the very first songs I wrote (back in 2001), and I was lucky enough to have the help of an awesome world fusion band called Pieces of East (then known as Shadow Box) in order play it with them at a couple of their live shows in the spring of 2002. That song is probably one of my favorites if I have to pick favorites - but it went through a few interesting incarnations (acoustic-rock, trip-hop, techno) in the past few years as I searched for the right producer and musicians to bring it and the rest of my music to life. To be honest, none of them really sat well with me until just a couple of days ago.
I enlisted the able hands of drummer/percussionist Jason Traweek (formerly of Matson Belle) along with the versatility of my producer and multi-instrumentalist Adam Whaley (who plays keyboards, guitars, bass, and synth programs on my CD) to give "Resurrection" a new lease on life for the release of "Forever Red". I was completely blown away by what I heard, and you will be too once you hear it. It's almost as if this baby came full circle, but with a new Latin-rock bounce and some funk thrown in for good measure. I realized after hearing it and playing it in the studio that this CD is representative of the never-ending cycle of life and death.
The album opens with "Dawn", a very trancey-dancey piece which symbolizes birth, and then passes through songs that reflect upon love found (and lost), pain and healing, and spiritual discovery, before gliding into "Fallen", a morose classical passage which takes us into "Resurrection". It's a supersonic roller coaster ride with its twists, turns, dips, jumps, and dives, and ultimately, it's all about the rebirth of the human spirit, no matter the hard times that we've all endured. I'm sad when this song ends, because I know that the journey is over for this CD - but in the same way that the phoenix rises from its ashes and in the same way that a New Year is upon us, there's a new day, and with that new day, the ability to take the ride on the "Resurrection Roller Coaster" one more time. I hope you'll join me!
>>> Sneak Preview...
January 10, 2005
These are exciting times, people! Adam Whaley, my producer and a talented multi-instrumentalist in his own right, unveiled a couple of concepts for the cover art for "Forever
Red" and I was quite pleased to say in the least, choosing his
second design (which you see to the left). Of course, there will be some
minor alterations, possibly even in the headshot itself. Since my red Zeta
electric violin was upset with me that she didn't get to be in the picture
(my acoustic just happened to be out of the case for that particular shoot),
I promised her that I would do a new headshot with her so she'd quit whining.
No, really. I digress... as usual.
In other news, rehearsals with my new live band are flowing smoothly and with little cause for worry or additional scheduling to practice a particular song. This is a really great group! On a rockin' cello is Jennifer Mulhern. On keyboards and synth orchestration is Brad Reed, who is also an accomplished classically-trained violinist in his own right. Electric bassist Ryan Redfern moves from morose, mellow drones to a hard-hitting funk drive. Drummer and percussionist Jason Traweek, who recently put together his own live project after releasing his debut solo CD this past fall, carries the grooves of the ensemble's rock, techno, and eclectic world beats. Last, but definitely not least, is the divine Karma Stewart, who uses her voice as a unique instrument as easily as she performs lyrical ballads.
There will also be future appearances by other wonderful musicians in the near future, including woodwinds improvisario Ari Dvorin, Houston-based violinist Christine Wu, violinist Naseem Khozien of BARRAGE, flamenco guitarist Jayme
Munoz, and cellist Michal Raizen, one of the founding ladies
of Divahn. All
in all, I couldn't be happier. I feel very blessed and priveleged to work with
these people and hope you get to share the live experience with us soon.
>>> Coming Full Circle
February 15, 2005
I can't believe it. It's finished and in my hands - and it sounds beautiful. If you don't know what I'm referring to, I'm talking about my first-ever solo album, "Forever Red". It's a very surreal feeling to have this CD completed and ready for sale - and for the world. Four years ago, I never would have thought that a collaboration with a producer of electronic and techno music would have spurred me to begin creating my own original music, much less put it on CD.
However, working with Dan Johnson (a.k.a. Violent Sunryze) on the URBAN TASK FORCE soundtrack on songs such as "Dawn" and "Fallen" awakened my creative spark. Prior to that, I was having the time of my life on tour with the Dreamsound Orchestra and was truly content with playing music created by another artist. Indeed, it's something I did for a while even after returning to Austin in performing with The Brew, Pieces of East, Matson Belle, and other groups. However, once you've opened the floodgates of your own creativity, whether it's music or visual arts or poetry, it's a little hard to be happy with doing someone else's thing - although doing so has given me a lot of experience and exposure in my own hometown!
A lot of the people in my inner circle, including Joe, my parents, and fellow musicians, thought I was nuts in talking about a CD that I was working on and music I was composing, way back in 2002. There was a lot of talk, but not a lot of action... at least, not on the outside. However, my gears were turning, and all the while, I was churning out song after song, but without musicians or a committed producer to bring help me realize those songs in a live or recorded format, it was going to stay "all talk". It stayed this way until I met the musicians from Pieces of East, with whom I brought "Resurrection" to life at a show in Summer '02. Big thanks to Anuj, Laura, Abhi, Will, and Pat for this exhilarating experience!
