Om’Mas of SA-RA Creative Partners speaks the truth

"The common bond was hip-hop. Word up, that was it. That’s what locked us in. The old ball and chain: hip-hop. And we can't evade it."

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Sa-Ra. Om'Mas Keith, Taz Arnold, and Shafiq of SA-RA Creative Partners. © Pablo Aguilar Photography.

Sa-Ra. Om’Mas Keith, Taz Arnold, and Shafiq of SA-RA Creative Partners. © Pablo Aguilar Photography.

 

To start it the way it ends, SA-RA is about to take over. From their latest full album, Nuclear Evolution: The Age of Love, to the EPs and singles and group members’ solo efforts like Shafiq’s Shafiq En’ A-Free-Ka and Om’Mas’s forthcoming City Pulse, it’s clear that something special is continuously unfolding. The following is a conversation with Om’Mas, the multi-instrumentalist whose abstract answers reflect his group’s enigmatic sound.

Is there a general mission statement for SA-RA, and the music that you create?

If we could put it on paper, the SA-RA sound, we do have doctrines but not about the sound. But you’d find a mission statement that says something to effect of…truthfulness. Truth first. It’s a general statement, but that’s how we talk. I would say to somebody who would read that that whatever is in fact true in whatever is going on, that’s what comes out in the music. Truth in how you’re feeling, truth about what you’re going through, what you like. Not necessarily truth in an event that happened, but the simple fact that you’re thinking about that makes it the truth. It makes it a reality because you are thinking about that kind of stuff. As long as it’s rooted in truth, that is the key to us. Then you have the equal sign after that, so truth equals… It equals creativity.

What was the common bond that brought you three together?

The common bond was hip-hop. Word up, that was it. That’s what locked us in. The old ball and chain: hip-hop. And we can’t evade it. It’s so deeply ingrained in our psyches and in our makeup as men. It was really that love of hip-hop. The first time we all met, we were around beat machines. When I met Shafiq and then Taz [Arnold], it was in the studio, with beat machines and records. We met under that pretext. It’s pretty amazing. Hip-hop is a divine force.

How long did it take to find that SA-RA essence, that element that supersedes hip-hop? Was it a fast transformation or did it take some time to evolve?

Nah, there was nothing slow about it. There is nothing slow about how we create. We just came together, and everyone was just being themselves, and we continue to do so. Being yourself equals truth. Truth is the parent of all of the subfolders for us. What do you like? What do you want? What is you? Because we are so focused on epitomizing and embodying what we are, who we are, it appears to be effortless. When we’re ourselves in front of a computer and some Pro Tools and some beat machines, then that’s what you hear. When we’re ourselves shopping on Rodeo Drive, then that’s what you see.

You may have just answered this, but is it conscious to wild out the way you guys do or is it some innate quality that all of you share?

The consciousness of the all is more what we are part of. It’s not really a conscious effort, we are part of this effort. We are part of this wholeness. Because we’re part of it, it is what we are. We’re just truth, just light, just ourselves. It will always be a direct reflection of the individual and collective minds. Every display of SA-RA is a joint venture.

We’ve been talking about the unit, but what does each person bring? There has to be certain things that as individuals each of you bring to the table.

What each person brings is their own mastery. You will find where there are scenarios, there are overlapping duties and in many cases overlapping responsibilities. Clearly, both Taz and myself excel at being in the public eye. Shafiq is a Zulu king; he is that dude. He is one of the best selectors you’ll ever met in your entire life. Clearly, Taz has one of the best eyes for fashion that the world has ever known. I have something that the world is recognizing, you know, MTV style… It’s still so early on that people have not yet had the opportunity to develop their own opinion. Really, who are we to say what qualities we bring? We’re visible people, and becoming more visible as every day goes on. We’d love for people to watch the display and comment on it, and see what opinions they form about us. It’s enjoyable to see what people think, like, “Oh, he does this, he does that.” Later, they’ll find out they had it the other way around. That’s kind of the mystique of SA-RA, our process and our procedure. That’s our business. Going back to the first answer about mastery, I can assure you, my two partners are masters. Master teachers and masterful men. They focus on mastery in whatever they deal with. When you put that level of mastery together, it triples up, and then you have SA-RA. You have something that we can’t even control anymore. It’s beyond us. I swear to you, it’s beyond us. There are times when we do nothing but focus on our unique and individual endeavors, and while focusing on those, unsolicited requests for SA-RA continue to pour in. That ain’t no fluke. It’s got nothing to do with me, Shafiq, or Taz, or any of our efforts from being out there hustling. No, that’s people out there, I’m searching for these dudes right here. I mean, look, that’s what happens with masters. That’s why as you climb the ladder, in all structures, you find less and less people at the top. The highly refined and developed skills of a tenured individual are few and far between. Having Taz and Shafiq as my partners is like having Ralph Lauren, James Brown, and Duke Ellington, all in their thirties. That’s what I would compare us to. The flyest dude on earth that epitomizes the height of luxury and opulence, the King of Rhythm, and then a guy like Duke Ellington, one of the most historic figures in American popular music.

