Grammy Award winning Omar Akram | Interview
I had the pleasure to interview Omar Akram. Born in New York, Afghan-American Omar Akram grew up the son of a United Nations diplomat, living in France, Czech Republic, Switzerland, his ancestral home of Afghanistan and Cuba, where as a teenager, he had a memorable encounter with Fidel Castro. With powerful supporters like Paulo Coelho and Deepak Chopra, and diehard fans around the world, the world-class musician is an internationally recognized cultural figure who has been featured in such top media outlets as BBC, Origin Magazine and Los Angeles Magazine. 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. In 2013, he became the first Afghan-American to win a Grammy Award with Echoes of Love. In 2013, he also released Daytime Dreamer, presenting an enchanting blend of World, New Age and electronica music that lures listeners with masterful musicianship and his well-traveled wisdom. His latest work “Destiny,” produced by the legendary Walter Afanasieff and featuring an eighty-piece symphony orchestra conducted by Shardad Rohani (Yanni Live at the Acropolis) will be unveiled in summer 2019. To accompany its release, Omar is currently in production on a docu-series titled “Making Destiny,” featuring a behind the scenes look at the creative process, his family life with wife Merry and their two children, and interaction with entertainment industry A-listers including Walter Afanasieff, E! founder Larry Namer, actor Ken Davitian, (Borat, The Artist), The Harris Brothers and many others.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Growing up, I was a hyper child, so my parents would play music to calm me down. When I was six years old, they bought me a piano and I started taking lessons. Almost immediately I started to like it, and soon after, I started composing simple melodies and I was hooked. So from very early on I knew that this is what I wanted to do with my life.
Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your music career?
I spent over a year working on my fourth album, “Echoes of Love.” When it was completed, I reluctantly submitted to be considered for a Grammy Award. When it received a Grammy nomination, I was very surprised and of course, ecstatic! So on the day of the awards ceremony, I honestly didn’t think I had a chance to win, especially with the amazing line up of nominees in my category. When the announcer called my name as the winner for Best New Age Album, I couldn’t believe it! I became the first Afghan-American in history to win a Grammy. This moment changed my life!
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I just finished my new album, “Destiny” and am very excited about it. The first single is coming out at the beginning of June. I had the honor to work with and incredible group of musicians and engineers, including Producer Walter Afanasieff (Mariah Carrey, Celine Dion, Barbra Streisand, and many others), musicians like Ramon Stagnaro, (Andrea Boccelli) and Shardad Rohani (Yanni Live at the Acropolis), conducting the Slovak Radio Symphony on two tracks. It was mixed at Westlake Studios in Hollywood, famous for Michael Jackson’s Thriller sessions. The project’s engineer is four-time Grammy winner Dave Reitzas.
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
As a teenager I lived in Havana Cuba for a couple of years. My father was the Ambassador of Afghanistan to Cuba. My father took me to a diplomatic reception where I met 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 to get into a club 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, that “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 them. That was my first education in African Jazz and Latin music.
Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?
I am inspired by different figures in history, like composer Johann Sebastian Bach. I think his music has influenced many composers. Also inspirational leaders like Martin Luther King. I wish we had more leaders like him now.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
My wife Merry and I are very passionate about children’s causes. We volunteer our time and resources to raise awareness for different programs at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I am not sure if this is a movement, but I really believe in giving back to our communities. We all can do something. It can be volunteering at a homeless shelter, hospital or school. If we all spend just a little of our time volunteering, this world would be a better place.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
What helps me is meditation. I would highly recommend it to my colleagues. I’ve been doing Transcendental Meditation for many years and it has had a big difference in my life.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
Don’t wait for any manager or record label to make something happen. Keep working hard every day and take steps yourself to succeed. When I first started, I thought that if can just get a record label deal, then I am set and my career would take off. Well, that was not the case. You don’t need a lot of money to achieve success. Most people think that if you have enough money to do a project, then you can succeed. I learned the hard way — money alone is not enough. It’s a combination of your talent, vision, hard work and resources. Everyone will give you advice, but only take it from people that have succeeded. In the beginning, I took advice from anyone who remotely did any type of music, or had minimal amount of music business experience. Soon I realized that I should only listen to people that had some measure of success. Build as many meaningful relationships as you can. Almost everything we do in my business comes down to relationships. Build as many as you can. Enjoy the journey. We get so caught up in achieving our goals that we forget about the journey. Enjoy the journey!
I have been blessed with the opportunity to interview and be in touch with some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she just might see this, especially if we tag them :-)
I am really impressed with presidential candidate Mayor Pete Buttigieg. I think he has the quality of a true leader and has the potential to inspire a generation. I would love to sit down and have a conversation with Mayor Pete.
How can our readers follow you on social media?