By Jack Spencer
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By Emily Weiss
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By Jeff Gage
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Death of an Unheard Rap Cowboy
I meant to begin this column by musing, "Some mornings, Superman must wake up and wish he could be Lex Luthor, if only for the day." But then I realized that some nerds out there are going to get all bent out of shape because I'm not familiar with the issue of Action Comics in which that scenario actually played out, and I don't feel like getting corrective emails from a bunch of virgins, so let me be a little more specific. Some mornings, a yoga instructor with a well-developed ethic of civic contribution and an album of up-with-people positive nu-soul under his belt wakes up and wants to be a gangster rapper, if only for the day.
And when that happens to Omaur Bliss, he reaches for his sombrero.
Bliss's sombrero, you see, is sort of a totem, for it was instrumental in the birth of his alter ego. As he explains to me on the phone one afternoon, "Four years ago, me and a friend were drunk after a show in Duluth, and I was wearing a sombrero—don't ask me why—and my friend was like, 'Who are you, Omac Montainya?'"
The jab did more than just crack Bliss up—it gave a name to the side of him that gloried in the violent energy and aggression of Jay Z, Ludacris, and Lil Wayne. For a 29-year-old man who inherited from his grandfather both a truly great R&B surname and a sense of societal obligation, any dreams of shoot-'em-up street fights would have to be worked out in art rather than life.
"My grandfather's name was Harris Nathanial Bliss," he explains. "He was one of those guys who, in World War II, serviced tanks. Then he came home to Gary [Indiana] and shoveled ditches. He came home to his family, made sure the bills were paid. He gave me the sense that you're not here alone—you take care of the people in your life, you give and you get. It's a mutual thing."
Bliss's mother moved the two of them from Gary to St. Paul when Bliss was still a kid. At the urging of a particularly engaged grade-school music teacher, the boy Bliss became involved in theater. In junior high, "I did a play with SteppingStone Theatre and the Steele family. Then in high school I got into dance: hip hop and West African. I started going places like the Artists' Quarter—back then there was a place called Jazzville—and I started doing spoken word poetry, and then rap."
He passed on his skills to troubled kids, working in several groups that taught creative writing and spoken word. Six years ago, his experience using yoga to cope with knee problems led him to become an instructor in Bikram yoga. For Bliss, knowledge flows out of him as rapidly as he acquires it.
"That's the thing that I think I'm here for. We all need each other. It's easy to do. It's easy to take that person to the lake, to give them a pole," he says.
His self-titled debut in 2006 translated his positive vibe into a jazzy, "avant-garde neo-soul" sound. As he explains, "The last album I did let people know all the emotional stuff that was in me. This album, I wanted to have fun. It's all tongue-in-cheek. I didn't do this project to make a statement. I did it to make myself laugh. I wanted people to ask, 'Is he serious? Is he seriously a gangster rap cowboy?'"
Bliss's Montainya voice, growling threats and hissing boasts, won't be recognizable to anyone familiar with the easy warmth of his previous work. But it's not supposed to be. Montainya is an escape persona for him—a return to his theater days, a chance for him to slip out of the healthy, groovy suit that fits him so well.
"He's a drunkard, smokes reefer, he's into dive bars and really horrible, bitchy women," Bliss laughs as he describes his dark side. "Omac Montainya is the Bizzarro World Omaur Bliss."
OMAC MONTAINYA celebrates a CD-release show on SATURDAY, JANUARY 19, at the 7th ST. ENTRY; 612.332.1775