Omid Mines Music From the Streets Of Iran
Photo courtesy of Alpha Pup
[Editor's note: Weekly scribe Jeff Weiss's column, "Bizarre Ride," appears on West Coast Sound every Wednesday. His archives are available here.]
Sample digging and oil drilling have more in common than you'd expect. As the casket drops on 2013, most surface-level treasure has long been picked clean. The odds of discovering an oil well in your backyard are only marginally better than those of browsing the funk, jazz and soul sections at Amoeba and finding a never-flipped fossil fuel.
The scarcity has forced artists to dig deeper and pursue unorthodox routes. The aural equivalent of underneath-the-ocean-floor drilling might be December's Modern Persian Speech Sounds, a welcome return from the L.A. instrumental hip-hop baba joon Omid.
"Whenever any family or friends returned to Iran, I'd beg them to sneak me back cassettes and records. Western styles of music were banned, so you couldn't really buy it in stores. The best stuff is from collections taken from people's closets and basements," says the Long Beach-based, Westchester-raised, Omid Walizadeh.
Born in Chicago, where his parents were in college, the producer spent his early years living in Tehran. When the revolution struck and the war with Iraq began, his parents moved to L.A., where several family friends had already relocated.
"Some of the music from the album is actually sampled from when the turmoil was still happening," says Omid, who is in his late 30s. Today, he's wearing a zebra-stripe shirt and khakis. His tight ringlets of black hair are cropped close, and there are flecks of gray in his sideburns. "People trying to bring about a democracy would sell mixtapes in the streets, featuring music interspersed with interviews and political songs."
Walizadeh estimates his library of Persian music includes around 2,000 vinyl records, CDs and tapes. For much of the last decade, it has been a minor obsession, mostly tracked down through deep contacts and constant queries among L.A.'s Iranian expats. Several of the samples on Modern Persian Speech Songs come from old children's music recorded under a foundation underwritten by the shah's wife.
"There's a kid on the second track describing a giant who has taken over, and how the town needs to rise up to overthrow him," Walizadeh says. "I'm not positive that it's an anti-shah song, but I assume that was the intent."
The samples are woven into the ethereal, post-DJ Shadow aesthetic, which Omid helped pioneer in the latter half of the '90s. One of the most influential producers to emerge from the seminal open-mic nights at South Central's the Good Life and Project Blowed, his 1998 compilation, Beneath the Surface, remains one of the finest documents of Los Angeles underground hip-hop at its zenith.
After following it up with a few solid but overlooked records, Walizadeh took a sabbatical. He got a day job in insurance, married, started a family and slowly started tracing the contours of his new sound. He also co-produced and handled music supervision for the acclaimed 2008 Good Life doc This Is the Life.
"I'd started trying to make beats to place in commercials, and by the time I finished and started to make my own music, I realized it wasn't fun anymore," Walizadeh says. "So I decided to get a job, pay my bills, develop a sound and stop worrying about the latest trends."
His first album in six years, Modern Persian Speech Sounds might be the most complete amalgamation of Walizadeh's cultural heritage. Released on vinyl by B|ta'arof Records, it blends his experimental roots with exotic sounds exclusive to him (at least in the Western world).
"I finally feel good with my new sound. It builds on my old recordings and brings something that people don't have access to," Walizadeh says. "This is just the beginning. I've got tons more of these records that I haven't even touched."
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