When I joined Matson Belle in Summer '03, Kayt Jourdanson was open to the idea of bringing one of my instrumental songs into their live set, so I brought Dan Johnson's "Dawn" out of the vault (with his permission) and created a new melody for the song, which you now hear on the CD. Chris Sater, Jason Traweek, and Jennifer Mulhern then helped me to give it a new lease on life. I appreciate Kayt's openness to this idea, since "Dawn" became a favorite at shows with Matson Belle, and also thank her for introducing me to Adam Whaley at The Means of Production Studio.
I was then given a great deal of assistance by keyboardist and sequencer-guru Jesse Jack, who was also very supportive in the early stages of my solo project, in putting eight of the songs (each with a birth year ranging from 2000 to 2004) into a "pre-production" format. Adam, who became my producer in Summer '04, was then able to break these songs down into data in his studio in order to render them into the elaborate, lush, electro-orchestral versions of the pieces that I had been dreaming of. Adam also lent a big hand in creating three brand new songs for the CD and helping me to write lyrics (something I'd never done before) for a few of them.
I've also had the recent opportunity of joining inspirational singer-songwriter Mary Shanahan and Child of the Chain, which is her spiritually uplifting live concert group that ministers to young artists and audiences, reminding them that music is a gift that should be given to others as we have received the gift of being a musician. I performed with Child of the Chain this past weekend at Austin's gorgeous One World Theatre, and it was a truly beautiful performance. We were joined by special guest singer-songwriter Beth Neilsen-Chapman (who has written music for Faith Hill, Trisha Yearwood, and Stevie Wonder), and the entire show, which served as Mary's inaugural performance of her new concert series, was the cherry on top of a process which has brought me to the completion of my own solo record.
So here we are - seven months later - and "Forever Red" is a reality. Everyone, from the fans to the musicians to my family and friends, has been so supportive and enthusiastic, and I truly believe that this project lives up to the dream - perhaps even beyond it! Thank you, God. Now, to the stage - the CD release show is in three days!
>>> CD Release Show
February 19, 2005
Hey everyone! Big hugs and thanks to all who showed up last night to support us at the release party for "Forever Red". The turnout was totally excellent, and we sold a LOT of CDs! I was joined onstage by Jennifer Mulhern (cello), Brad Reed (keyboards), Ryan Redfern (bass), Jason Traweek (drums and percussion), and the diva-riffic Karma Stewart on vocals, as well as special guests Christine Wu (violin) and Jayme Munoz (flamenco guitar). These musicians were totally electrified and we all had a fantastic time. After a set which lasted an hour and a half, the curtain closed on what turned out to be quite an exhilarating night for myself and the band.
The staff at Sidekicks XTreme Nightclub, especially Steve, J.J., Joyce, and Nick, took good care of us during set up and soundcheck and helped to make sure that everything went smoothly. Even my family came to be a part of this experience! I really feel that this was a tremendous success, but I couldn't have done it without the help of some other great people - James Scott (who provided pens for the CD signing and stands for the CDs), Trey and Merari (who manned the merchandise table and guest list), my publicist Christine Thompson (who videotaped the event), Adam and Mandy Whaley, Laura for running sound, and my business manager (who operated the admission booth - love you, Dad!). For anyone who is curious, I've posted last night's songlist below.
He Lives in You
De la Luna
Reasons for Living
Neverending Story (encore)
Forever Red (encore)
>>> Post-Release and Birthday News
April 1, 2005
I'm back, and now I'm 26! I feel a lot younger, and hopefully still look it too. I actually celebrated a week late, but my friends and band members made it a lot of fun. My grandmother passed away last week right before my birthday, but it was a very special gift to be able to perform the music at her rosary and funeral/burial ceremonies. She will be missed by many many people, as she was a very respected figure in South Texas. The last couple of months of her life were very hard for all of us, so I'm glad that she's in a better place now. Rest in peace, abuela.
I'm sorry it's been a while since my last update, with everything that's been going on lately, I've been busy busy busy. After a month of three successful CD release events, starting with the party at Sidekicks on February 18 and culminating with the live concert at Hope Presbyterian Church on March 11 (which was a tremendous success!), I'm finally able to sit back and relax a bit, and reflect on the shows thanks to some very helpful video material recorded by Christine Thompson. When you're playing live, it's kind of hard to notice how far a group has come along, but it's quite evident from the recordings, and I plan on sharing them with you soon. Below is a songlist from the concert at Hope.
