Omar Kadir — Afghanistan To The Bay Area
Good music and talent carries no ethnic bias
There’s a cool breeze outside and the faint sound of cars driving by from the nearby freeway. A local police squad car slowly drives by and the officer stares me down as if I were a suspect in a crime. Two guys hop out from the side of a building wearing K9 bite sleeves on their arms and casually make their way to the center of the parking lot. A few moments later an officer and his K9 companion come running out and the dog starts attacking one of the guy’s arms.
I’m stuck in place and in awe of what’s going on 30 feet in front of me. Where am I? In the middle of the action, I get tapped on the shoulder. I turn around and I’m greeted by Omar Kadir. He notices how stuck my eyes are on this dog and how it’s almost ripping the protective bite sleeve off this guy’s arm. He laughs a little and tells me that the local police department does K9 training in the area from time to time. He later leads me inside his office building and I can’t help but continue to look at what else that dog does.
It’s 8:30pm on a Friday night and Omar is exactly where he wants to be, working in his studio. John, Omar’s manager, and Omar’s good friend, Lou, sit on the couch with me and begin exchanging jokes. Their laughs calm me down from the intense cop action in the parking lot and the mood of the room is instantly lifted.
From a big glass window, I can see Mike a.k.a Megamike, Omar’s business partner and music producer, jotting down what looks like marketing ideas on a big white board and playing the keyboard in a production office on the other side of the glass. Some half drank water bottles and a pizza box with two remaining slices sitting on the coffee table in front of me, tells me that the group just finished eating their dinner and was ready to work through the night.
“Wasup wit it?” Omar says to me with a smile.
At first glance, Omar looks like a normal, stand up guy. No piercings, no tattoos, and clean cut. He’s dressed down in black Nike slides, gray jogger sweats, and a basic curved hem cut tee. No super crazy haircuts, clothing, or jewelry either.
He kind of reminds me like most of the guys you’d meet that work at Silicon Valley based startup companies. Very cool and calm with a carefree type of charm. He graduated high school as an average student and attended the Academy of Art in San Francisco, studying Graphic Design. He worked different jobs from being a server at Chili’s, Home Loan Officer, and a personal banker for Chase, but he was never passionate about any of them.
“I always push to do the things that make me happy and to do what I enjoy. I believe everyone has the opportunity to follow what they love. It may be difficult for others, but the opportunity is still there. It just comes down to how much work are you willing to do to get there? If you put in enough PRODUCTIVE time into one thing, then something is bound to come out from all that work.”
Despite Omar’s plain exterior, the one thing that does stand out is his ethnicity. Omar is a first generation Afghan-American. His parents immigrated from Afghanistan to Minnesota to escape the Soviet-Afghan War. They came here with nothing but $500 and the clothes on their back. Omar was born in Minnesota and later moved to the Bay Area, CA with his family when he was a toddler.
“My parents really worked hard to support my brother and myself and I learned a lot just watching their hustle. My pops bought old cars, fixed them, and sold them. He saved up enough money one day to buy his first convenient store,” Omar explains. “My mom swept the floors of a salon and started learning how to cut and style hair from the other stylists. She worked her way up and she now owns her own salon.”
In an industry dominated by Black-Americans and White-Americans, it’s a little more challenging for people of other ethnicities to break through to the mass commercial market. But, Omar doesn’t let that worry him. He believes that if the music and content is good, then there’s an audience out there that will accept him and love him for it.
“The great thing about the modern music industry is that there are so many different resources out there, a lot of them are free, for independent artists to create an audience. You don’t need to fully rely on a major record label to make a living in the music industry.”
The political atmosphere regarding Middle-Easterns and Muslims has certainly created some uneasy tensions in the U.S. But, Omar’s lax personality and stringent work ethic keep him focused on his music career.
“Everyone has an opinion and everyone is certainly entitled to one. But, I try to keep mine closed between just my family and friends. I’m not in a position to preach to my audience about the news, nor should I be seen as a strong news source just because I’m an Afghan Muslim. The news is based on facts. My thoughts and opinions are the exact opposite of news. I’m not a journalist. I’m a music artist.”
At this point, John and Lou have turned their attention to business, as John is on the phone talking to radio DJ’s and Lou is working on building a new beat on Fruity Loops on his laptop. Omar turns around and starts going through different vocal takes on a Pro Tools session file that’s pulled up in front of him. He’s working on the next potential single to follow up from his most recent release titled Catch Up. He walks over to the big glass window looking into Megamike’s room, taps on it and signals Mike to come over to his side of the wall.
The two start reviewing the vocal takes and slowly piece together a verse. They go back and forth with ideas of how it should sound, harmonies, and vocal transitions. Just listening in on what these two talk about, I really start to see Omar’s talent as a music producer shine through. Not the Metro Boomin or DJ Mustard type of producer, but the Quincy Jones type. The “I know how to shape a song to actually make it a song” type of producer.
