EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH OMAR TAVAREZ
Omar playing the drums on stage is as thrilling as watching the sting that Pitbull gives to rhymes. Dynamic, powerful, commanding and full of drive and passion.
Born in the city that is the Big Apple and based in Miami, Omar’s teachers originally thought that he was on the straight path to becoming a classical percussionist. Yet Omar went on to study Jazz and Studio Music at the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami. From there he went on tour with singer/songwriter, J.D. Natasha, a two-time Latin Grammy nominee.
Having performed and recorded with some of the music industry’s key players such as Jennifer Lopez, Lil’ Wayne, Lil’ Jon, Ying Yang Twins, Akon, Marc Anthony, T- Pain, Baby Bash, Enrique Iglesias, Neyo, Paulina Rubio and Michel Telho to name but a few, Omar’s talents show no boundaries. A very knowledgeable musician. Omar is versatile, entrepreneurial and knows more about fitting into different kinds of hats than simply hitting a high hat!
Omar has been is spinning around the globe with his drum kit in tow on the Global Warming tour with Mr Worldwide. The dynamic drummer is also busy programming, producing, writing music and developing artists for his own production and artist management company, Dirty Southaners.
I had the great pleasure of speaking with the delightful, gorgeous, multi-talented Mr OT Drummer while he was in London on tour with Pitbull. Obtaining a refreshing insight and also learning a lot of things along the way. Here Omar talks about touring, being a musician as well as his exciting new business venture and up and coming new artist under his production company.
SERINA: Welcome to London Omar and thank you for seeing me. Wow! You’re really living the dream, drumming for Pitbull – How did that happen?
OMAR: It’s a great story, I was playing in a local band in Miami for about 7 months and around January 2008 Pitbull’s management came in and took a look at the band and I think they may have thought that they have possibly found some of the guys they need. They approached me and asked if I could put together a small group, like me on drums, a keyboard player and a percussionist. I took the keyboard player and percussionist from the band told them what was going on and then a month and a half later we were on the road with Pitbull! We did three rehearsals and Pitbull came to the very last one and we had really, REALLY been practising our butts off and Pitbull said something like “Cool let’s do it, we leave on Monday”
What’s Mr Worldwide like to travel and work with?
OMAR: It’s a pleasure and honour to be on stage, perform and work with Pitbull. To listen to him, his insight and business approach to a lot of things. Pitbull has a lot of great mottos that we all take on board. Many that I apply when I’m talking to people on the business side. Pitbull is like the older brother that I never had, I mean that in the way that you have an older brother that will look out for you. It’s more like “Hey, you should do it this way. Did you make a mistake? Did you learn from it? Good. Next time you know not to do that.”
So a bit of tough love?
OMAR: Exactly, there’s a bit of tough love but it’s cool. It may not be for everybody but I’m fine with it. I have an older sister and she was tough love but not hard core. With Pitbull it’s more like a business ‘tough love’ approach – where we’re going from here on, having vision. I have always been a person to have goals and it’s good that I met Pit when I met him at the age of 23 and both being on the same page of wanting to go far. Every year Pitbull tells me “we’re going to do this next year, and we’re going to do this next year” and they have all been happening. If in 2015 Pitbull has a vision for something to happen, I GUARANTEE it’s going to happen and I believe in that.
Pitbull is a very wise man. Talking of mottos, has he ever parted with other words of wisdom to you or the rest of the team?
OMAR: Pitbull is always pushing me to think outside the box, and encouraging me to launch my business ideas. Pit understands that I love drumming but also encourages me to think ahead.
Kind of like ‘Short steps, long vision?’
OMAR: Yes, and to work hard for your dream ventures so the dream, money and good fortune in all aspects also work hard for you too.
You mentioned you were drumming about January 2008, you’ve obviously been drumming a lot longer than that…
OMAR: I started playing the drums when I was 12 years old, took formal training when I was 13 and became a professional musician when I was around 15-16 years old. I got paid to do gigs.
Were you one of those kids that did their folks heads in banging on drums or anything that sounded like it?
OMAR: (Laughs) I did the pots and pans thing, but I also had this really nice reclinable rocking couch. I would hit the panel on the side of the bottom of the couch with a stick as if it was the bass, like ‘doof- doof’ (making a bass-like sound). I was about 4-5 years old, yes.. I remember that!
