Close-Up Culture | Interview

Omar Akram is a composer and recording artist who has been featured on the BBC, Los Angeles Magazine and The Huffington Post.

The artist’s piano-driven, instrumental music elegantly defies borders and has played a crucial role in defining modern New Age and World music. His songs have millions of plays on YouTube, and his first two albums, Opal Fire (2002) and Free As a Bird (2004), hit the Top 15 on Billboard’s New Age chart.

Most notably, Akram became the first Afghan-American to win a Grammy Award with Echoes of Love in 2013.

His new album, Destiny, will be available worldwide 9 August. The first video from the album, Here I Am, will premiere 21 June on YouTube. Akram will also release (starting 26 June) Omar’s Music Chamber, a weekly docu-series that features a behind-the-scenes look at Omar’s creative process, his family life, and interactions with entertainment industry A-listers.

Q: ‘Destiny’ will be released this summer. What we the starting point for this project and how did it evolve?

A: It’s been a few years since the release of my previous album. So I’ve had some time to grow as an artist. The idea for this new album started out as a thought about my own destiny. I believe that our destiny lies in our own hands. I believe that if you have a dream for your destiny you can easily make it come true. So I decided to call my new album Destiny.

From there I started to compose the piano compositions. For me everything starts with a melody. I wrote about 25 songs and only 12 wound up on the album.

Q: What is co-producer Walter Afanasieff (who has worked with Mariah Carey, Josh Groban, and Barbra Streisand) like as a collaboration? 

A: It’s been a dream of mine to work with Walter Afanasieff. I’ve been a fan of his work for many years.

When I started composing Here I Am, my first vocal track, I thought that he would be the perfect producer to work on it. He was gracious enough to accept working with me and not only he arranged and co-produced the track, but he also sang on it. That is especially amazing since he has never sang on an album before. It was a very special experience working with Walter A.

Q: You are also working on an accompanying docu-series, titled ‘Omar’s Music Chamber’. The series will delve into your creative process, family life and involvement in entertainment industry. How did you find the experience of opening up these different parts of your life?

A: The process of working on and completing my new album Destiny has been an amazing experience. The new docu-series Omar’s Music Chamber takes the viewers through this amazing journey of making the album and some of the amazing people with whom I collaborated with along the way. I hope that the series will be inspiring, educational and entertaining.

Q: Can you reveal anything about the people appearing in the docu-series? What should we keep an eye out for?

A: I was fortunate to have so many great people appearing in the series including my friend Ken Davitian (star of Borat and The Artist), the Harris Brothers from A&E’s Storage Wars, four-time Grammy Award-winning engineer Dave Rietzas, E! Entertainment founder Larry Namer, best-selling author Keith Houghton, and of course, Walter Afanasieff.

We also go behind the scenes on some of the great events I’ve attended like the Grammy Awards and Oscar events.

Q: You’ve achieved so much in your career, including becoming the first Afghan-American to win a Grammy Award with ‘Echoes of Love’. What motivates you at this point in your life?

A: I’ve been blessed with having a great family. My two kids motivate me everyday to get up and do better and achieve more and set a good example for them. I am hoping that music can connect people together from all walks of life. Bringing people happiness and changing their moods for the better also motivates me everyday.

Q: There is an incredible story of an interaction you had in your youth with Fidel Castro. How important do you believe it is to help out others and give back to young musicians?

A: As a teenager I lived in Havana Cuba for a couple of years. My father was the Ambassador of Afghanistan to Cuba and he took me to a diplomatic reception where I met the Cuban President Fidel Castro. I was the youngest person there, so he chatted with me for a bit. I told him that I play the piano, so he asked if I had been to couple of high profile jazz clubs in Havana.

I was too young to get into these clubs as the legal age was 18 years old. So Fidel said for me to use his name to get in!

Sure enough, the following week, my father dropped me off at one of these clubs. I walked in and told them: “Fidel sent me.” They took me right in. I waited for the band to take a break, and I went on stage and started jamming on the piano. When the band came back from the break, they asked me to stay and keep playing with them. It was a great way to be introduced to Latin Jazz music.

I’ve been very fortunate to have great people helping and believing in me along my musical journey. I think it’s very important that we encourage young musicians to continue on their musical education and do what we can to help.

Q: What are your hopes for ‘Destiny’?

A: I spent almost two years of my life working on Destiny. I have collaborated with some of the greatest producers, musicians and engineers. I wanted to get out of my comfort zone and challenge myself artistically. I worked with an eighty piece symphony orchestra for the first time. It was terrifying but ultimately an amazing experience.

I think it’s my best work to date and I can’t wait to share it with as many people as possible and hopefully performing it live all over the world.