By John Philip Wyllie
San Diego is gaining a reputation as a cultural spawning ground for talented young musicians, but Hispanic artists appear to be under-represented within its flourishing community of singer-song-writers. Multi-talented Puerto Rican born Carlos Olmeda bucks that trend however, and stands out among the city’s best.
Combining Latin and African rhythms with English and Spanish lyrics throughout his cleverly constructed melodic compositions, Olmeda is also a prime example of the melting pot theory at work.
“One of the problems with having so many songs and being so varied is that I never know how to group them,” Olmeda said after performing his regular first Friday of the month gig at Lestat’s Coffeehouse on Adams Avenue in Kensington. “The flow of the show is always the biggest challenge. If I don’t write (the song sequence) down beforehand, there is no real flow. It’s like changing the dial on the radio.”
While the great variety he demonstrates throughout a performance can cause “flow” problems, Olmeda’s versatility is part of what makes him unique.
“Growing up, I couldn’t help writing in different styles because I heard a lot of different styles. It’s been a blessing to me personally to be able to write any kind of song that I wanted to write, but it hasn’t made my life any easier. It is hard to get an audience into the flow of that (multi-style) approach. If I concentrated on one thing, I could book a tour doing that one thing, but it’s hard for me to write that way.”
Olmeda brings more than just versatility to his performances. His voice, like his style can mimic a wide variety of artists. His unique range allows him to effortlessly soar into the upper octaves on some songs and plunge into a gravelly, deep voice on others.
“Everybody I have ever brought to hear Carlos (perform) has told me he has the most amazing voice they have ever heard,” said percussionist Scott Lee following the February 7 Lestat’s performance. “So, it’s not only his song-writing. He has an amazing singing style.”
Olmeda has learned to use that voice for more than just singing. “Ever since I was a little kid, if I would hear a sound enough times I could learn to mimic it. I guess I’m just a mockingbird by nature, he quipped.”
Olmeda has turned that talent into a second income. “I supported myself totally through music for many years, but I just got tired,” Olmeda said of his career which began while still a teenager. “Now I do a number of things and I’m also writing music for commercials.” Singing in flawless Spanish one minute and launching into a dead-on Irish brogue the next, Olmeda displayed considerable skill as an impressionist.
“I’m doing voice-overs and writing voice-overs for television commercials with a group called L-7 Creative,” Olmeda explained, but entertaining for a live audience remains this San Diego Music Award winner’s first love. With a razor sharp wit and an amusing sense of humor, Olmeda will do that once again on Friday, March 7 at Lestat’s Coffeehouse 37343 Adams Avenue (619) 282-0437.