He Lives in You
De la Luna
Reasons for Living
Teatro de Suenos
He Lives in You (encore)
Forever Red (encore)
In band news, I'm happy to inform you that my original keyboardist and musical collaborator from my Summer 2004 pre-release shows, Jesse Jack, is returning. I can't wait to have him in this band and playing onstage again. The rest of the band - Jen (cello), Karma (vocals), Ryan (bass), and Jason (drums and percussion) - has gotten tighter and tighter, and they are all doing a great job. Jason, who released his Ear to Anon CD last fall, will be helping me in bringing some of his own eclectic world-pop compositions to life for the Forever Red live show, and that will be a blast - you'll really like what you hear.
That brings me to more big news for you. The initial release of "Forever Red" is doing quite well and is picking up some speed. I've actually decided to return to Adam Whaley's studio and start work on a remix album, mainly to add three new songs to the current line-up, including a new, upbeat, flamenco-tinged vocal rocker called "Full Circle" (which will also feature Karma on vocals!) and a beautiful, pensive piece called "The Days" (thanks Joe!). It will be great to go back to The Means of Production to work with Adam again and see Mandy and their newborn baby boy, Clive (as well as Clara and Dorito, the dog and cat!). Look for "Forever Red - REMIXED" in the fall!
Finally, I've lined up recording sessions with some very exceptional solo artists for the month of April, including country artists Michael Clay and Cash Cooper as well as April Dawn, a groovy singer-songwriter who's making her mark on the Austin music scene. All in all, I'm looking forward to all of the opportunities that Spring will bring. Hey, that rhymes!
Much love, O
>>> Dolce Vita
June 1, 2005
Ahhhh, the lovely heat of an Austin summer is upon us yet more, bringing on high electric bills (thank God for the A/C!) and frequent trips to a new favorite spot of mine, Dolce Vita. I recently moved to a different area of Austin in mid-April after being downtown for over two years, and quickly familiarized myself with the local eateries, since eating is one of my favorite things to do aside from playing the violin, sleeping, and watching anime. I love my new apartment and my new landlady is super cool, although I really miss my last one, since she's practically family to me. Reminder to self, don't forget to tell you all about Japan.
So yeah, Dolce Vita is a yummy little deli/bakery/creamery just down the street from me and I've fallen madly in love with their Italian ice cream - I think it's Italian, correct me if I'm wrong - better known as "gelato". My favorite flavor is currently the rice pudding, but knowing my fickle tastes, I'm sure I'll explore some new flavors. Obsessive compulsive just doesn't suit me anymore, you know? They've got plenty of other great things there, but they are especially known for their sorbet and gelatos. Good times! Good eats! Try them out if you're in Austin - the address is 4222 Duval Street. HERE IS A MAP, just because I'm so nice and resourceful! Hahaha! ;)
Oh, that's right, this is a website about music! So, back to business. I've been too busy since my CD release series last spring to get on and update this journal, which I apologize for, but there are good things happening. The CD, "Forever Red", is selling quite well thanks to the efforts of my father/manager, my publicist, and a group of great local businesses including Waterloo Records downtown on 6th and Lamar, Blackerby Violin Shop on the UT campus, Austin Strings in North Austin, and Hastings Books and Music in Round Rock. We've also developed relationships with retailers in Houston and Corpus Christi - that's a distribution deal, Lopez-style! If you haven't purchased the CD yet, you can get it in the Online Store, and my Daddy-O is even throwing in a T-shirt with the online orders, so hurry and pick one up!
Let's see, what else... oh yeah, upcoming shows! With a more consolidated version of my live band (the one that performed at my concerts in February and March was a nine piece group, this one is a six piece) and a more edgy, funky, rockin' sound, we're playing at a new upscale lounge called RAIN on 4th (217-B W. 4th St.) on Sunday, June 5, at 6 PM. There aren't many bars like this one who support live music like they do, and it's much appreciated. The weekend after, the band and I will perform a short set at the annual Austin Pride Festival on Saturday, June 11, at 5:30 PM. These are both early shows, so I hope you can come out and support us! No excuses, peeps!
Okay, one last little tidbit of news before I hit the hay... it's going to be a long week and I need all the rest I can get. I am currently in the early planning stages for a tour that will bring the music of "Forever Red" to the land of the rising sun! That's right, Japan! A preliminary mini-tour in the late fall will take me to Tokyo to do the meetings and performances solo-style, with a larger, longer tour with the band following in early 2006! Other things in the works are a film festival down in Corpus Christi and some showcases out on the West Coast. I'm also working on new music for an EP that will be released sometime next year, including "Full Circle", "The Days", and a new classical-rock crossover piece called "Fireflight". Stay tuned. Things will only get better from here!!! For now, I bid you all goodnight. Kooby says goodnight, too!
