an artist named SAMUEL
He was the first Channel Orange I met. Behind the bar, it was an orange beanie. Shopping at a thrift store it was a shade of orange overalls, seeing him at Randall’s Island for Frieze Art Fair it was orange socks. I’ve tuned into his channel, in and beyond the tube of media where on Instagram he presents the world, his work, an amalgam of his editorials, music and thoughts on family and culture, his culture – as he sees it through the lens of media that is social, very social.
Yet, there is more, so much more to the gentleman behind the scene, the scene of the La Morocco which he pulls shots on at Breukelen Coffee Shop. It’s one of three coffee shops that he works at as a barista, the other two being Café Pedlar and The Playground. He pulls shots behind the camera, fires shots in front of the mic and is calling all his life shots.
My goal wasn’t to interview him for a sweeping end to a series on #blackbaristamagic but to let him speak, and in doing so be taken into his world one that is full of thought, ideas and above all ambition.
He is inspiring as he is educational. He is tender as he is stoic. He is acutely aware, as he is precise. He is culture.
Now In Conversation with Samuel Omare.
I enter the coffee shop and he already has a cup in hand. Before I dethrone my layers, he asks if I’ve had something to drink. I have not. And he asks what would I like. And I like for him to make me whatever he likes. He makes me a soy mocha. Not my usual But, mochas are his favorite. And after tasting one, you’ll see why’ll it can contend to be yours too especially, this day when the latte art on this cup is the best he’s ever poured with soy.
c.: How you’ve been?
Samuel Omare.: I’ve been chill.
After a little catching up, we go into his social presence, photography that delves into his first passion: music.
s.o.: Before, if you had photos, to get seen you had to be in a gallery. But now you don’t need that, you put out work and there’s buzz. You put out consistent work is how people to see it. Consistent work beats out good work. Once you have a camera, your expenses are gone. You can go with like a $600 camera or a $3,000 if you want to get fancy with it.
c.: What do you have?
s.o.: Canon Rebel T5i. It’s a digital camera, cropped frame, 50m lens. It’s my go to. I use a Pentax K 100, for film – a standard starter camera.
“Photography is all about your visual eye.”
c.: That’s so true it’s all about what you feel and see. I started with photography because I wanted to create visuals for my stories. I like a lot of things that I don’t shoot. And now with social media, I have to slow down and say what is it that I want to see.
s.o. Its about what you see, how you perceive it. Once you do that it doesn’t matter what kind of camera you have, you can make it work.
It’s different for music. It takes time for music. With photography once I snap it, its done. With music you have to make a beat, a sound and go over it. And there’s places to put it on social media, like SoundCloud – Chance the Rapper just defeated it, he just set the whole game up.
c.: To imagine, a choice that simple and complex can change everything – democratize a system, level the field.
It’s what Chance the Rapper infamously said on Kanye West’s… Omare finishes the sentence for me.
s.o.: You got to sell it to win a Grammy. Even Migos. Its not just that mention, it’s the substance behind the mention.
Migos, Chance. The work has to be of the highest quality. Migos made music people were ready to hear. Culture. This term came up ‘for the culture, do it for the culture.’
It’s a very specific group he’s speaking to. Black American culture is hugely influenced by the South – it makes sense, since there was a migration of the south to the north. Certain sounds have an influence –even an undertone. When he says. ‘Hey.’ They speak to what they know. They’re maturing.
There’s a point where Takeoff -one of the members of the group – says, ‘Tell me what the preacher talk about, what the teacher teach about so I can make a way out.’
c.: Talk to me about music, about how you got into photography and then coffee?
s.o: Simultaneously, I was always doing music and photography. It been like one train of thought – the train have different cars can have a lot of different cars, but there’s still one train.
c.: I like that.
c.: You grew up here?
s.o.: Yea, right down the street, this is my neighborhood.
c.: So this is your stomping ground. It’s changed so much. Do you recognize it?
s.: Yea. It doesn’t hurt me. But, I’m moving soon. We’re moving more towards like Bushwick. It’s insane. It’s because of economics. The place got sold and we gotta’ get somewhere to be now.
The price is not high, we could do it, we could make it happen but I know for sure that they don’t want black people in that place. He beats his hand. There are only two blocks left of truly black families in this neighborhood.
c.: Which ones?
s.o.: It’s Franklin Avenue – corner of Prospect to Park Place. It’s right before Little Zelda. Going down to possibly St Marks. I use to live on Franklin and St Marks, and then we moved. But we were able to stay in the neighborhood.
c.: Do you feel like people are being pushed out? Is it developers?
s.: Developers and people that want to take apartments from three to four rooms and boost rent up to $2500 and stuff. They’re turning three bedroom apartments into four. How you’re going to make that happen. How you’re going to live there? That’s not even quality of life. But people are going to come – they want the train, a coffee shop the museum, good groceries, they want a neighborhood. And they’re going to pay it.
This is the new Bedford Avenue off the L Train.
Imagine this corner, a huge block gone. He points to the North East corner. Its off Franklin and Fulton off the C train. It’s just gone, a huge business gone. Why are you building all this space? The L train is going to shut down, where are those people going to go? Here. The bars are already here. That huge space is going to fill up. That’s here you go in to Burg, prices are going to drop, more poorer people can move in and depend on how fast it takes.
c.: We all know that coffee shops are a big indicator of culture.
s.o:. This place is a staple and has been here for seven years. And this is black owned too. The place across from us wants to be a one-stop shop. They want to make fruit, smoothie, burgers, and coffee. People don’t care about following you, they want convenient. And the train, being on their side of the street – that matters a lot.
c.: Why? A person can’t cross the street?
s.o:. People don’t cross the street. They don’t explore. If you’re new to the neighborhood, you don’t care. Its 7 a.m. in the morning and they want they want.
