Omar Alexander is a face of future American music, with the inevitable "melting pot" metaphor in his bio: Born in New York to a Colombian mother and East Indian father and raised in Florida, but now back in New York.
He grew up listening to sufi and Hindu devotional music as well as Colombian sounds, and the music he makes as an adult also draws upon funk, among other things: One review said described Omar Alexander and Soulare's sound as "Latin Seal meets Gipsy Kings."
Omar Alexander is interviewed here courtesy of Ariel Publicity.
Where are you from? How does living there affect your songwriting? I am from Kingston, N.Y., but have lived in New York City for the last 10 years.
Excuse the old cliche, but NYC is definitely a cultural melting pot. Since my mother is from Colombia and my father from India, it seemed very natural for me to live in such a diverse city. With such a mixed heritage, people in the music industry in New York definitely inspired me to have some sort of eclectic musical sound.
I always feel like the level of expectation is very high in New York. To see the amount of world music artists all around you is a very humbling experience. One quickly comes to terms with your limitations as a musician and as singer/songwriter.
However, I was like a sponge the last 10 years -- absorbing all the musical influence I possibly could. Everything from flamenco to Latin jazz to funk to Eastern music. I knew that I could not perfect all these styles ... but I felt it was my duty in life -- as a multi-cultural person -- to identify with as much of an international sound as possible. I felt like I owed it back to my family, as a way of letting them know that I knew who I truly was, and that I respect my upbringing; regardless of whether I was born in the United States or somewhere abroad.
I am always trying to stretch the imagination of what it means to be American. Because of this acknowledgment, I am very particular when I write songs. For example, I choose rhythms that I know will syncopate a certain way to elicit a response from my Latin upbringing. I will choose specialty instruments such as the Indian percussion, tabla, or the Bansuri flute, in order to incorporate an Eastern sound. I sing in both English and Spanish.
All these influences have definitely formed my songwriting talents.
Do you focus on any political themes? If so, please tell us in more detail about them. On my first album -- I did not focus too much on any political themes. I was a bit of a disillusioned romantic at the time and wanted to focus on just capturing a dark, romantic love story.
However -- the opening track of my first album (2007's Omar Alexander & Soulare), "Bandolero," is a reflection of the difficulties I faced growing up American; yet having the cultural diversity from a mixed foreign background. This anthem reflects the social and political struggles for all the other first-generation Americans who grew up exactly like me.
My upcoming release will be a six-song EP called "Boom Shiva" that will have versions of songs in both English and Spanish. This EP definitely captures a more political theme -- everything from corporate greed ... to the climate ... to the Mexican immigration issue.
The album, because of its political themes, definitely carries more weight for me as an artist. I really feel great about its direction and hope my music fans will see it as a sign of my artistic maturity.
How long have you been playing, and what was your first instrument? I have been singing for as long as I can remember. My little sister and I would always be dancing and singing to show tunes when we were 8 years old. I still have those silly recordings.
My first instrument was the drums. I began playing when I was 13. Drums and vocals pretty much went hand in hand before I started playing the guitar. I have a very percussive way of phrasing when I sing, due in part to the fact that my first instrument was the drums.
What's the greatest thing that's ever been said about your music? That it speaks to the listener's heart. That my live show is filled with energy and that the band is awesome. I think all musicians play music to hear those same compliments.
How much has heartbreak contributed to your songwriting? A lot! Love is the strongest emotion. A way of healing from lost love is to write about it.
What are your main musical influences? Wow! Too many to mention. But I will say anything flamenco. Stevie Wonder ... greatest soul singer the world will ever hear ... 70's funk music ... and also, hardcore, dark, angry Latin jazz ... like Angel Canales or Eddie Palmieri!!!
What's the last album you bought that you're enjoying? Ojos De Brujo -- Techari ... mixture of flamenco, Eastern melodies and hip hop ... amazing!!
Have you seen any great live shows lately? Lila Downs in Carnegie Hall.
What is your guilty pleasure band? Nine Inch Nails.
What was the first album you ever bought? Kiss - Alive!
First concert you ever attended? Kiss!!! Not a fan anymore ... but it was a good comic book story.
What's your favorite artist and album? Impossible to answer. For me, music is universal ... so many amazing artists!!! I would be limiting myself if I had a favorite. They all speak in different ways for many different reasons.
If you could create your own fantasy music festival, who would the top six headliners be? 1) The original Led Zeppelin!!!, 2) Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan -- Qawali singer, 3) Camaron De La Isla -- flamenco legend, 4) Stevie Wonder, 5) Santana, 6) Omar Alexander!!! -- I would have to live that dream by performing at it!!!
What is your favorite physical record store? Any small dive in the East Village, NYC!
What is your favorite movie? I'm feeling Slumdog Millionaire right now. Finally, a movie about India that is not glossed over by the material pretentiousness of Bollywood.
M&M's plain or peanut? Peanut ... best way to get some healthy unsaturated fats into the mix.
Mac or PC? Pen and paper!
Chocolate or vanilla? Chocolate -- so long as it's dark chocolate.
You have $5 to spend on dinner. What are you eating? Five-dollar footlong!
Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert? Jon Stewart. Colbert is a little too over the top for me. I like Stewart's more practical way of approaching political humor.
What's your favorite magazine to read? Maxim!!! ... Not sure if I'm really reading, though?
What do you think is the most alarming media story in the last few months? Wall Street corruption. All those assholes should be put in prison.
Do you support any specific charities, and how do you give back as an artist? I used to support the SAAAIDS foundation, which gave money to NGOs in Southeast Asia for the education and prevention of AIDS. The company could not stay afloat -- but I still support the cause since it's just a destructive global disease.
Have you read any great books lately? I'm reading this great book called Make a Scene by Jordan Rosenfeld. I am in the process of writing a play, and this book captures the essence of writing a story ... scene by scene.
Have you ever been inspired by an author or a book to write a song? If so, which one? No ... but a movie, yes. Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth inspired me to write my song, "Painted Over Black."
If you were a superhero, what famous musician would be your arch-nemesis and why? I would be Spider-Man ... but I could never have a musician be an arch-nemesis. I don't view fellow songwriters as enemies. Sorry, but I just can't picture it.
What's your favorite restaurant, and why? Le Express on Park Avenue and 19th Street in Manhattan. Because the lamb burgers are extreme and the place is open 24 hours a day!!
What is the most adventurous food you've ever eaten? Testicles of a BULL in Colombia. Had it with ketchup.
Do you read any online music magazines? If so, which ones? Can you believe it ... I really don't! But I guess I should start, huh?
Omar Alexander and Soulare's music can be purchased in a zillion places online: At their Web site, from Amazon, on iTunes, and through Rhapsody, Groupietunes and eMusic. You also can find them on MySpace.
Omar Alexander & Soulare - Omar Alexander & Soulare
Omar Alexander - Boom Shiva (Español) - EP