>>> Rainy Sunday
June 6, 2005
Okay, so Sunday, June 5, wasn't rainy at all. I'm actually referring to the show that the band and I did at RAIN on 4th nightclub in downtown Austin. I am in total agreement with a lot of the feedback I received after our final note last night - it was our best show so far, hands down, and probably with the smallest configuration of my band too! Although small, this group of instrumental musicians - Jen on cello, Ryan on bass, Jason on drums, and Jesse on keys - is the tightest yet! In addition, I have to add that Karma brought the house down with our new version of "I Will Survive". They all delivered great performances and practically set the place on fire!
By the way, that last remark is not a jab at one of my favorite Austin hot spots, The Oasis on Lake Travis, which was struck by lightning last Wednesday morning and burned down. Luckily, the live music venue portion of the Oasis, the Starlight Terrace, was not affected by the blaze and so the show will go on! I actually haven't been playing there with The Brew lately since outdoor shows and this Austin humidity are absolute murder on my violins and bows, but it's a great place to go to enjoy a good drink and a spectacular view. My best wishes to Beau Theriot and his crew at the Oasis for a speedy recovery and a bigger, better version of his Central Texas treasure in the months to come!
Back to the show at RAIN. One of the attendees was novelist Michele Hale, a wonderful fan and a great friend who I met almost two years ago when I had first joined Matson Belle. She said on her Web Journal that "I think this is the best I've heard Omar sound with his band." She gives us so much credit, although she's due some of her own. I recently started reading her newest book, "UNDONE", and it's truly a great read. Having read, or rather, experienced her two previous releases, "SKIN" and "ELEVEN", I can truly say that her realistic and many times suspenseful writing tied together with her brilliant characterization just takes the reader by hold and doesn't let go until the climax, and sometimes even past that! I hope you all can click on the links I've posted and check Michele and her writing out. You won't be sorry!
Well, that's it for now. Lots more shows coming up and the "Forever Red" band and CD are picking up steam! Until the next time...
P.S. Here's a setlist from the show last night at RAIN.
Killing Me Softly
I Will Always Love You
I Will Survive
Love Someone (encore)
>>> Daze of Summer
August 4, 2005
Well, another summer has blown by and is almost gone - and as much as I hate to say it, I'm almost glad to see it go. While performances with my band and The Brew have been enjoyable and "Forever Red" CD sales have been picking up, this weather has been dreadful with the exception of some much needed rain over the past couple of weeks thanks to the hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico. Of course, our gain is someone else's pain since hurricanes are what devastated Florida about this time last year. However, let's not dwell on that!
As I get ready for this coming fall's push to set up as many gigs and record promotion events as possible with the band, I reflect on the things I did to stay cool during the hottest days (or "daze") of the Austin summer. As I mentioned in a previous journal, I recently moved into the Hyde Park area, a quaint, historic part of the city, and I've discovered some local eateries that should be considered national (or at least state) treasures.
One of these discoveries is perfect for a blisteringly humid and hot summer afternoon. Casey's New Orleans Snowballs - the thought just makes me want one even at 9:30 AM! As you travel from Central to South Texas, the passing of everyday snowcone stands (or as we call them in my culture, "raspas") becomes more and more frequent. Well, Casey's is not your everyday snowcone. With over 26 sweet, fruity, and even chocolatey flavors, as well as an array of "cream" flavors (like my favorites, Strawberry Cheesecake and Orange Dreamsicle), this business owned by Casey and her husband Kit is hard to beat when it comes to price and taste. It's a true guilty pleasure, considering they know me by name already - yeah, I go there at least three times a week. Hey, at least it's fat free, right? Keep on telling yourself that, Omar. You can find Casey's on the corner of 51st St. and Airport Blvd. in Austin.
Moving on, I finally had the chance to try out another Austin delight in the form of Hoover's Cooking, owned by head chef Hoover Alexander. According to their website, "the mix of the food on our tables is a mirror image of the geograhical, racial, and ethnic boiling pot that makes Texas the great place it is." That's no lie! This is soul food at its best! I sprang for the Southern Fried Pork Chops (what was I saying about fat free earlier?) while my friend Joe opted for the Cajun Ham Po-Boy. I don't want to ramble like I usually do, but I'll just say I was NOT disappointed. As a matter of fact, I've been back three times since I first went there over a month ago! Hey, we're all going to die someday, so we might as well do it eating food we love, right?
