Exclusive Interview: The journey of Omari Banks - From a cricketer to a music sensation
The former West Indies player gave up on cricket to focus on reggae music.
A bright sunny day in Antigua, West Indies chasing a mammoth total against the then world champions Australia. Though the game will be remembered for the centuries by Ramnaresh Sarwan and Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Omari Banks who was playing his maiden series, was the unsung hero of this game. He kept calm when Windies lost some wickets in quick-succession and scored a crucial 47 runs which helped Windies score 418 runs in the fourth innings to register a record-breaking chase.
Like every Anguillan child, Omari Banks grew up with a dream to represent West Indies at the highest level of the game, and he made his first-class debut at the age of 17 for Leicestershire against Pakistan in 2001.
By the age of 20, he had already achieved a lot; he was the first player from Leewards Islands, Anguilla, to represent West Indies at the highest stage of the game.
At the age of 5 he made his reggae music debut in Italy along with his father, and after retiring from cricket at 29, he decided to continue spreading the Reggae culture.
I caught up with the former West Indies all-rounder during his maiden India tour and spoke to him about his shift from cricket to music. Omari Banks is now on his maiden India tour where he had some events in Pune where he was accompanied by DJ Bravo and Chris Gayle. He will be performing live on May 24 in Mumbai. Here are excerpts from the interview.
Your father was a popular Reggae musician and your uncle was a cricketer. What made you choose cricket over music in your childhood?
I think while growing up, I had a feeling to do something from what my dad did. I started creating waves in the Reggae world after my first performance at the age of 5, I had the talent to do something in music but I wanted to create my own space, own path, own mark in Life. At that time I realised that I have a great passion for cricket and at the age of 8 years I started loving playing cricket. Since I developed some interest in Cricket, my uncle started coaching and mentoring me.
Which memory of playing for West Indies is special for you?
Playing for West Indies in Test was a great feeling, it was a dream come true. Every child in Carribean Islands wants to represent West Indies. Being the first Anguillian player to represent West Indies in Test Cricket was a great pleasure. But the 418 runs chase in fourth innings against Australia will be special for me.
After playing professional cricket for more than 12 years, how difficult was it to call it a day to follow your other passion, music. How did your close ones react to the decision?
My family was completely stumped when I talked about this decision. Though my uncle was very supportive, he encouraged me to play cricket and he too was surprised by this decision. But they were fearful because I had already achieved a lot in cricket and then I had to start everything from the beginning, I faced a lot of skepticism and I think it was quite natural but my uncle never stopped supporting me.
Your father, Bankie Banx, was a popular reggae musician. Did it create any kind of pressure on you when you stepped into this industry or did that provided an extra cushion?
Not really, because my father had gained fame in the 70s and 80s. So when I started playing music he was not that popular. Sometimes people used to recognise his name but he was not that popular, I still had to work extremely hard. The cushion I got was very very little, There was no substitute for hard work.
What is the most lovable aspect of Indians?
It's great so far in India - I love the people of India, they are warm, very receptive and their hospitality is of its own class. The reception I got when I arrived in India was just amazing. The passion and the knowledge they have about the game of cricket is nonpareil and it is also a reason behind their success producing such incredible cricketers.
Which Indian musicians and songs do you like the most?
A.R. Rahman is my favourite Indian musician. The 'Jai Ho' song from the movie Slumdog Millionaire was one of the best songs. My favourite Indian song is Zingaat from Sairat (Marathi song). That was a really catchy song. When you hear that song for the first time you can't control your reflexes. A couple of weeks ago I performed a Hindi song called Hello Hello Bol Ke.