>>> Album Update - Summer 2009
August 23, 2009
Omar has had a very busy summer but has taken a break from performing "live in concert" to finish producing his new album. It has been an envigorating and exciting process, and the title of this album, which will be Omar's third official release (not counting the "FOREVER RED: DELUXE EDITION" re-release/compilation, which is still available) will be revealed soon!
Although there are private functions scheduled, Omar will not be playing with his band until after the album's release. He has been working hard at Everdrift Studio with co-producer Mark Ford and has been there four nights a week, finalizing pre-production mixes, orchestrations, and arrangements on the new music before he begins recording the band, strings, and backup vocalists in September. He will then record his final violin and vocal parts.
In the meantime, get ready for an opportunity to get a sneak preview of the new music! In a few weeks, Omar will post "advance listen" versions of a few of the new tracks that feature his work not only as a violinist and singer but as a producer and composer as well. These are exciting times! Stay tuned!
>>> "SYNERGY": The Exclusive Online Single
September 26, 2009
For Omar Lopez, 2009 has been a year of change. After relocating from the city to a larger residence in the secluded and serene Northwest Hills of Austin and having a wonderful 30th birthday bash in March with his closest friends and fellow musicians at 219 West Bar and Grill in Downtown Austin, Omar took an extended hiatus from the stage to begin and complete production on his newest album. Although he has missed performing live, he has learned a lot as he has evolved from being a violinist, singer, and songwriter into a studio producer and composer with the help of recording engineer, multi-instrumentalist, and co-producer Mark Ford at Everdrift Studios.
They have been working hard all year long on twelve brand-new original songs, including favorites from the 2008 concert series.
The music is unbelievably energetic and passionate, telling a brand-new story of faith and reflection, and it will only get better as the band reunites in the studio this fall to add their unique talents and energies to each piece. In addition, Omar will introduce several new talents to his live ensemble and can't wait to bring the show to life in 2010.
In the meantime, "SYNERGY", Omar's first official single from the new album is NOW AVAILABLE at Omar's Official Music MySpace. (Click on the banner to go to the MySpace page - you do not have to be a MySpace user to buy the track!)
Catch Omar performing "SYNERGY" and "BEHIND THESE WALLS" live on Sunday, September 27 on KIII-TV Corpus Christi's Sunday morning talk show - "DOMINGO LIVE". Visit www.kiiitv.com and click "DOMINGO LIVE" to see the show after it has aired.
>>> Joining BENISE "Nights of Fire" in Lebanon - Blog #1
December 14, 2009
I’ve been playing the violin since I was in elementary school, but quite frankly, I wasn’t one of those child prodigies that you see on television, wowing crowds. I sucked. I never practiced and actually hated playing. I did it because it was my only option outside of sports, and even though I tried acting and singing, nothing ever really panned out for me there. Basically, I just stayed in orchestra because it was an elective in school and all I had to do was play, but even then, it wasn’t easy. I never was great at reading music, and so while all the other kids who took private lessons every day were off at competitions and the like, I basically was just winging it, because I really wanted to write fantasy novels and be a cartoonist.
To call me an underachiever back then would have been an understatement, and classical music was boring to me. I only enjoyed myself when we were doing pieces by Russian composers like Rimsky-Korsakov or Sergei Prokofiev, because there was this dark, worldly power to their work. In addition, I listened to a lot of Spanish music at home because when my Dad remarried, he married someone who loved classic boleros and fiery guitars and so that was playing a lot and I guess it stuck with me.
Nevertheless, I wanted to quit playing eventually. You know how high school kids can be. It’s rough, to say the least.
However, just by chance, I saw a crazy good violinist named Karen Briggs (“The Lady in Red”) performing with contemporary instrumental keyboardist and composer Yanni during his “Live at the Acropolis” concert on PBS and I was hooked and inspired, not only because it was something other than classical music, but because Karen took the violin to levels that I never even imagined. She made it talk. After graduating from high school in ‘97 and spending only two semesters major in music performance at a university, I decided to try my hand at improvising on the violin like Karen did, and immediately found that I had an ear for it. I had never done well with reading music anyway and was always second or third chair, so this was opening new doors for me, fresh out of college. I never looked back.