Other summer activities of note - or NOT - included lots of movie watching. Why is it that summer blockbusters are the ones I dislike the most? Sorry, Spielberg, I'm no Roger Ebert, but War of the Worlds was just... no. Dakota Fanning and the special effects were the only redeeming things about that third (or fourth) remake of H.G. Wells' sci-fi classic. And The Fantastic Four was anything but. However, I enjoyed Charlie and the Chocolate Factory quite a bit, even though Johnny Depp's Wonka was a bit creepy. Those kids, including Freddie Highmore as the humble, softspoken, and incredibly lucky Charlie and AnnaSophia Robb as the gum-chewing, super-motivated menace Violet Beauregarde, are terrific young actors and I can't wait to see what else they do in their careers. To end on another positive note, Must Love Dogs was endearing, hilarious, and chock full of wonderful actors who are sadly overlooked a lot of the time. Oh well. My stepmom and I had a great time, regardless. Maybe it's because we love dogs, too!
Last but definitely not least, I'd like to welcome my brand new baby into my family of violins - meet "Phoenix", a Jazz Fusion 5-string electric violin made by ZETA Music Systems. What color? What do you think? A fiery translucent red! I ordered her back in April and the wait has been agonizing but well worth it! She sounds as beautiful as she looks and her sleek, sexy body design is one made famous by performers such as jazz great Jean-Luc Ponty and classical crossover sensation Vanessa-Mae. Thanks to Gregg Kozak at ZETA for this lovely violin!
Be sure to catch the band and I at on Friday, August 26, at Copa Bar and Grill, located on the southeast corner of 3rd and Congress in downtown Austin. We start at 10 PM and will be playing music from the "Forever Red" CD as well as popular R&B and jazz classics and some new original tunes that I'm working on for my next album!
Until next time... O
August 30, 2005
Last week, the band and I had our busiest week yet since the release of "Forever Red" - two rehearsals at the beginning of the week, followed by our return performances at RAIN on 4th (an upscale urban lounge) and Copa Bar and Grill (reminiscent of an old Havana nightspot). Both shows were so much fun and the staff and audiences were awesome as well. These shows and my ever-so-dedicated-and-talented bandmates also breathed life into my new single, "Fireflight", a 12/8 symphonic-rock piece which will be released sometime next year before the release of my second full-length solo album.
It's always a shock and a wonder that tragedy and loss can occur during such exciting times. Karma Stewart, the soulful and vibrant female lead singer from my band, lost her grandmother the day before our show at RAIN. It was obviously quite unexpected. However, Karma stayed strong for us, for the crowd, and most importantly for herself, and delivered some of her best performances to date. Her showstopping renditions of "He Lives in You" and "I Will Survive", along with her tearjerking performance of "Reasons for Living", were prime examples of courage under fire.
This weekend brought more sadness and devastation as Hurricane Katrina decimated much of the Gulf Coast, leaving thousands dead and thousands more homeless in New Orleans as well as in Mississippi and Alabama. The thought of having to evacuate the entire city in preparation for such an event is unfathomable, yet as I watched the news while the weekend came to an end, the gravity of the situation hit me pretty hard. Again, however, these people are staying strong despite the circumstances - more courage under fire.
When I composed "Fireflight", it was a classical melody with a thunderous rock feel to support it, but it really had no personal meaning for me, until I witnessed, once again, the resilience and strength of the human spirit. Karma's gut-wrenching performances despite the death of her beloved grandmother, as well as the thousands of people having to flee New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina's wrath - not knowing if they would have a place to return to - gave "Fireflight" the wings it needed. We must always remember that no matter what hardships, pain, and loss the world brings us that a new day is just around the corner to give light to the darker times and charged with loving people to embrace those who are hurting, and this new song is dedicated to that healing process and the strength which returns afterward.
For any of you who have copies of the CD or have seen Karma perform live, I urge you to send her and her family a kind note expressing your condolences, as she has added so much to my life and my music with her voice and her friendship - just use the Contact Page and I'll make sure she gets the messages. On a larger, graver scale, I hope that you can contribute to the disaster relief fund in aid of those affected by Hurricane Katrina by visiting The American Red Cross Website - any little bit of a donation helps. Thank you.
P.S. Here's a setlist from the show at Copa Bar and Grill.
He Lives in You
Walk on the Wild Side
Reasons for Living
Killing Me Softly
I Will Survive
Love Someone (encore)
>>> Mirrors and Memories
September 12, 2005
It's very strange when you pause and take a look at life as it is in the present day, and realize that no matter how much the world around you has changed from the past, and you with it, many things also remain the same. Sometimes this realization is strange and almost scary. More often than that, though, it's comforting and even moreso, quite reassuring. Even though change is the only constant in the universe, it's nice to know that the powers that be choose to leave certain pieces of this puzzle in place.
