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Natanga Smith

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Omari Banks has moved from breaking records to making records.

Banks, who was the first player from Anguilla to play Test cricket for the West Indies, has stepped away from the sports limelight to the stage spotlight. He is now a fully fledged musician with a debut album and three singles released, with another video of the fourth in the works.

Omari is the son of well-known Anguillian artiste Bankie Banx and has grown up around music his entire life.

He said his interest in music started around age five.

“I had a passion for music. And it helped that my bedroom was above my dad’s home studio. I used to see musicians come and go every day. When I went around them, they would show me how to play the instruments, telling me, ‘this is G chord, you play C chord here.’ When I was in music class at school I was so in tuned that I could play a piece by ear so I wouldn’t even learn the music notes,” he said, laughing.

He performed in talent shows, and learnt to play the drums first, then the bass and then guitar. He got into singing for the queens at carnival and up to age 16, all he wanted was to pursue a career in music. But he also had that same passion for sport, playing baseball, being captain of the school football team, with part of the track and field team.

At age 20, he made the West Indies team, playing in ten Test matches between 2003 and 2005 before he stepped away from the sport in 2012. He also played for England county teams.

“I made my Test debut right here at Kensington Oval,” he said, pointing towards the statue of Sir Garry Sobers, as the interview was conducted mere feet away. “It is fitting that I am doing this here.” Cricket is now a thing of the past and Omari said he left at the right time four years ago and with no regrets.

“My parents supported both interests. So when I decided I was going into cricket they were there 100 per cent.

“I enjoyed my time playing international cricket. But I wasn’t prepared to keep going through the hard knocks, working as hard as I did previously to get to where I was . . . . There was a lot of politics surrounding the cricket. And I thought why stay and be bitter when I can move on and do something else.”

And that is when he decided to put down the bat and ball and take up the mic.

The name of his debut album, fittingly, is Move On.

The entire ten-song album, he said, has some cricket influence as even the name of the band he started that plays on the track is called Eleven (number of men on a cricket team).

“The title track is called Move On and it was a song I did coming from that place where I was in a transition period and all these emotions were coming up and I had to get them out some way,” he said.

“Music is something where you can really express yourself and the song was written from that place. Even when I travelled the world I would find a quiet place and put pen to paper and write down my words that eventually turned into songs.”

The album is littered with songs that have views on life, relationships, love, social awareness and history and just Omari having fun. One of the songs is for his daughter, three-year-old Somaiya and he calls the album a personal look into who is Omari Banks.  

He picks Jehovah Message as one favourite to perform, an aggressive type of song where he is telling people “not to judge me”.  

Why? The Omari Banks six years ago isn’t the same 32-year-old today, as evidenced by the dreadlocked hairstyle.

“Even though I was at a different place in my life I was always conscious of who I am as a person, of my roots. When I decided to make the step from sports it got even deeper when I started to do my research into my culture. My hair [dreads] is all part of that.”

The self-taught guitarist has worked with many musicians who have groomed him and stated he has invested time to develop his skills and worked very hard to develop his talent.

He has performed in the Eastern Caribbean, done some stuff in the United States and has travelled a lot with his music to promote himself.

“I want people to know me now for my musical side. And I am really happy to share this with them. I have worked with some of the best in the region in the studio and on stage such as Mikey Fletcher, Glen Browne, Sly Dunbar, Buju Banton and some more who are well respected in the business. I just did a show back home with Morgan Heritage.

“Some of these people I have grown up with who are friends with my dad. I grew up seeing them perform and now I am doing the same thing they are doing . . . . It’s an awesome feeling to work alongside them.”

One of those “well-respected people” is his dad, who shares a song on his album and has even performed with him on stage.

“I wrote We’ve Seen It All and I thought it was the perfect song for us to do together. We’ve Seen It All is a song I wrote in my years as a cricketer, where I would have seen a lot and in his years as a musician he would have seen a lot – the ups and down, the ins and outs, the trials and triumphs.”

Omari said life was good growing up in Anguilla and in his baby book he has a picture of him as a young child with his favourite toys – a ball, a bat and a guitar: “Much has not changed,” he said chuckling.

Omari said he has lived his life saying “no regrets.”

“Everything that happened to me with my cricket and my music happened at the right time. Maybe if I hadn’t played cricket I would have been a different person. I wouldn’t have been able to write a song called Move On.”

Proud of achievements and respected and hailed in his country, he is grateful and thanks the Lord for his blessings and lessons.

He has plans to take his music far and spread messages of peace, love and black empowerment.

“I hope to show what the Caribbean and Anguilla can produce in terms of my music and produce something that can outlast my lifetime.”