Boomshots: Omari Banks
He's got a voice as calming as chamomile and charisma that bubbles like a champagne toast. With long, willowy limbs and dreadlocks that dance when he laughs—which is often—reggae singer Omari Banks is a commanding presence, both on and off stage. As lead vocalist and guitarist for bourgeoning band, Eleven, he’s not just a dynamic performer, he writes and composes most of his own songs. Between his music and his magnetic mojo, one of Anguilla’s most beloved talents has the makings of an international superstar.
Music is in his marrow. He’s the son of Bankie Banx, reggae royalty and legendary founder of Moonsplash, the longest-running independent music festival in the Eastern Caribbean. Besides his famous father, his family is full of singing siblings and reggae-loving relatives. Throughout his youth, music was as ever-present as the symphony of the sea surrounding his island home. Considering the legacy, lyrics and locks, Marley clan comparisons are inevitable.
Although music is his birthright, it hasn't always been his career. The 31-year-old is also a gifted cricket player who played professionally until a few years ago. And he was no benchwarmer. In 2003, Omari made history as the first athlete from the tiny Caribbean island of Anguilla to play pro cricket for the West Indies.
After a super successful decade as a pro athlete, Omari set his sights on another goal. With a mantel-full of trophies and music on the mind, he decided to retire his bat and pursue his other passion—reggae. And just like that, he went from breaking records to recording them.
VIBE Vixen got a chance to catch up with the handsome performer during this year’s 24th Annual Moonsplash fest and learn more about his journey—from history to horizon.
Flip the script for the full interview.
Vixen: What’s your favorite track on the album?
Omari Banks: It’s hard to say that I have a favorite track. My favorite one to perform is for my daughter—I love my little girl. It’s called “Somaiya.” All the songs mean a lot to me. They generally come from personal experience. This is my first child, so I feel a special connection. I’m in a high emotional state when I perform that song.
What was your favorite thing about creating the album?
I recorded the album in three different spurts. First, two songs first in Jamaica, then I went to Houston, Texas, where I recorded three songs— “Somaiya,” “Let It Go,” and “How Do I.” Then I recorded the remainder, which was six songs, in Jamaica. I guess the best moment would be when it was finished. When I put it all together and listened to the tracks, I was happy with what I’d come up with.
You do some of your own production?
I produce, arrange, and write most of my material. I really like the process. All of my songs start with an acoustic guitar and from there, I take it to the studio. When I go to the studio, the song is already completed; I just put a finishing studio edge on it.
Do you have a personal writing ritual?
My songwriting process starts with a concept—with feeling passionate about something. I look within myself, pull from inside, and put it into portrait and paper. It’s a musical rendition of all the feelings I have.
Where are you inspired? Does it matter where you write?
It can be at home, maybe at a beach or my dad’s place—wherever I’m alone, so I can feel.
Music’s always been in your life, but only recently as a career. How long were you working on your debut album?
I was a professional cricketer for 11 years. I was involved in sports heavily as a kid and I was doing music even before cricket. I was singing etcetera, but what I did was after I finished playing cricket. Music and sports were my two passions. The first song I wrote was “Move On.” That was the point that I was at—I wanted to move on and do something different. I write about my life. I write about things I felt strongly about, how I view society. I just make it into a melody—into a sound. Over the past three or four years, I’ve written close to 30 songs. When I decided to produce an album, it was just a case of deciding which songs I wanted to put on the album.
Can you tell us a little bit about Moonsplash, your role in it and how the music festival has played a role in your life and career?
I’m a Moonsplash baby. It’s a big event and it’s grown over the years. I’ve seen the evolution. Moonsplash has been really instrumental in my life. I’ve been able to see some of the biggest reggae acts in the world—John Mayer made an appearance a couple of years ago. I got to see huge names and it inspired me. I have always admired musicianship of the people. I’ve seen musicians come in and out the house—that has to have an impact on a kid. Moon Splash has had a really big impact on the island of Anguilla. In terms of music, it’s the longest running privately owned music festival in the Caribbean. I’ve seen the determination and sacrifices that my dad has had to endure to ensure that Moonsplash continues. It has played an enormous, tremendous role and has really shaped my musical views and development.
If you had to pick one special moment from all 24 Moonsplash festivals, what would it be?
It's hard to put it down to one. There are so many, from Marley to Buju Banton, Cartel. One of the best moments for me was when Freddie McGregor performed for quite a long time. He probably came on at two; I think everyone went home around six in the morning. Just being able to meet somebody who was so passionate about their music, someone who is very humble. Every Moonsplash is special. I got to meet all of my dad's friends from back in the day, but that moment definitely took Moonsplash to another level.
Anguilla is a special place to have been raised. What it is your greatest lesson from your home?
I think lessons are learned through experience. I am blessed to be talented and have the opportunity to do my passions, which is cricket and now music. I learned a lot because of cricket. I can’t speak about my music without cricket. Anguilla is place where you have to work hard to excel. We don't have a history of a lot of people being known internationally—with the exception of maybe my dad and, in recent times, Cheryl Proctor. What I’ve learned through my experience is that you have to go out and get it yourself. I think that within itself is a principle of hard work and determination. Growing up on an island, if you want get out there and be seen by the wider world, you’ve got to have a strong work ethic.
What is on your horizon?
I am going to Jamaica and at the end of the month to record three singles. The first, “Unafraid”,” will be released in Luxembourg. I’m looking forward to traveling and performing in the Caribbean, US and Europe.
What is the last app that you downloaded?
Viber—I downloaded it two seconds ago. [laughs]
Last few songs you played?
“Gravity,” John Mayer; “Europa,” Carlos Santana; “Still in Love With You,” Thin Lizzy; “Come Back to Bed,” Gramps Morgan; “Diamonds Are Forever,” Jay-Z; “Patience,” Nas; and “We Are The Champions,” Queen.
Tell me one un-Google-able fact about yourself.
I like to eat. A lot. [laughs]
What advice would you give your 16-year-old self?
Do it the same way you did it.
Check out Omari's video for "Jehovah Message" from his debut album, Move On (Big Banko Music).