Yesterday, I looked in the bathroom mirror at my new apartment while getting ready to go eat with Joe, and tears filled my eyes in rememberance of the those who lost their lives to the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. It was a day that no one could ever forget. In that reflection was the face of that same confused young man whose world had changed before his eyes in matter of minutes. Thousands lost their lives to these acts of terrorism, stripping people all over the nation of their husbands, children, lovers, friends, and family. It also happened to be the event that called me back home for good from my tour with the Dreamsound Orchestra, leading me to join The Brew a few weeks later and enabling me to reconnect with my family. In the days and months that followed 9/11, the world watched America pick up the pieces of the sadness and devastation as perfect strangers lent a hand to one another in an effort to rebuild and remember.
Fast forward, four years later. Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Southern Gulf Coast, rendering New Orleans a flooded ghost town and decimating parts of Mississippi and Alabama. Thousands were left homeless and jobless and forced to relocate to other cities across the Southwest, including Austin. The Live Music Capital of the World has opened its arms to refugees from the destruction and all over my hometown, people have been so generous as to donate clothing, food, beds, workspace, and even bedrooms in their houses to those who have been uprooted from their now devastated homes. Another disaster befalls our nation, and within days of such a horrible event, people who don't know each other from Adam are rallying together once again to help those in need. Wow.
Saturday night, my band and I presented our to an amazing crowd of people at the Seattle's Best Coffee underneath Frost Bank Tower in downtown Austin. Our cellist, Jennifer Mulhern, was unable to perform with us that night due to her birthday festivities out of town, and vocalist Karma Stewart was with her family, helping them recover from the passing of her grandmother. Frankly, I was a bit nervous as to how this show at Seattle's Best would go over, since both girls are both amazing and strong performers and add a lot to the live show. However, my remaining bandmates - Ryan on bass, Jesse on keys, and Jason on drums - stayed strong and delivered some of their best performances yet. We were also joined by the extraordinary Aaron Dembe on electric guitar. I paused to introduce my new single, "Fireflight", and found myself choking back tears as I dedicated it to the survivors of Hurricane Katrina and to those all over the nation but especially in Austin who have opened their arms to those who fled the wrath of Katrina.
I was told by many in attendance it was our best show so far, and while I wish Karma and Jen could have been there, I'm so glad it went well. I have titled this journal entry "Mirrors and Memories" in the comforted realization that no matter how much the world around us changes, some of the best things stay the same, such as the everlasting strength of the human spirit and the world which supports it. No matter how evil and cruel that certain life situations may seem, they serve a purpose to unite the strong and strengthen the weak. Here's to everyone that has answered the call for help in the wake of Hurricane Katrina's devastation, and to those who did the same four years ago following the events of September 11, 2001.
>>> Fall Again!?
October 19, 2005
Okay, I admit I've been a bad blogger. Meaning that it's been too long since my last journal posting. Blog is such a weird word. Every time I hear or read that word I think about a monster that's coming out of the swamp. Never mind. I think I've had too much sugar for today. I'm really sorry that it's taken me so long to update my "blog". I've been up to my neck in gigs, rehearsals, recording sessions, taxes (yeah, taxes) and traveling. Not that I'm complaining... I really have been having a blast. It's just really hard to believe that the fall is here again. What a welcome change to have some cool weather again! It seems like just yesterday that I had entered the MOP Studio with my oh-so-talented (and patient) producer Adam Whaley for that big push to get "Forever Red" out of my head, off of the paper, and into the recording process. What an awesome and rewarding experience that was, even looking back a year later!
The record is still selling quite well - even better than usual, actually. Perhaps that's due to the number of performances the band and I have been doing, although the majority of the shows have been private functions, so I can't always invite all of you out to see them. The most exciting part about the fall concert series for me and the band is that these are the first "official" shows for our new lead guitarist, Aaron Dembe. This guy is nothing short of amazing on the electric guitar - he spans across jazz, funk, blues, rock, dance, world music - you name it - and it's really fun to trade riffs with him on "Forever Red" - you know, the duel at the end of the song?
Aaron and the rest of the band - Ryan, Jen, Jason, Karma, and Jesse - started off with a concert at the Austin Gay and Lesbian International Film Festival, where I got to meet tons of new faces and party with a lot of good friends and the band. (Big big thank you to Lonny Stern and his staff for facilitating such a fun event!) The following weekend, we performed a mini-concert showcase during the Interfaith Arts Festival on Saturday, October 8. It was an amazing celebration of the spirit, and we got to share the day stage with several other awesome acts including inspirational-pop-classical songster Andrew Cannata, whose voice and poignance of his performances are nothing short of beautiful. You've got to see it to believe it. Watch out, Josh Groban!
That same night, I was once again honored to be the featured solo violinist with Mary Shanahan and her Child of the Chain concert ensemble as a part of the Interfaith Arts Music of the Spirit Concert inside the incredible sanctuary of Central Presbyterian Church in downtown Austin. I love performing with this group. It's so raw and organic, yet so lush and spiritually fulfilling. I was even invited to sit in with two more of the concert's performing acts that night - the 1001 Nights Orchestra (Arabic and Persian world music at its finest!) and cantor Robbi Sherwin. I had so much fun, I really didn't want any of it to end. Thanks, Mary!