When I listen to your music, and I’ve been saying this since I first started listening, it’s very apparent that you guys are on a whole other musical plane. In your opinion, what is stopping you guys from being household names?

Nothing. Nothing is stopping us. To anyone reading that, you asked that question just to see what we’d say, and to that I say nothing has ever stopped us. SA-RA have been professionally creating content for all to enjoy for not yet ten years. For myself to be on MTV in front of millions of people, for Taz to be in magazines and taking pictures with Kanye at Fashion Week, and for Shafiq to have a solo record out…these achievements are of great stature for anyone. Look at a guy like Tim Allen, we’re talking about a man who didn’t achieve millions until he was well into his thirties. The prime example for gentlemen like us is Berry Gordy, who was well into his thirties when he began to really make things happen. There is a kind of power from being a tenured man. There is something to that. People can get millions by twenty-two—yeah, it can go down like that, but if you look deep at examples of mega-success, they are not always directly related to a human being’s individual contribution. There are so many factors involved that deal with the random nature of things. Or just the mathematics of the universe. You just gotta accept that. For us, everybody who is big who we have worked with has indoctrinated us into the cipher. If anything, what’s happening now is we are really being encouraged and pushed along. I don’t know how else you could view SA-RA being on MTV other than stratospheric forward movement. From a 12-inch to fifty-two million viewers. Let’s talk about it! People who are reading this, there is some shit going on. Spin magazine called our album one of the best albums of the year so far. We got nine out of ten stars, and we were up against major shit. How did that happen? We’re kinda stumped by that too…

Really, you are stumped by that?

Yeah, because Spin magazine doesn’t show love to artists who are in our realm like that. What it is though, we created a persona… We created something that mainstream America is recognizing. Cats like you asking the right questions gives us the platform to explain what it really is and explain the myths that people get caught up in. Hopefully, by explaining how we feel about it, it will show people that there is another way to look at this. It’s all about forward movement and positivity, though.

That brings us to where we are now: Nuclear Evolution: The Age of Love. There is so much to that title. I read it as an ushering in of a new era for not only the group, but a direction for music. We can all draw our own conclusions, but for you, what does that title mean?

Yeah, I mean a new positive era. You are right, though, it ushers in a new dawn for SA-RA. Evolution was something we know we needed to deal with, and to continue to reinvent and redevelop and tweak. All of our records are going to be evolutionary and evocative of the Age of Love. There is a book Nuclear Evolution, though… It was the kind of thing where we’re all sitting around, and Shafiq had read the book, and he introduced us all to it. It was always sitting around in the studio, and it just struck us as a great way to embody our energy in a statement. Like wow, how are we going to put a product out that’s gonna last for the rest of humanity as long as there is a recorded history and have such a powerful title? It was just there… We probably had a deadline to fucking turn in an album—that’s how brainstorming goes, though. There are those little subsequent circumstances that are attributed to final decisions. To add to that, it’s so easy when we work… There is no resistance when it’s great. We realize it’s about the path of the least resistance. If somebody says something you like, you just take it. You say, okay, cool, and just go with it. It’s not a focus on anyone’s individual contribution as much as it is about the final output. Every industry has that terminology, the final product. From the toothpaste you use, the food you eat, with us we realize that there is always a word attached to it: SA-RA. The easier it is to make, the more of it you make. To make it the best, and do it the easiest way so we can make tons of it. That’s what Nuclear Evolution is about, the path of least resistance for us. That’s how we’ve evolved, this is really important, but we’ve evolved in our abilities to allow creativity to effortlessly flow through us. We’re bossing up now. It’s time. SA-RA is about to take over, don’t get it twisted. We’re about to take the fuck over, yo!

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