After spending a couple years jamming at nightclubs with DJs on my electric violin and playing with a rock orchestra for a couple of years, I ended up as a member of a Latin-jazz band called The Brew in 2001. Their leader and founder Michael Rodriguez is a virtuoso, self-taught guitarist who merges the best of the Gipsy Kings, Strunz and Farah, and Ottmar Liebert with Santana’s most popular electric rock songs. I never thought I’d be playing salsa or flamenco, and never thought I’d make a job out of it without a degree, but it earned me a comfortable living for several years, even while I released solo albums of my own and formed a band with whom to play them. However, even though I preferred rock, R&B, and dance-jazz music for my own band's sound, it turned out that God had other plans for me and kept me going back to The Brew. Apparently it was for a good reason.
TO BE CONTINUED...
>>> Joining BENISE "Nights of Fire" in Lebanon - Blog #2
December 15, 2009
Roni Benise (buh-NES-say) first messaged me on MySpace in May of ’09. He found me through the MySpace of another violinist – namely, the one and the same Karen Briggs, who had left Yanni’s group in ’04 to pursue other ventures and ended up working with Benise in ’05 for his PBS special, “Nights of Fire”. Now, to say that he found me through her is saying a lot because Karen is the reason that I didn’t quit playing in high school. Even though I’d never met her until 2003 after a Yanni concert, she was my mentor and inspiration since I saw that “Acropolis” concert.
I guess that’s when Benise messaged me on MySpace. He said he was looking for a sub/replacement violinist for studio gigs and live shows, and that he found me through Karen Briggs’s own MySpace. I thought I was dreaming at first. I saw “Nights of Fire” – it’s like a high octane version of The Brew, with the addition of hot dancers and stage designed to look like an old mission or hacienda in Spain. I was really surprised that he was calling me because he lives in L.A., which has no shortage of amazing players. Violinists like Karen Briggs, Charlie Bisharat (Strunz and Farah), and too many others to name have called L.A. their home for years. I was even more surprised that he gave me his phone number. I was shopping for shoes with my brother Trey and his wife Bernadette when I got the email and I thought it was a hoax but Trey was on the phone immediately with Dad, telling him about this opportunity. I replied to the email and left a voice message with Benise and just left it at that.
Then, while on the road with The Brew in June of ’09, my Blackberry rang. It was Ron. We ended up chatting for almost twenty minutes, even though I was riding in the van with The Brew. Ron didn’t even know that I had played Latin-jazz and flamenco music for the past eight years. He just saw a video of me on YouTube playing my song “Synergy” with my own band and liked it. I was floored. He was jovial and charming. After a great conversation, he ended it with an “I’ll be calling you!” I took it at that and really carried no high hopes. I was just happy to have talked to him.
Anyone who knows my Dad knows that he is my biggest fan. He went to Las Vegas in 2004 with Lupita (my stepmom) and they stayed at the Bellagio, where they got to see house artist Dian Diaz and her band onstage in the Fontana Lounge. My Dad fell in love with her music, and since he’s also my “manager” and a 24/7 promoter for my music, he talked me up to her and tried to work something out for me to play with her. I almost went to Vegas in 2005 to audition for Dian, but at that point she was looking moreso for a backup singer and not so much a violinist, and at that time I had just released “Forever Red” and wanted to promote that, so I put that on the backburner.
When I found out that I’d be going to Las Vegas with The Brew in November ’09, I immediately texted Dian and let her know I’d be coming so I could at least meet her and maybe sit in with her band. More importantly, I emailed Ron and let him know I’d be coming, and that maybe we could hook up in Vegas so he could actually hear me play Latin music. He said he would try to make it out to meet me but it wasn’t to be because he was stuck in the studio in L.A. but said that there were some gigs coming up and that he would call me. However, Dian texted me back at the last minute, so I still got to meet and perform with her during my off time from The Brew. She and her band play Top 40’s pop, rock, dance, R&B, soul, and ballad songs from the ‘70s to today. Dian has a fantastic voice and has a great, great band full of talented, friendly, and humble people. When I told her that I had been talking with Benise, she immediately knew who he was and said, “If he said he’s going to hire you, he’s going to hire you. Just get ready!” Again, I took that with face value. I was just happy to be where I was, because in years past I would always get excited about something like a gig opportunity, only to be let down when it didn’t happen. I had started just being in the moment. It was probably a good decision.
TO BE CONTINUED...