I really must say that the highlight so far of this fall, by far, is having the opportunity to perform solo at the Coca-Cola Variety Celebrity Talent Review at the Hyatt Regency Imperial Ballroom in Houston, Texas. Again, another night of awesome performers, assembled for a wonderful cause - the concert benefitted Variety, the Children's Charity of Houston. In the wake of the devastation caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, it was great to know that proceeds from this performance went to helping children in need. It was totally awesome to share the stage with guitar and singer-songwriter legend Jose Feliciano, who was the featured artist of the evening. I have my new friend Judy Foston to thank for this wonderful opportunity, and something tells me that great things will come of it.
I guess that's it for now, friends. Oh, by the way, I'm working hard on new music for my second CD, tentatively titled "Mirrors and Memories", or in Spanish, "Reflejos y Recuerdos". Why a name in both languages? Well, I wanted to explore my roots with creating original Latin-jazz and salsa-flavored songs since that is part of my Hispanic heritage, while also staying in the same vein of my typical symphonic-rock and R&B-style writing. It should be out in late 2006. Keep your eyes peeled and ears open! Thanks for reading!
>>> Tech Talk #1: T-Mobile Sidekick II
November 1, 2005
Surprise! I'm a techie. Yeah, I love gadgets. I always have had some weird fascination with them, whether we're talking about cell phones, PDAs, laptops, MP3 players (like my Dell DJ!), etc. They make our lives easy by adding convenience and interesting because they make good conversation pieces, although some people consider them to be a pain in the you-know-what or a "ball and chain", especially if you're like my friends at a local law firm that tote around a Blackberry. You know who you are! Anyway, this journal is going to be my first in a series of blogs that I'm going to call "Tech Talk". If you find gadgets boring and/or annoying, then this blog's not for you, but if you are into the latest and greatest... well, read on!
Anyone who knows me knows that at any given time, I'm either carrying around a red violin or a red cell phone. Yeah, it's annoying when the little bugger rings or vibrates and I'm in the middle of a nap, practice, or I'm eating at one of my favorite restaurants, but really, it's a life saver at times. However, there were just those times that I couldn't be at home to check an important email or look at my monthly calendar... and the Sanyo flip phone from Sprint, no matter how shiny, red, and compact, just wasn't doing it for me anymore.
Then a friend of mine introduced me to a ingenious (and fashionable) little device called a SIDEKICK, from T-Mobile. It's a phone... e-mailer... text messenger... web browser... calendar... all-in-one! Oh, it has a camera, too! To boot, it's got a QWERTY keyboard (which is great for people who hate having to punch numbers a few times to get the right letters when you're texting someone or storing a name in your phone book). I don't like having to rush home to check email, look up the weather forecast, pull up movie listings, or check my performance calendar during a busy day while I grab lunch with a friend, have a meeting with my father and/or a client, go to rehearsal, hit up the thrift stores, go to the park with Kooby, or before I go to a gig. With the prices of gas these days, trips home during a day like that can be very expensive!
The T-Mobile SIDEKICK II, although larger than most other compact, stylish phones today, just has that "WOW!" factor with all the features that are packed into it. It oozes convenience and fun, while maintaining a professional purpose. Plus, the way the wide screen rotates open, exposing the full keyboard, is really cool.
Of course, the gadget, one of which I now own, doesn't come in red... boo hoo... so my new friends at NYC Peach are "blinging it on" with siam (fiery dark red) and light topaz (gold) Swarovski crystals! These are the same folks who crystallized the Sidekicks owned by Paris Hilton, Jimmy Fallon, Andre 3000, Lindsay Lohan, Snoop Dogg, Nicole Richie... the list goes on and on. I'm sure you're saying: "Shock shock... Omar's glamming up his phone to match his violin and his wardrobe!" Hey, I gotta personalize it somehow, right?
If you want to play with a virtual model of the phone, just go to the Sidekick Style Website. Beware... you might end up wanting one of your own! Prepare to be assimilated! Haha!
>>> A Tribute to Kellie
December 1, 2005
I want to share with you that I just lost a very dear friend on November 30, 2005. Kellie Salyers touched my life with her smile, her friendship, her generosity, and her overwhelming support and love for my music. I was blessed to know her and am deeply grieved for this loss. My band - Jen, Karma, Jesse, Ryan, Jason, Randy, and Aaron - and my family and staff extend their condolences and prayers to the Salyers and Cooper families in this time of sadness. People like Kellie are true reasons for living, and her spirit will live on in our hearts forever. Kellie... let your spirit fly free. I love you and miss you.
