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t f u r
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LeRock’s Exclusive Piece on Om’Mas Keith of Sa-Ra


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Om’mas Keith, one of three members of the group Sa-Ra, is the kind of man that is rare to find. Multi-talented, well-spoken, fashionable and a long list of attributes spring to mind. He is a multi-instrumentalist (drums, bass, piano, guitar & horns, in that order) who has spent 10+ years in the music industry producing, writing, arranging, and essentially branding himself as a jack-of-all-trades. He has been a judge on Making His Band with none other than the "key holder" Diddy, and continues to bless ears with his musical talent through producing, engineering and his work with Sa-Ra.



Being born in 1970’s New York into a family of musicians, he was surrounded early on by Jazz. His great-grandfather was a multi-woodwind player and transcriber for the likes of Gershwin and Duke Ellington. His grandmother was a concert cellist, while his grandfather was a drummer. His mother, jazz vocalist Sister Mekea Keith, and father, Michael Keith (an avant-garde jazz musician) were known associates with the likes of Miles Davis and Thelonius Monk Jr. At the age of 3, Om’mas began to learn the drums and was surrounded by the bebop jazz sound. Between 15 and 16 years of age, he spent a summer at the University of Massachusetts under the late Max Roach.

Upon his return to New York Om’mas found he had a neighbor who had a studio that had owned a beat machine. He took that opportunity to learn how to make beats and from there moved onto learning some engineering. Of his skill in knowing many instruments he says, " Necessity is the mother of invention. Many times you will find that to be the case with multi-instrumentalists. The necessity to play a bunch of instruments because that’s what you want to hear– that’s what you want on a record. Youre forced to do that because nobody is around." He also enrolls into the Institute of Audio Research, which at the time was the first school of audio engineering in the world and was located in Little Village in New York. Around the same time, he was in a group ROI (Rage of Insanity/Realization of Intelligence) that consisted of himself, Oz, and Lord Nes, which eventually led Om’mas to producing for the likes of Sha Money (50 Cents manager) and Ja Rule. By the time Om’mas was 17, Raw Breed wanted him to move to L.A.

In 1997, Om’mas visits L.A. and is picked up by a Bentley which takes him to meet Ice-T. It is at Ice-T’s home that he first meets future Sa-Ra member Shafiq Husayn. Upon his return to New York, he meets Jam Master Jay and for the next 3 years remains in the studio with acts such as Onyx, Jayo Felon, 8 Ball, and 50 Cent. Within the next couple of years, after being laid off by an advertising company, he decided he needed a break and had two major changes to his life. In 2000, Sa-Ra was formed and also during this time his daughter, Jeanette was born.

Sa-Ra, whose members are Shafiq Husayn, Taz Arnold and Om’mas was birthed from 3 men who love music and wanted to share their talent with others. The members have no defined roles although Shafiq is comfortable behind the beat machine, while Om’mas believe himself to be best at leading and purposing content. Their creative process is fairly simple. They each have their own skeletal structures for the music they would like to make and they come together at a ‘creative briefing’ and gain input from the other members. They describe their sound as Afromagnetic Electronic Spiritualism, which is a process that is a way of thought. While defined below, we are also encouraged to interpret it as we see fit.
Afro: of Africa
Magnetic: Force of the Universe
Electronic: Demonstration of their music/ "Our sound, Our Era"
Spiritualism: the only way to bring all these things to life.
Having built a buzz off of making remixes, Sa-Ra eventually began a major record deal with none other than Kanye West. In 2005 they released the underground classic Hollywood through Babygrande, and in 2007 released the album, Hollywood Recordings.More recently, Om’mas has become well-known for being a judge on Diddy’s Making His Band and through the release of Sa-Ra’s newest Release, Nuclear Evolution: The Age of Love (NE: AOL).

About Diddy
Not only is Om’mas Keith a featured judge on Diddy’s Making His Band, he has also produced about 25 tracks for The Last Train To Paris. When asked how he came to be a judge on Diddy’s shows, Om’mas comments, "Only the truth will get you recognized by a gentleman like him," Om’mas says, "He’s a key holder. He’s got the supreme key." In the oft-discussed episode of Making His Band, where he and Romeo disagree he points out that the judges do have differing opinions on the best talent for the group, but that the resulting band is a representation of forward-movement and their idea of ultimate success for Diddy. "I think what happened was a situation where we were all trying to really just fight for the BEST. And in that, you have a difference in approach, you know- we’re all fighting for the same common goal… So I think we just have different approaches, me and Romeo, and without going too much into what really happened- people can look and see that my approach is clearly one way- I stand on my square and I keep it real cool. Speak when I need to. And Romeo’s approach is a bit more hands on- a bit more involved as far as communication… And the passion behind it is what negates any negativity that people may view from what appeared to be an argument… And ultimately Romeo is my homeboy."

The newest album, NE: AOL took two years as Sa-Ra has a "holistic approach" to creation. The wait allowed for features from both accomplished and up-and-coming artists such as award-winning saxophonist Gary Bartz (Cosmic Ball) is on the album, as is Erykah Badu and Brooke D’Leau from J*Davey. Not that Om’mas hasn’t been kept busy. Within the past few years, Om’mas has been heard playing keys on Jay-Z’s Kingdom Come and has worked with the likes of Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, Bilal and several others. Sa-Ra’s latest album, Nuclear Evolution: Age of Love, was given a 9 out of 10 rating in the July 2009 editon of Spin magazine. Their next release, Black Fuzz, will contain a feature by Herbie Hancock among others, but has no set release date.

Words on the Music Industry from Om’mas
For artists: Major record labels are good for risk assesment. To be "signed" means that the label needs notification when name and image is used. Be wary of ownership language.
For Producers: Name the process through which you produce your beats. It’s all a part of branding. Also, you MUST have options
For Business: Take care of business- have accountants, lawyers, managers, and whatever else is needed. Also, have joint ventures with forward moving companies.
For Life: "Words are power. And you have to be very careful, very tactful about how you use words."

Random Facts about Om’mas Keith
Favorite tracks on NE:AOL- Traffica and Dirty Beauty
Artists whose albums he looks forward to: Erykah Badu, Jay Electronica, Gary Bartz, Diddy, Sa-Ra, Erika Rose
Most influential song: Rockbox- Run DMC
One thing the industry is missing now: People of color playing live, well thought out, intelligent music.

-Chastity Parker

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