From The Venezuelan Melody To The Caribbean Rhythm
Portentous percussionist and surprising Venezuelan singer. Musician trained at the prestigious Berklee University in Boston (US). Winner of a Grammy Award. His lifestyle is characterized by national and international performances, collaborations, compositions, and tours. Familiar, fearless, personable, and cheerful. This is how Omar Ledezma Jr. presents us his life.
He was born in the mountainous valley of Caracas (Venezuela) west of the city in the La Candelaria parish in the summer of 1972 at the height of the Salsa. From seven years old he briefly began his musical studies on the Piano at the prominent Yamaha school.
At the age of thirteen, he returned to music again, but this time playing percussion instruments in a “war band” at Claret school, one of the most recognized educational institutions in the Venezuelan capital.
At 16 years old he already formed his first Merengue and Salsa group together with his first musical friends.
At this dizzying pace, Omar began to take an interest in the Gaitas (traditional holiday music from this Latin American country) and began his foray into this genre. In 1991 he obtained his first prize, third place in the Pupitres y Gaitas contest on behalf of the Claret school. “When I started to grow up I was interested in drums. I awoke an interest in the Gaitas festivals… In fact, the Venezuelan rhythm has marked my life as a musician”. Omar commented.
At the age of 17, this percussion player began his university studies in Law at the Faculty of Law of the Santa María University in the middle of a troubled city and in search of knowledge about how society worked. Omar Jr. adds: “Already in the first year of Law I knew that in Venezuela we had a great root in Roman Rights and modern laws, but those laws were not applied. And that worried me“.
At the same time, Omar continued his music studies but this time with his related instrument, the percussion. To achieve mastery, he obtained classes with the Venezuelan teachers Rubén García with whom he is currently collaborating on some projects in Uruguay. He also got instruction from the musical director from the popular area of San Agustín in Sarria (Caracas), Jorge Orta “CroCro” who currently resides in the United States and the founder of the Orquesta CroCro y su Tumbaka.
Years later, and with experience acquired in presentations, and groups, Omar Jr. met his first mentor, Aquiles Baez, a famous Venezuelan artist, guitar virtuoso. Together with Aquiles, he made his first international tour of the United States. “With Aquiles, I had the pleasure of playing Venezuelan music. We play with many artists in the United States… Thanks to him I developed percussion (Non-autochthonous element) in Venezuelan music”. Ledezma Jr. commented.
In 1995 and with a law degree, he decided to dedicate himself to music professionally. He works hand in hand with consolidated national artists such as Daniel Somaroo, Carlos Puchi, Gerardo Rosales, just as his popularity begins and therefore his foray into studio album recordings.
Five years later, one of the most important phone calls arrived and the one that would turn his life upside down. Omar receives the call from Andy Vargas, the singer of the famous Mexican guitarist Carlos Santana. Vargas invited him to participate in his first residency at the Bellagio hotel in Las Vegas (Nevada), doing a show every half hour starting at six in the afternoon in the renowned bar of those facilities. This residency gave him many satisfactions and multiple experiences during his four years there.
Between these touches in Las Vegas, his second chance arises on the phone again, this time by the hand of the Venezuelan artist Jackeline Rago. Both worked for a season in a school program with the San Francisco Symphony.
All these experiences led him to be part of one of the most prominent local orchestras on the international rise of the San Francisco City (USA), the Pacific Mambo Orchestra for a decade.
In addition, Omar offers weekly personalized percussion training classes and works with various local organizations such as the San Francisco Ballet and the Community Music Center.
This cheerful and outstanding percussionist will soon surprise us with unpublished material in the dance genre. It will be two singles making his debut in the art world as a singer-songwriter, and you can enjoy it on his YouTube channel that he reactivated in December 2020.
OMAR LEDEZMA JR. & PACIFIC MAMBO ORCHESTRA
In 2011, the Grammy Award winner, Omar Ledezma Jr., is part of the most ambitious project of his life, the Pacific Mambo Orchestra (PMO), after moving to the fourth most populous city in the state of California (USA) and most receptive with Latino musicians, San Francisco.
It has been ten uninterrupted years in which Omar has gone from playing the conga to being the singer of the orchestra and is currently developing as the official timpanist of PMO, once that Karl Perazzo (Carlos Santana´s timpanist) left the big band. “Eventually he told me that is yours… I appreciate that opportunity because the Grammy has already come; many satisfactions and a lot of work have come as well”. Omar explained to us.
As time passed, they achieved a characteristic sound. And with it begin the recording of their self-titled album. Ledezma details us: “The band began to become popular on Monday nights, and we began to charge the entrance fee of 5, 10, 20, 30 dollars. Then we started on Saturdays with a lot of receptivity”.
In 2013 they won their first Grammy for Best Tropical Latin Album and embarked on their first national tour for 30 days accompanying Latin artists Marlon Rosado and Tito Puente Jr. They toured the stages of Indiana, Arizona, and Oregon ending in California. The first international tour was held in Mexico and the second at the Montreux Festival in Switzerland.
After the Grammy and his tour, the second Pacific Mambo Orchestra album was on its way but this time recorded live at Stern Grove (San Francisco) in 2017. Here, Omar had outstanding participation with the queen of percussion, Sheila E. During the song Ran kan kan Omar Jr. & Sheila E. made a kettledrum war. He adds: “It was nice playing with her, watching her perform, and playing her music”.
This international orchestra made up of 20 musicians began rehearsals for the rhythm section on May 1 after a year and a half of not seeing each other. Before the end of 2021, they will make streaming where they will play original music such as PMO Intro, Muévete con Prisa, and Mr. B’s Mambo, among many others.
THE MUSIC RUNS THROUGH YOUR VEINS
His lineage confirms his musical streak. The Big Bands were always his great curiosity, and Glenn Miller’s orchestra his greatest ambition.
His father and his grandfather are musicians. His grandfather Rafael Isidro Ledezma “El Negro” was a renowned Orchestra conductor of the El Tigre city in Venezuela.
As an only child, he followed in the footsteps of his grandfather. He developed himself professionally in music.
In 1995 he belonged for a few months to the Venezuelan super band Guaco in the Salsa project directed by Gustavo Aguado at La Cantina located in Las Mercedes in the Venezuelan capital. “I learned as much as I learned at Berklee”. Omar commented.
Among so many things learned, the main and undoubtedly important were: being a music lover, having discipline, developing creativity, and cultivating friendship.
The last tour in Venezuela that Ledezma carried out with the Gonzalo Grau quintet (with whom he obtained his first Grammy nomination) was 20 years ago at the Teresa Carreño Theater as the opening act for Pablo Milanés.
If I had children I would like them to follow their steps along with mine.” Omar Ledezma Jr.
YOUR WAY TO BERKLEE
During a trip to Boston, Ledezma visited Berklee University for the first time in the summer of 1998. Through brochures, he learned that he had the necessary conditions to apply for a scholarship at this important school, and immediately did so without distraction. “Many said you couldn’t and I’m the one who thinks you don’t lose anything by trying”. Omar said.
He got going and sent in a demo to schedule an audition. That presentation was a success and he was accepted right away as one of the graduates of this prestigious institution. It took him a year to move to Boston and began his studies in the fall of 1999. The first years were emotionally hard due to the death of his second mother.
But he knew how to recover and move on. He worked very hard for six years to finish paying for school in 2002.
He obtained a Diploma in Performance. During the five years of study, he learned the four harmonies, arrangements, and composition. Also, in percussion, he developed skills in drums, Latin percussion, and vibraphone.
I still feel like my career is just beginning.” Omar Ledezma Jr.
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