When the two finish their talk and edits on the song, I get a sneak peak during their playback of the next possible single.
“Won’t give two cents to a dime. I put some rocks in my Roley thinkin’ it’d brighten my time…” sings Omar’s voice from the studio monitors.
You can feel the low rumble of the bass coming from the subwoofer and the song shakes the water bottles in front of me. I know this song is gonna be hype when they drop it.
“We got fire?” Mike asks. “We got FIRE!” Omar responds. The two turn around and Mike makes his way back over to his room on the other side of the wall and I quietly excuse myself and pop in to see what Mike is up to.
Mike is the other half of their company, Third Nature Music Group. He’s a quiet and well-mannered kind of guy. His room is a combination of studio equipment, music instruments, and a meticulously organized office work area. Mike is the guy behind the scenes and handles the majority of the music production, instrumentation, and marketing strategies.
A classically trained pianist since he was four years old, Mike met Omar not through music, but through dance.
“It was the second day of my freshmen year of high school and I see this kid jump over these bushes and start rushing towards me. I’m kinda freakin’ out cause I’m a little freshman, Filipino kid and I’m thinking I’m about to get in my first high school fight on the second day of school,” Mike explains. “As the kid gets closer and closer to me I see that he has a smile on his face and I feel a little less threatened. When he gets to me he says ‘Do you remember me? I’m the guy from that party over the summer. The one where you danced.’”
The two met at a friend’s summer party where Omar was first introduced to the style of dance called Popping.
“This was the first time I’ve ever seen anyone in person do arm waves and I was just amazed. I had to learn how to do dance like that,” Omar tells me.
After the two reunited in high school, they became dance partners ever since. Omar and Mike practiced together with other dance friends and then started entering local competitions where they would battle in a tournament style either 2-on-2 or 1-on-1. They began making noise by winning a handful of local competitions, which grabbed the attention of bigger and more notable B-Boy (Breakdance) crews.
Omar was recruited by a crew known as Flexible Flav/Zulu Kings. Anyone who knows Hip Hop history knows that the Zulu Kings are tied to the Universal Zulu Nation and its Godfather, Afrika Bambaataa.
Omar would later travel across the U.S. competing and battling against different dancers, alongside dance mates Alieness and Zulu Gremlin.
As Omar and Mike made their way through the world of dance, they eventually found themselves auditioning for Fox’s So You Think You Can Dance Season 1, where they made the Top 50 dancers in the Los Angeles division.
Omar’s history as a dancer is crucially important to the industry that he’s involved with as a music artist. Because B-Boying (Breakdancing) is the first dance of the Hip Hop Culture, studying dance styles like B-boying, Popping, Locking, etc. is like studying Hip Hop history. Unlike other music artists, Omar was out their first hand experiencing the Hip Hop culture as a whole and really lived the culture, rather than viewing it from a TV or computer.
I walk out of Mike’s office and find Omar sitting in front of another computer workstation in an open room right outside of Mike’s office. He’s editing the music video to his last single, Got That From You, featuring Bay Area Rapper, Producer, and Co-Founder of HBK, IAMSU!
“The concept of this video was that we were filming us filming a music video if that makes any sense,” he says with a laugh. “We invited about 40 dancers into a big sound stage in LA and just filmed everyone doing their thing to the song. It actually inspired me to come up with a new YouTube video series idea I’m thinking of calling ‘The Session’. It’s basically a video of me and other top dancers getting down and dancing in different venues. Every episode we’ll feature a new song from an upcoming artist or special guest dancers, etc. My audience loves the fact that I dance, so I want to be able to give them more of that type of content. We’re going to be filming the first episode next month in LA.”
As I pack up my things and start to get ready to head out, I’m wowed by the amount of talent that I just witnessed in such a short amount of time from guys who you wouldn’t expect to be as talented as they are.
I make my way back to my car and find that the police training group is still outside. This time, they’re having their dogs sniff around to practice finding different items. No sign of the guy who was getting his arm ripped apart by the dog though. Maybe the dog ate him? Who knows? Lol.
I hop in the driver’s seat and plug in my iPhone to the aux. I go to Spotify and put on Omar’s single, Got That From You.
“Man I roll with the stars while you stare at the moon. We working too hard we got too much to lose…” starts blaring out of my car window as I make my way down the road.
I get up to my apartment and start piecing together all the info I just gathered on Omar. I play back the video clip of Omar’s Got That From You music video that I recorded on my phone.
My kid sister walks through my front door and decides that my fridge is the better option for a late night snack over the grocery store around the corner from her dorm. As she makes herself comfortable on my couch, she leans over curious at what I’m watching and says, “Who’s that? Is that the artist you interviewed tonight? He dances too? And that’s his song? This guy is talented. What else can he do?”