Aww it’s all coming back..
OMAR: (beaming) Yes, the son of our neighbour was a drummer and he gave me a snare drum as a gift and I used to put the snare drum on the reclineable couch and for the sound of the bass I would play on that sound of the side of the chair. It had a really nice low-end so when you hit it, it would reverberate the low and then I had the snare so I just played beats. But I knew what I was playing. I would play what I heard on the radio, for example ‘boom-boom-ka, boom-boom-pa-ka’ (makes sound of snare and bass) and my mum was like “shut up!” and flipping out. That was when I was about 4-5 years old.
So you really started a lot earlier than the age of 12?
OMAR: Exactly. However, at the age of 12 my uncle gave me a three-piece drum set and I call that my first time. (Omar shows a reminiscent expression as he goes back in thought)
Who was your biggest influence growing up?
OMAR: I come from a very talented family of uncles and cousins who are musicians. I have a sister and she is my biggest influence. My sister is about 6 years older than me and she was in dance and I was in music, both of which match together closely. My sister went to the Performing Arts High School in Miami and there they had a jazz programme and every time there was a performance, there was live instrumentation. There were no playback machines. They incorporated the live music with the live dancing performance and I thought “Wow this is amazing. I’m hearing this and I’m seeing this. I want to be a musician and take this seriously” Seeing my sister perform at such a high level at performance high school, and being at elementary/middle school when she was already off to college meant that I spent a lot of my early years watching my sister do her thing. She is awesome, she’s my backbone and she’s super cool.
Touring must be quite demanding mentally and physically how do you stay on top of it, look after and prepare yourself?
OMAR: Physically, I try to get enough sleep. I take about 15 different vitamins a day to stay healthy. Majority of which are immunity pills. Taking a lot of vitamin C and trying to eat right, such as lots of greens and whole meats.
Is it hard to eat right when you’re on tour?
OMAR: It’s hard to limit what I eat when in London because there’s a Nando’s here (Omar laughs) I love Nando’s…But yes, it is important to watch what you eat.
What about exercises, do you need to do any stretches with all that pounding away at the drums?
OMAR: There are some yoga stretches that I do, my sister is a yoga instructor and so I do a little bit of yoga when I’m in LA and take a class with her. However, on a normal basis I don’t sit for an hour doing yoga in my room for example but I do certain stretches. I also do other arm stretches and use a grip (machine) with springs. A lot of drummers use that as it works your forearms and other muscles in the arm.
What is your most memorable moment on tour so far?
OMAR: The Hollywood Bowl. LA has always been a market that loves Pitbull. I started going to LA in 2004. I didn’t work with Pitbull until 2008 and when I was there in 2004 they were playing Pitbull like crazy and in those four years in between, I used to go LA to visit family or work and I hear Pitbull on the radio and I think this guy is from Miami and they play him here a lot.
Lo and behold I end up being on Pitbull’s gig and we just played the Hollywood Bowl for the Global Warming tour and sold it out. For me, that was the biggest and most memorable show that we did.
Selling it out and playing the Hollywood Bowl especially as a lot of great musicians have played there such as Herbie Hancock. The site itself is very historic and one of the first amphitheatres ever built and actually into the hill. It holds 18,500 people.
The funny thing is back in November 2012 I flew to LA, and you can go to the Hollywood Bowl in the daytime and I sat at the very top and I took a photo of the Hollywood Bowl for Instagram and wrote “Hope to sell this place out one day.” A few months later we ended up playing and we sold it out.
As well as spinning around the globe with Mr Worldwide, I see that you also have a lot of other things going on. Tell me about Dirty Southaners…
OMAR: Dirty Southaners! (Omar’s eyes light up and he gives a big, exited smile)
Dirty Southaners is a great collaboration between myself and another great friend of mine who is also another producer/musician/songwriter by the name of Aaron Fishbien. Dirty Southaners is our artist management agency, where we not only manage but also produce music for and develop talented artists. Where we also focus on the promotion of their overall exposure and career path progression.
