- Joe Gonzalez
Military City USA, Metal City USA, Alamo City, River City – San Antonio is sort of known for a lot of things, but R&B isn’t exactly one of them.
Despite local singers like AMEA, Alyson Alonzo and Andrea “Vocab” Sanderson continuing to hold it down for San Antonio, SA’s R&B community isn’t huge. But I’d be remiss if I didn't mention that in SA’s past, we sort of were. Local legends like Sunny Ozuna of Sunny and The Sunliners put SA on the map for Chicano Soul – a blend of R&B, soul and rock ‘n’ roll in the early ’60s that eventually turned SA into a huge hub for the genre. However, after the rise of Tejano and metal through the late ’70s into the ’90s, SA focused less of its attention on Rhythm and Blues.
Despite SA’s current lack of a booming R&B scene, Xavier Omär has managed to make some big strides in the music industry. He secured reviews in music publications like Pitchfork, XXL and Vibe to name a few, and sold out his first headlining tour, the Pink Lightning Tour, at the end of 2017, which spanned 16 major cities across from Chicago to New York to Los Angeles before ending in Vancouver. He also headlined ASICS Tiger’s Sound Mind Sound Body Sessions to launch their spring/summer 2018 line at The Hollywood Roosevelt on January 10,11 and his hit “Blind Man” passed 20 million streams on January 26, and passed 22 million streams in February.
On top of all this success, he’s also featured on producer Sango’s new single “Sweet Holy Honey,” which came out in January and is nearing a million streams. The single showcases Omär's ability to uniquely navigate a track with interesting rhythms using his breathy vocals that weave in and out of Sango’s melodic chord progressions and beats while serving whispers of John Legend. And despite the Legend reference, the singer still manages to sound very much himself on this song.
Though the singer only lived in San Antonio from 2010 to 2014, after his father relocated him and his family for a job connected to the Navy, Omär told the Current that he still claims San Antonio as the city that helped him get his start as a singer. His parents still live here, and he also rocked a set at last year's Mala Luna, alongside Lil Wayne and Future.
We caught up with the artist to get a little bit more history on what made him one of the most buzzing R&B singers on the rise.
When did you first get into music? Like, how old were you when you knew that it was something you wanted to be connected to?
I didn’t know how old I was when I wanted to make it on my own, but I know I wanted to be doing something at three years old. The first thing I picked up was a guitar, and I was no good. Then, I liked the saxophone a whole bunch, but I guess didn’t have the patience to learn notes… I ended up being a drummer for the majority of my life.
Where were you playing drums? Were you in bands?
No, my dad was the Minister of Music at pretty much every church I had ever been to. And, at first, it was my brother who was the drummer. My brother eventually taught himself keyboard and migrated over to keys. At 11, I started playing drums. Anywhere that we lived from age 11 to 24 I played drums for my dad, every week – every Sunday, Wednesday, Thursday.
Growing up, who were some of your influences?
My singing influences came when I truly wasn’t a singer yet, I was still rapping. I spent a whole lot of time with Gnarls Barkley, John Legend… some of them aren’t even singers. So Chris Martin from Coldplay was a huge deal. Orlando Weeks from Maccabees – they broke up last year, pretty sad about that. They were my favorite band and they broke up. And then Kanye and Pharrell. They made the most sense to me as far as creativity and just going for it. That kinda fueled the personality more than the sound of the music… they really influenced my mindset more than their sounds itself.
That’s really well-rounded. I feel like I can hear all that going on in your music. When were you like ‘you know what, I’m done rapping, I want to start singing?’ 'Cause you can hear in just the way you sing. I thought, ‘I know this dude has bars.’ You’re able to change the cadence up, and hit the flow better than most. What made you jump to singing?
I didn’t believe myself as a rapper. In the sense that I didn't think I had a voice I would want to listen to as a rapper. And didn’t. I think ‘rap voice’ is a real thing. Guys like Kendrick, J.Cole, and Jay Z. – all the greats that you hear, even newer artist like J.I.D., they got voices you want to listen to… I didn’t feel like I had that, so I kinda just reevaluated what I was doing. I didn’t think I had my own style or sound. I always thought I was taking someone else's style.
So I had sung this song [when] I was in this rap group... I sang a song for the first time from start to finish, and I got so many great reactions from it. So when I moved to San Antonio, I went to an open mic and I sang that song, and the reactions I got there were kind of solidified into me. And that same summer, in August, American Idol was in Houston, so I went down to Houston and tried out for Idol ... Obviously, I didn’t get anywhere in Idol… but that didn’t make me think, 'I shouldn’t do this.' It just made me really mad, and I got equipment and I started making music, and that’s it from there.
So early on it was a lot of half and half – like, I’m rapping some verses and singing some choruses – still trying to get comfortable fully as a singer 'cause I didn’t have my style yet. I even sounded British for a while because I was so heavily influenced by Chris Martin and Orlando Weeks. But eventually I got my own style… Just now, I have begun to circle back and touch on rap a little bit more with my verses.
Are you working on an album right now? I know you just got back from tour, and you have that new track right now with Sango, which is a banger.
I’m doing the very best I can to just work. So I’m just trying to make music. Doing a lot of features. You’re gonna see a lot of features this year.
What would you say to the artist, musician or band that’s coming out of San Antonio? What advice would you give them?
Just continue working. There’s few people that you can point to who have had an overnight success. It’s a grind. When you do this music stuff, you’re saying 'I want to put four, five, six, seven years of my life towards really making progress.' And sometimes, you might feel you’re supposed to have made much bigger steps than you have, or you’re not getting the respect you deserve. Don’t focus on any of those things, just focus on going to get what belongs to you… You don’t get what you don't work for. Keep working; keep trying to be innovative. Don’t try to sound like anybody else. Focus on the people that do love you; focus on the fans. Don’t worry about the city not loving you yet. When you go take over and you come back, the city will love you. Put blinders on and work ‘till you get where you want to be.