>>> Sounds of the Season
December 15, 2005
I must say that each time the band and I perform together, it just gets better and better. I don't think I'm tooting my own horn here. I'm really really proud of how far these guys and gals have come along. It's hard to believe that it's been a year since we started rehearsals as a group for the CD release party last February. The songs are tighter and rock more and more with every performance, from the first chord off of the synthesizers (setting up a song's introduction) to the last hit at the end of the night.
Tonight's show was no exception. We performed our holiday show at RAIN on 4th Nightclub and man, did these musicians ever deliver! The group consisted of the usual suspects - Jen on cello, Ryan on bass, Jason on drums, and Karma on vocals, along with the added talents of our new keyboardist, Randy Caballero. I decided to change up some things in the show because it gets old playing the same setlist over and over, night after night, and I really think tonight's setlist works well to build up the energy and the mood. The audience really seemed into it, and as always, the staff and management at RAIN were incredible. I have to be honest - I don't like playing at clubs very much since we are more of a concert group or show band, but performing at RAIN is always a blast for all of us.
With the recent loss of my friend Kellie, I have to say that my mood is not as chipper and bouncy as it normally is, but my family, my fellow musicians, and my coworkers from my workplace have been awesome. It's during times like these, especially during the holidays, which can get so lonely and cold at times, that we have to stand by the people we love and care about. That's what life is about, right? When we performed "Reasons for Living" tonight, I dedicated it to Kellie's memory and also to my friends from the law firm who had come to the show tonight. It was so great to see them all there!
It's a little sad and ironic how tragic circumstances or tough times can bring about a flood of creativity - I've been writing new music like crazy, all of which will be for my next studio album, tentatively titled "Mirrors and Memories". The more I create, the more I realize how much of a departure it is from my normal style - the trancey, dancey, synth-driven instrumentals. This project will have more of an organic, raw flavor, with lots of vocals and live instrumentation. One of the new instrumental songs we've been playing live is "Livin' the Moment" and it gives each of the musicians a chance to strut their stuff. There's also "Fireflight", which quickly became a crowd favorite at our shows with rockin' solos from Jen on her electric cello and Jason on the drums.
I'm sure I'll post again before the year is over. I guess I just wanted to use this opportunity to thank everyone out there who has come to the performances, even if it's just been one or two, and for their support. I can feel that 2006 is going to be an exciting year, and I'm ready for what it will bring! I hope you can all come along for the ride.
P.S. Here's a setlist from the December 15 show at RAIN on 4th.
Killing Me Softly
Livin' the Moment
Reasons for Living
What Child is This
I Will Survive
>>> Father Knows Best
December 28, 2005
Today as I was driving down the freeway towards downtown (of course traffic had come to a complete standstill), I ran across a bumper sticker on someone's car which read: STOP STRESSING! I laughed aloud and scared myself. You have no idea how much I needed that. Obviously, the holidays are never an easy time of year, especially if you're a working musician or single - well, I'm both. Not that I'm complaining, but things to tend to get a little crazy in my big little world.
Seeing that bumper sticker took me back to the weekend I just spent in Houston, performing at Wash Allen's HAPPY FEET DANCE holiday extravaganza. It was a real honor and privelege to be there as a featured musical guest, and I got to perform three songs off of the CD, including "Dawn", "Reasons for Living" (which I dedicated to my late friend Kellie), and, of course, "Forever Red". The performance was great, but I have to be honest - traveling during the holidays can be a real bummer, especially when you still have some shopping to do, and you don't know if you'll have a long enough soundcheck at the gig, and... well, the list can go on and on.
All I can say is this... THANK GOD FOR MY DAD! If you've come to any shows, you've seen him setting up the merchandise table or talking with people in the audience or helping the band get loaded in. He's been at pretty much every one of the shows I've put on this year with the exception of one... and I forget why he wasn't there. It's not important, because he's been at every other one! My Dad is probably my number one fan. Yeah, he and I can bicker a lot, especially in this father/son and manager/artist relationship that we have, but he's a real lifesaver sometimes. This weekend, he just kept saying, "Everything will be fine, just relax." Dad picked it up a notch after the soundcheck, which went smoothly.
I have an awful lot of things on my plate right now, as I start making the preparations to produce my first full-length live performance DVD (don't ask when it will be out... the concert hasn't even been booked yet! LOL!) and go into the studio to record my second studio album, tentatively titled "Infinite Reflection". Add to that the fact that I'm dealing with the loss of a very dear friend - I miss Kellie A LOT - and trying to get rid of this stomach bug I caught over the holidays.
In the midst of this sometimes chaotic life, I see little things that remind me of the biggest, most wonderful things that God has given me to counteract the everyday life of a full-time musician. If you haven't called your parents today and told them you loved them, do that right now! Or else! Love, Omar