Aaron and I go back from when I was about 18 years old, he was working as a producer/songwriter/guitar player in Miami with professional producers in studios cutting instrumentation for notable albums between 2000-2004. I met him through a mutual friend. My sister used to be in a singing group and when the group, Edens Crush, dismembered in November 2001, she moved back to Miami. Aaron was a producer here in Miami that wanted to work with my sister and so they worked on some songs together. I was quite young at the time and I was like “ I just got a scholarship to the University of Miami and I wanna cut drums!” Cut drums means to record drums, by the way! It was really great to hang out with someone that had a really great studio and then a few years later between 2003 and 2004 Aaron asked me “I’m producing a rock band, do you want to play drums in the band?” I was like “Sure why not!” At that time you have to remember, we didn’t have iTunes and as many platforms on the internet as we have today. There was Napster, which was more for sharing and so we really just had My Space at the time. We had labels interested, the CD was great and we put it out there and we were really close to getting the project up and running. After this time, Aaron and I kept in contact. Aaron became like my South Beach dad, like a role model.
Then a few months ago I said “Hey Aaron, there’s this phenomenal singer, a phenomenal dancer. She sings really well, although she doesn’t have any studio recording experience”
Is that Stephanie Heymann?
Tell me more about her…
OMAR: Stephanie is a professional dancer from Miami and has worked with Flo Rida, Pitbull, Marc Anthony, JLO and many more. Stephanie had finished touring with Flo Rida around January 2013 so I asked “As you have some free time, do you want to come to the studio and work on something?”
Stephanie, Aaron and I just clicked! We wrote our first song together called ‘Get It Get It’. It’s an awesome song. Before we went into the studio we asked Stephanie what genre of music she would like to do, and what is her favourite style. Stephanie said she liked Country music, so I said let’s do Country music. We can produce any kind of music, we’re talented musicians. It’s not like “Oh we can’t do that kind of music you need to go to see this other guy.” We then produced the first track and co-wrote it together. Stephanie sounded great and we thought “Why don’t we sign her, sign her to us? Let’s call ourselves the Dirty Southaners”. The name Dirty Southaners stems from what Miami was known for in the ‘90’s.
We went ahead with the venture, signed Stephanie and thought let’s see where it goes from here. It’s been great. It’s been the best business decision I have ever made.
With us touring and travelling with Pitbull and the collaborations with so many different artists from different genres, we’re also dabbling with artists in the Country music world and looking forward to doing business in the future.
Teach me something technical…
OMAR: (moves closer to the table and places both palms on the edge of the table)
The paradiddle! You take both hands out and tap Right (hand)-left (hand)-right-right and then left-right-left-left. (I follow Omar’s lead and we paradiddle in harmony)
And now you got to put it all together
(We continue to paradiddle more fluidly together…and as I break free and go faster it all goes to pieces!)
See that’s the common problem, everyone wants to go too fast too soon! But you did well for a beginner.
Do you have any advice for any serious aspiring drummers out there?
OMAR: If you want be a drummer these days it’s the same thing as I went through when growing up.
I come from a city that’s a ‘melting pot’ of music, Miami has people from Jamaica, Barbados, Bahamas, Dominican Republic, Venezuela, other areas of South America, even Russia and more.
When it comes to being a musician in Miami you need to be diverse and ask yourself “Can you play a compa beat? (Haiti) soca? (Trinidad and Tobago) reggae? (Jamaica) merengue? Can you play jazz?” You’ve got to be able to play multiple percussion instruments as well as a drum set. As a drummer in Miami, being versatile expands your language of drumming. It makes you understand where your instrument came from. It didn’t come from Miami or Los Angeles, for example. It came from a different origin. For example ‘talking drums’ came from Africa and eventually came to meet other parts of the world.
Do you mean, not having tunnel vision or boxing yourself inside a drumming-niche?
OMAR: Yes, for example if someone says ‘I just wanna be a rock drummer’ that’s all good, But you would be a better rock drummer if you learnt how to play a lot of other things too as that’s going to grow your language. That is my biggest advice. Learn to be versatile, don’t be narrow minded, stay humble, be patient and good things will come your way and always have a goal.
Can I have a go on your drums please, it looks like a lot of fun?
OMAR: Yes I’ll try to let you have a go on there before the show starts
For sure? You’re not going to leave me bashing a tambourine and standing in the corner instead are you?
OMAR: No ( he laughs)
Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me Omar, it’s been an absolute honour and pleasure meeting you. I wish you all the best with the tour and your future projects.
By Serina Pitbull Fan Unleashed