Omar Ávalos Gallegos: Guitarist, Composer, and Writer

  

Omar Ávalos Gallegos: Guitarist, Composer, and Writer

 By 

Samuel Munoz

It was working on my last article with Sal Navarrete that I met Omar Avalos. He had kindly allowed Sal and I to conduct our interview in his studio in downtown that he rents together with other Santa Ana musicians. At the time of meeting him, I had no idea how great of a guitarist he really was. I knew first of his writings on his blog, The Santa Ana Sentinel, where he unleashes his uncensored commentary on pretty much everything Santa Ana including politics, culture, and, of course, music. A kind of controversial figure to some of the locals, Omar’s blog posts have received attention both positive and negative from the likes of OC Weekly’s Gustavo Arellano (mostly negative), the Santa Ana register’s Andrew Galvin, and the OC Latino Link. It was not after reading a few of his posts that I discovered his unique talent for the guitar.

Currently finishing his masters in musicology at Cal State Fullerton, his thesis entitled “An Anthology and Study of Nineteenth-Century Mexican Guitar Music,” Omar is an accomplished academic and cites as his most important influence, the music of Manuel M. Ponce. Although his original compositions specialize in flamenco guitar, his overall range on the guitar is extensive from rock to classical to jazz. One can hear his many original compositions in his sound cloud at http://soundcloud.com/flamencali.

Omar was kind enough to meet with me last week during The Day of the Dead celebrations held at Fourth street. We met at the Gypsy Den on the second street promenade to talk a little bit about his history, his love and study of music, and his writing.

 

Samuel Munoz (SM):

So tell me about where you grew up and where did you go to school.

Omar Avalos:

I grew up in Ward 5 [see map of the wards in Santa Ana here]. I’ve lived there all my life. I’m right on the edge of ward 5 on Willits and Diamond. My neighborhood schools were Spurgeon and Valley. But I did not go to Spurgeon. I went to Greenville and Macarthur. Greenville had a lot to do with instilling music in me. Although prior to that I had already been inclined to do music as a five year old, Greenville gave parents that option to put their kids in music. So, that was a big defining aspect of myself, being in that school. After Greenville and Macarthur, I went to Tustin [high school] for a year and then I came to my neighborhood school, which was Valley. At that point on, I partied like there was no tomorrow [he laughs].

 

SM:

It’s understandable. It’s what you do at that age.

Omar Avalos:

Yeah, I partied like there was no tomorrow and I started to bounce around schools. Now that I look back, that time became another defining moment for me because I had to stop myself and really start thinking about what I was going to do with my life. And so I opted on music. I looked in retrospect and I said “ ok I’ve done music since I was a kid. I’ve always liked it a lot, so I guess I’ll do music.”

SM:

So where did you study music after high school?

Omar Avalos:

I went to SAC [Santa Ana College] and I did the music program there and I got my Associate’s. From there I went to [Cal State] Fullerton and did the Bachelor’s in music composition. In between, I went to Spain and studied Flamenco guitar briefly. It was a course in Sevilla. Then I came back to Fullerton and I did the Master of Arts in music history.

SM:

I also heard that you are an instructor at SAC?

Omar Avalos:

No, I’ve been an assistant music instructor. I’ve been there since 2001. I help run the music lab.

SM:

How did you get into Flamenco music specifically?

Omar Avalos:

I guess it was a challenge. A challenge that was put to me by someone who just asked me “Do you play Spanish guitar?” And I said “No.” But those kinds of things create a spark. For example, I had a teacher ask me “Do you compose?” and I said to him at the time the same thing, “No.” But then that became a stimulant for me to begin composing. So when someone asked me “Do you play Spanish guitar?” I made it my business to learn that.

 

SM:

Tell me a bit about Flamencali?

Omar Avalos:

It is just a name that I have performed with from time to time. It became a “brand,” a name for a group that I thought of. Just like there is Devil and His Friend [another band from Santa Ana], there is Flamencali. I did shows here at the Gypsy Den with dancers and around southern California [under that name]. It was also about identity with the region. Instead of having a pretentious name associated with Spain, I chose something that would identify with the area.