>>> Joining BENISE "Nights of Fire" in Lebanon - Blog #3
December 16, 2009
During the summer, I had gotten a part time job at Dance Studio as an administrative assistant, since I had taken a break from playing with my band to work on my third album and continue playing with The Brew. I had made a lot of great friends while working there, including Michelle, one of the teachers.
During the second week of December, Michelle and I went out for dinner to one of our favorite night spots called 219 West. We were just celebrating a fantastic year and we got along great both at work and socially, but nothing had prepared me for what was about to happen.
My phone rang, and it was Roni Benise on the caller ID. I thought about it for a second - I hate taking calls when I'm with a friend because it's rude, but something told me that I needed to answer, so I interrupted Michelle and said "Sorry, this might be important. I'll be right back!" After a brief greeting, Ron cut to the chase. There was a big chance that Karen Briggs was going to be unable to make a set of performances, and he needed a replacement and I was his first call - and that they were going to Lebanon for three weeks! Are you kidding me!?!?
Michelle and I headed next door to RAIN, where I gave her the big news. Karma Stewart, my former singer from my own band, joined us for some drinks and when she heard, she said "Don't you dare turn this down!"
After the initial shock, I told Roni that I would need to talk things over with my father, since he helps manage many aspects of my music career, but that we'd get back with him and that if all the particulars were worked out on his end, that my answer was yes. It didn't take long for either camp to confirm everything.
My flights were set by the weekend. By that point, I'd already called Dance Institute and put in my request for time off, which they more than happily granted, but the harder part was leaving The Brew. After my two shows with them on that weekend, my father and I called Michael Rodriguez and informed him of the situation. He obviously didn't take it well, since I had previously committed to several shows with them through the end of the year. We had played together for eight years and had built a great onstage relationship, but the fact that this change was happening last minute meant that I was most likely going to be leaving The Brew, whether either of us liked it or not. However, as many of my friends, fellow local musicians, coworkers, and family had put it, going to Lebanon to perform with Benise was too big of an opportunity to pass up. Sometimes, you have to close some doors before God will open others for you.
TO BE CONTINUED...
>>> Joining BENISE "Nights of Fire" in Lebanon - Blog #4
December 17, 2009
The biggest thing about this opportunity that hit me was that I was going be subbing for Karen Briggs. One would think I’d get a big head about it, and in the past, I think I probably would have. I mean, ever since I first saw her touring with Yanni, I wanted that job. Now, here it was – ten years later, I would be replacing her for a short time. It made me feel as tiny as a mouse. I was overwhelmed and humbled. God’s power is amazing and sometimes He makes you wait for your dreams until their HIS dreams too. I just had to be patient and just leave it to Him. Well, apparently when you give Jesus the wheel, sometimes he puts the car in overdrive.
Ron had overnighted a few of his CDs and the “Nights of Fire” DVD to my place and it arrived that weekend, so I began practicing the music immediately. It felt very comfortable, and so I uploaded everything onto my iPhone (a recent investment) and went off to Houston for what would most likely be my final shows with The Brew. I returned to Austin and packed on Sunday night and spent some quality time with my kitties while also playing the “Nights of Fire” DVD in the background to just get the music in my head.
I cried on Monday morning while packing. I wasn’t crying about leaving my friends and family or being away during the holidays or about leaving The Brew – I was crying about my cats. I couldn’t help it. I was hugging Lemon, who I’ve had for almost two years, and she has these beautiful blue eyes that are like oceans. She knew I was leaving, and so I held her and cried. I think she was confused and she struggled to get out of my arms, but you better believe that I wanted to get some time in with her and Sugar, who I adopted in September, before I left. These kitties are such loving creatures! Three weeks would feel like an eternity.
My Mom picked me up from my apartment at 11:00 AM and we went and had lunch at Hoover’s Home Cooking after running some necessary errands, and then off we went to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport! I checked two large suitcases of clothing – now I see where the word “luggage” comes from because I literally have to lug those things around – but this trip was going to last for three weeks and so I needed to be as prepared as possible. For sure I was not going to check my violin case! Since Benise’s live band has more more of an organic, acoustic sound, I decided to leave my main Zeta Jazz Fusion 5-string violin behind and take my two acoustic-bodied instruments, one of which is my red Zeta Acoustic and the other being my regular acoustic with a Baggs pickup. The case along with a backpack that held my laptop were going to be my two carry-on bags. Off I went!
