Thrive Global Magazine | 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 “Omar’s Music Chamber,” 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. The cover artwork for “Destiny” was created by award-winning photographer and director Glen Wexler, creator of some of the most memorable album covers, working with such names as Van Halen and Michael Jackson.
Thank you so much for joining us Omar. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
My father worked for the United Nations when I was a child, so we traveled to many different countries. I was a hyper child and listening to music would calm me down. When I was around six years old my parents decided to buy me a piano and I started taking piano lessons. At that time we were living in Prague, Czech Republic. I had an amazing piano teacher, a member of the Prague Symphony.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
As I started to write music for my new album “Destiny,” I decided not to sign with another record label but to form my own company, Twinbrook Entertainment. It was a major adjustment for me, since in the past most of the work regarding the distribution and marketing was done by my previous record label. So the first thing I did was to gather an amazing team. I think like any business you have to surround yourself with great people. Only time will tell, but I feel very confident in my new company and my team.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I remember when I first moved to Los Angeles, I met a producer who kept saying that he had made a bunch of big films and was planning on producing a Broadway musical. He came to my apartment to listen to some of my music and really liked what he heard. So he asked if I could write the musical. I agreed and got very excited thinking that big things are happening for me in such a short time in L.A! I started writing music for a few weeks and kept waiting for a contract and a down payment. Well, he never did present me with any paperwork. He said to finish the musical first and if he liked it, then I would be presented with a contract and payment. I couldn’t continue writing music for a year without knowing if I was going to be compensated. So, of course, I had to walk away, leaving all the work I had done behind. But I learned a valuable lesson. Always, ask for paperwork upfront before starting any kind of work. Not sure if it was funny, but I definitely learned a good lesson.
Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?
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. I am hoping that in the future I can have my team at Twinbrook Entertainment join me in supporting this great cause.
Wow! Can you tell me a story about a particular individual who was impacted this cause?
We met this little girl, she must have been around one year old. She was born with most her organs on the outside of her body. It was so heartbreaking to see that. The only time she would open her mouth to take in the medicine or even drink was when the music therapist would come and play music. But, sadly the hospital didn’t have enough funding for it and had to cut the program. So we decided to do whatever we could to help, by volunteering and raising money to continue the program.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
I strongly believe in volunteering. Many businesses, and almost all mission-driven organizations, are successful only if they maintain a strong volunteer workforce. In fact, places like museums and social service organizations often rely on more volunteers than paid workers to meet their goals and fulfill their missions. These businesses are committed to doing good things for society. They pick up the pieces where government programs leave off, and by volunteering for these organizations, one participates in helping our society meet the needs of people from all walks of life.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Leaders help themselves and others to do the right things. They set direction, build an inspiring vision, and create something new. Leadership is about mapping out where you need to go to as a team or an organization, and it is dynamic, exciting and inspiring.
Someone like Nelson Mandela who believed that forgiveness was more important than revenge is a true role model. As the first South African president elected in fully democratic elections, he helped his country move past an era of apartheid after serving almost 30 years in prison. That’s a great leader!
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, and then I would be 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!
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire 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.
By Yitzi Weiner