The 2013 Grammy’s may be done with but the impact of this year’s unconventional winners has still left its mark on the music industry. Even the nominations alone spoke to changing trends in the business with musicians like Gotye, Frank Ocean, M83, and Mumford & Sons stealing the awards away from more established mainstream artists. However, the nominee and winner making the most historic splash seems to be Best New Age Album winner Omar Akram. With his 4th studio album “Echoes of Love”, Omar has done more than combine a stellar composition that mixes elements of classical piano, Middle Eastern strings and percussion, and Cuban jazz, he has also become the first person of Afghan decent to win, much less even be nominated for, a Grammy.
The announcement came as a surprise to many, including Omar himself who barely had time to prepare a speech when he was unexpectedly called at the ceremony. Within two days since the show, he had soared to the top of the iTunes’ charts for New Age music. His Grammy win, however, has had a much greater impact than just his chart position.
With the announcement, Omar’s name has spread across the world for his musical achievement. In Afghanistan, he became the front page story. In fact with his rapid growing popularity and instrumental music that crosses language, Omar is paving new musical territory.
Omar’s fame is only growing as his compositions cross cultural boundaries. He combines styles he learned from a multitude of countries to give his sound a unique yet universal quality that even more people can take enjoyment from.
While both his parents are from Afghanistan and he was born in New York, Omar’s childhood was that of a world traveler as the family moved to and lived in locations around the world. All the while, he studied the local musical scenes in each country he lived in and discovered how to incorporate them into his own work all with the motto that “music has no borders”.
Omar’s parents first taught him to play piano in Prague as a way to calm his young hyperactive mind and it became his instrument of choice as he learned the classics of Bach and Beethoven. When he was a teenage, his family was stationed in Cuba where Omar would sneak into the jazz clubs eager to tickle the ivory while the band was on break. The band members liked him so much that they asked him to regularly play with them. From his family he learned the nuances of Middle Eastern strings and percussion while his early adulthood in America exposed him to the pop and early electronic scenes of the 80’s. This and more he utilizes in his albums for craft an enjoyable New Age experience that captures the breadth of world music and the accessibility of more contemporary genres.
All of Omar’s four studio albums have something for everyone, as his eclectic audience comprises of music lovers anywhere from veterans of jazz and classical to hip 20 somethings. His deliberate absence of lyrics gives listeners the chance to emotionally take in the music and interpret it for themselves without the boundaries caused by translating the vocals.
“Echoes of Love” in particular boasts a robust musical palette thanks to the cadre of talented musicians based in Omar’s current home of LA who contributed, including keyboardist Gregg Karukas. It not hard to see why so many people participated either, Omar has been deeply involved in the LA music scene since he moved there in 1994 and has since participated in over 40 bands and gigs. Though perhaps his most distinguished local honor comes from the fact that Omar is Hollywood’s Hour of Blues one and only New Age resident artist.
He plans to further spread his music with an upcoming world tour. The tour dates and venues have not been finalized yet but Omar plans to kick things off by performing in Tunisia in July 2013. In the meantime, he will be performing at the world famous Hollywood House of Blues April 6th at 7:30pm in the venue’s illustrious Foundation Room.