After departing from Austin, I spent upwards of about twenty hours – including layovers in Chicago and London - just getting to my final destination of Beirut. You can be sure that I slept pretty hard, but surprisingly there was no jet lag for me, even though I did feel a little disoriented about having lost a day. Tuesday just disappeared right from under me, because that night I was picked up from the airport by one of the production techs, Damon, and the “Godfather of Lebanon”, Andre, who delivered me to the Madisson Hotel in Jounieh (just outside of Beirut). I checked into my room and watched a particularly bad movie called "Loaded" with Jesse Metcalfe from Desperate Housewives about some guy who became a drug dealer (the movie was still in English but it had Arabic subtitles). After the credits rolled, I crashed. That’s probably a good thing, because garbage movies wear me out.
TO BE CONTINUED...
>>> Joining BENISE "Nights of Fire" in Lebanon - Blog #5
December 18, 2009
Wednesday morning, I had breakfast with Matt, the production designer, right before getting to meet Ron Benise and one of the dancers, Rhapsody. Ron is great – very down to earth and funny, and Rhapsody is a fantastic and sweet girl. Both of them have a good sense of humor, and we got along well right from the start. We went to have lunch at KFC. Yes, KFC – they have that here along with McDonald’s, Burger King, Subway… and my heart is set on eating Lebanese food, so that’s the last of American pop culture fast food that I plan on eating while I’m here. We'll see how long that lasts!
Ron came up to my hotel room a couple of hours later with his guitar and we went over some of the songs – he’s a really great player and we seemed to vibe off one another well so I’m looking forward to the show! We ran out of time though because a taxi arrived to take us (Ron, Rhapsody, and me) to the venue – Lebanon’s most famous and elegant casino, the Casino du Liban. Upon arrival, we found a huge crew building a stage to look almost exactly like the one that you see on the “Nights of Fire” DVD – almost.
Production designer Matt was on them about the colors and so forth, but the Lebanese construction crew really seemed to be working hard so I felt confident that the job would get done. There is this huge arch in the middle where Benise appears right after the show begins, and to the sides are two platforms where the band is seated, even though I’m wireless for the show and can roam around depending on the song. There are even two balconies, where the dancers and I can interact with Benise during the show – also depending on the song. It’s all very well-rehearsed and choreographed, and even though the show is done to backing synth tracks, the band itself is very, very tight and could play on its own, no problem! Of course, a lot of big groups are using tracks for things like orchestrations and harmonies, so I totally understand the purpose. Maybe I’ll use them one day in my group.
After we returned to the hotel, Ron, Rhapsody, and Damon went back to the airport in Beirut to pick up the rest of the dancers and musicians. Once I saw the list of personnel, I recognized two names - Michael “Kalani” Bruno, the former percussionist for Yanni (he was also on “Live at the Acropolis”) and Arleen Hurtado, who was a former flamenco dancer for John Tesh’s “One World” tour in 1999. I also recognized the name of the choreographer, Alex Magno. He choreographed the Yanni Voices PBS special last November. Crazy stuff.
The amazing thing is that I’m HERE! It’s kind of surreal. It is late fall here, and very crisp and breezy outside. My room is on the fifth floor. From Beirut to Jounieh is all coastline and mountains, covered with buildings and forest. It’s quite beautiful and I can see the Mediterranean from my balcony if I peek around the outside wall. The streets are packed with cars and the traffic is a little crazy here because no one really obeys the lane markings or the lights, but I guess that’s part of the charm. I don’t mind it since I don’t have to drive in it.
I have to constantly remind myself to not drink the tap water. I’m taking cues from the others and buying bottled water every chance I get and it’s surprisingly cheap here! The American dollar is pretty powerful here I guess, because if I bought a six pack of bottled water in the states, it would run me about five or six bucks, but here it was about three. I’m not just using it for drinking either – I’m using it to brush my teeth. I’m taking every precaution because I saw “Sex and the City: The Movie” and saw what happened to Charlotte when she drank the water while taking a shower in Mexico. I also remember what happened to me in the summer of ’94 during my family trip to Mexico, so I’m also staying away from street food. I could stand to lose a little bit of weight, but not like that.