 

SM:

Can you talk a bit about some of your influences in music?

Omar Avalos:

Oh definitely Silvestre Revueltas and Manuel M. Ponce [both Mexican composers active in the early 20thCentury]. Those two are probably my biggest influences. For guitar, there is a guitarist named Julio Cesar Oliva from Mexico, and Juan Manuel Cañizares from Spain who is just an amazing Flamenco guitarist.

SM:

In terms of your musical compositions how do you go about creating your own work?

Omar Avalos:

Well, I think there should be a purpose. If there is a purpose, a reason for your composition, like if it goes with something or it’s for an event, that is when I compose. I don’t just compose to compose. But when I’m on the guitar things come, you know. Call it “noodling” or whatever–you’re thinking of things and you compose things as you go. But I think that there should be a reason behind a composition, a purpose for that composition. […] For example, when I did my recital in 2005 at Cal State Fullerton I put on this eclectic display of genres; it was a play in genres. I learned from Manuel Ponce to be versatile, because he was a very versatile composer. He could write like Bach or the romantics. He was called the father of Mexican musical nationalism.  I remember listening to a talk from Conrad Pope, who did music for Seabiscuit; he was talking about the film composer John Williams, and he told composers there that day to be versatile in genres. He described John Williams as the most successful, the most well known, and the most versatile composer. So, this is something that I had in mind before I got to Fullerton. You had all these composers that put themselves in this niche that wanted to be “cutting edge” and like John Cage and only that. Others just wanted to be minimalists or of the avante-garde and I wanted to show my versatility like Ponce.

SM:

I want to talk a little bit about Santa Ana, the Artist Village in particular. I want to know, since you have been active in the artist community for quite some time now, your opinion on the changes that have happened to Downtown.

Omar Avalos:

Well it was very obvious back then to me that the area needed improvement. And it is still very obvious to me that it needs improvement. When I started coming here there was no Gypsy Den where we are at today, no Memphis, or any of this stuff. All there was, was this place called Maury’s Deli, before that it was Neutral Grounds, but they used to have open mics and poetry on Thursday nights. I used to come for that. As far as the changes happening, I think there should be a balance as far as the ethnicities represented here. I don’t agree with the arguments against having improvements or changes here. I think that people need to be part of the solution and propose businesses and get into the business class. I strongly believe that. […] I have said before that I would like to see local people getting involved and turning local people on to business, so that we are at least represented equally. Why not have Latinos from Santa Ana owning the commercial real estate? I know that it is a “crazy idea,” but I would advocate for that. Lets take care of our community through business. And instead of complaining, or picking up your toys and leaving, which I understand some organizations have done because that is their way of protesting the changes or improvements, they should stick around. If they have a network of musicians that they can bring somewhere to, for example Eibar Coffee, then stick around. […]

SM:

Lastly, I want to talk about The Santa Ana Sentinel and how that got started.

Omar Avalos:

It started off as a political observer last year [May 27th, 2010] during the election year because I got tired of just hearing that one voice that is just anti city council and saying things that are suggestive, or what I interpret as suggestive, criticisms of the Council whether it was Amezcua, Pulido’s challenger, or Arellano, of the Weekly, or whoever. […] And so I started that as a response, as an alternate voice, out of concern. I wanted to opine about matters. It is not that I am blindly pro status quo, but I just think we need to keep a balance because I think too many people follow blindly just for the sake of getting behind “Che” or Subcomandante Marcos and the like.

 

*****

 

You can learn more about Omar, his music, and his writings at the following links:

 

http://facebook.com/flamencali

http://flamencali.com

http://soundcloud.com/flamencali

http://youtube.com/flamencali

http://santa-ana-sentinel.com

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2 Responses to Omar Ávalos Gallegos: Guitarist, Composer, and Writer

  1. Pingback: Omar Avalos on music and an evolving downtown - The Santa Ana Register : The Orange County Register

  2. Pingback: OC Latino ‘Links’ for Nov. 18 - OC Latino Link : The Orange County Register

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