The rest of the band and dancers arrived on Wednesday night and I got a call from Rhapsody in my room to come join everyone for a sort of meet-and-greet, even though they all knew each other and I’m the newbie here. I don’t think I’ve felt like that in a long time. It wasn’t a bad thing at all, but I definitely had to step it up a little bit and make an effort to just walk around and chat with everyone. Everyone definitely has a rapport so I’m going to need to move quickly and just “be myself” as I’ve been instructed in order to just mesh with everyone. Being myself has never been a problem, but are they ready for me? We'll see, won't we? :)
>>> Joining BENISE "Nights of Fire" in Lebanon - Blog #6
December 24, 2009
To say that this has been a culture shock is an understatement! Learning the music, staging, and choreography (I'm dancing a little) in the performances of "Nights of Fire" here at the Casino du Liban in Jounieh, just outside of Beirut on the Mediterranean coastline, has been the easy part of this entire journey. For the first few days, I felt like I really wasn't fitting in, and I guess that's understandable. Apparently, the cast just filmed Benise's new PBS special, "The Spanish Guitar", which airs sometime in 2010. Karen Briggs was a part of that project and she also toured with the cast this past fall as well, so for a lot of the dancers and musicians, this is the first time that someone aside from Karen or Benise's prior violinist, Jim Sitterly (formerly with John Tesh), has played violin in the show.
I'm finding that even though I'm getting the hang of things in the show, inside I feel like these are really big shoes to fill. Karen is like a mentor, idol, and muse to me all in one. Still, I'm learning a lot about theatricality and becoming a "character" for the show, rather than just being a violinist standing up and playing to an audience, especially from dancers like Arleen Hurtado. She is the featured flamenco dancer for "Nights of Fire", and if any of you saw her touring with John Tesh in the late 90s, you know she is amazingly talented. Arleen has really taken me under her wing like I'm her little brother and we spend a lot of time going to cafes or restaurants when I'm not holed up in my hotel room missing my cats or trying to make the WiFi work on my laptop. She and I laugh together and trade stories about prior tours and experiences, and she and I get to interact a lot on stage. I really admire and look up to her, not just as a friend, but also as a performer, because flamenco is a deep part of my Spanish heritage and seeing it brought to life by her is an otherworldly experience.
When I'm not doing shows or milling around in downtown Beirut, shopping with the crew, I'm finding that this really is harder than I thought it would be, but I'm doing my best to make the best of it because it is a unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. What's hardest for me right now is knowing that right now, it's Christmas Eve, and I'm a world away from my family. I don't have cell phone service here because I didn't buy an international plan, so I can only make phone calls from the check cashing place outside of the hotel we're staying at. Still, I'm trying not to call Dad too much. This kind of reminds me of the first time I went out on tour with Dreamsound ten years ago, and I was crying to Dad on the phone saying I wanted to come home. I'm such a baby sometimes!
Benise himself has really encouraged me as a performer and he seems to really like what I bring to the table in his show. I think my biggest problem is that sometimes I don't believe in myself or my talents, so seeing an artist like Roni Benise appreciate what I do is really reassuring that I'm definitely in the right place. Some of the other dancers in the show aside from Rhapsody and Arleen are a different breed than they are, and it is sort of clique-ish because they've worked together such a long time, so I pretty much stick close to Arleen, Yussi (the rhythm guitarist), Kalani (the percussionist) or do my own thing - similar to how I used to do in high school. I was never popular then, and there's no point in trying to be popular now. I was told to just be myself when I first got here, and that's all I've been, and apparently that might be a bit much for some of these girls... and that's okay. You win some, you lose some, but at least I'm being me!
This evening and tomorrow night (Christmas), we are not performing, so the organizers of the performances are taking us downtown to have Chinese food for Christmas Eve dinner, and tomorrow, Rhapsody has organized a "White Elephant" gift exchange. I think that means you buy tacky gifts that no one wants and then people trade out and take them away from other people until they have the least tacky and most desirable gifts. We'll see how that goes. When I was in Beirut with the crew, we got to see how much the city has grown and recovered since the terrible bombings in the 80s, and it is truly miraculous how this city resembles Paris in some ways. It's called the "Paris of the Middle East", and for good reason. There is so much high fashion here, and the food (at the nicer restaurants) is really amazing. This is truly an experience I won't ever forget... I'm not a really good tourist, so I'm not keen on taking road trips with the cast into parts of the country that are run by more questionable kinds of people and instead spend time on my laptop editing music or blogging, like I am now.
I love you all and I do look forward to coming home, but until then, I'm going out onstage with my red violin and doing my best to kick butt as usual! Merry Christmas from Lebanon, and Happy New Year!