We talk extensively about this and then we eventually circle back to his entry into music and photography.
VISION and VISUALS
s.o:. Back in the MySpace days my best friend was like ‘yo! come and take a photo of me.’ And we were using flip phones. It’s kind of the same concept now: Get some outfits, find a location, get a model and shoot. It’s the same thing no matter how much money you have. It’s hard for me to do something else’s vision. That’s what going to be a little tricky for me with photography.
My visuals come to me every 2-3 minutes. I see something and it clicks. You see social media, its there and you like it -boom. You can ask me to make something for you in two weeks but I might not have a vision for you in two weeks. That makes its harder for me in a world where photographers are supposed to be on a standby.
Okay, if it’s a goal or for a bigger place that I want to go to, I can do it. But it won’t come out as genuinely as I need it to.
I need creative control; that’s what it is. If you want Samuel Omare’s work you have to let Samuel Omare do his work. Clothes are a good start point but it’s really hard for me to follow someone else’s plan and say that this is my work.
I need creative control; that’s what it is.
c.: Because for you you’re not just a photographer you’re also a visionary and visual director.
s.o.: Yes, a master photographer can balance both come outside and look at the light and adjust and go into the studio and create it. I’m better outside. My best friend and I would go outside and shoot. I was in college and financial aid refund came through and while our phones were getting better I was like let me buy a camera. I bought a Nikon X something, a standard point and shoot. I was just shooting, documentary style photography, that’s my favorite and casually asking people questions and catching landscapes. And then I was always playing piano. By 12th grade I knew I wanted to be a producer. That’s when J. Cole was producing, and then I came across Pharrell and N.E.R.D. and The Neptunes.
c.: Music is so crucial to this culture. The collaboration you see between coffee and art and fashion wasn’t as explicit. Five year ago. Now, you’re seeing more of our culture coming in.
s.o.: Like Frieze Art Fair. Cafe Pedlar was there.
We both ran into one another at last year’s Frieze Art Fair on Randall’s Island
s.o.: You’re right it’s huge.
THE ‘WI-Fi’ CULTURE
c.: What do you see? Do you think that culture is influencing coffee, or coffee is influencing culture to embrace more of what coffee is. And as a barista how do you see them playing together. Or is it just a lifestyle?
s.o.: The space plays a big impact. The energy when you walk in sets you up. . I love fashion. When you walk in and I notice you, I notice what you’re wearing and I like fashion. I like to dress up. I can be up from six in the morning to 7:30 at night so I better dress how I want to feel because then I feel good. So that sets a standard.
You walk in, the baristas are fly, there’s nice music. It’s that third space, harboring artists and Wi-Fi harbors artists. Artists come in and feel safe. So many influencers come in here – coders, developers, graphic designer, photographers, videographers – and that’s here the culture start. They come in and feel safe. That conversation starts because you feel safe in the space.
c.: That’s such a different way to look at Wi-Fi.
s.o.: The culture is set definitely set by the barista, the people who work the coffee.
Coffee is great. But the barista makes you wanna’ come back, it’s the people. Now, especially, as a person of color, it’s a trickle of us. But, once we get into something that was already ours we bring the funk to it.
We bring the funk to [coffee].
We’re clocking in that espresso, steaming that milk for you. You want it extra hot? Okay we got you. We explain to you what the name means. We’re waiting for you to have that first sip. People, they are the most important part
c.: People make the world go around.
Where do you see yourself in the future of the culture. Owning, artist, musician.
s.o: Music is definitely my biggest thing, I want to go more into it and become more prosperous. I would like to move up in the coffee world. Stumptown or even La Colombe. Stumptown has richer flavor espresso and La Colombe is more subtle, its espresso kind of fades away faster, so it just depends on what taste you like
Me and my best friend are experienced baristas. And, I think that we could open up a shop. Set that tone. We’re young kids and even as we get older we can keep that connection.
c.: Coffee is such the pulse.
s.o: Yea it is. A good coffee shop is such a huge networking place.
And then, like on a kismet clue, I’m introduced to the owner by Samuel Omare. Pleasant gent.
Café Pedlar doesn’t have wi-fi and its small eating. Wi-fi does harbor ‘I get a $4 coffee and I’m here for four hours, it defeats pricing.” If you get a $2 coffee how long can you drink it? So that place is like if you’re here to sit and talk, you sit and talk and go after your $5 latte. Certain shops don’t have wi-fi to set that tone. And that makes you ant to come back for that. Breukelen has a bigger space but harbors a creative sit down.
c.: Space is so indicative of what you’re going to get.
s.: Sometimes the people look like you and that makes it a little bit easier. You hear music, you working, you might buy a $5, $6 latte at peak moments from 7-3 p.m. If Breukelen had a clock in time for people – we’re not charging – to see how many hour you’ve done, people would go crazy. It would be like five hours a day, six days a week. But, I can definitely see myself working under a brand and learning from them, but music is my prime goal – musician, rapper, artist, producer. Pharrell is my biggest influence, he’s made so much music for so many artists.
And we come full circle, back to music, back to your passion, back to Pharrell.
c.: How do you look at the future and the world from Chance the Rapper to La La Land, to this shop being a center of the community despite what’s moving in do you feel like yo’, I can create whatever I want, do whatever I want, move to Bushwick and thrive?
s.o.: If I can do it once, I can do it twice. He pounds his hands. If I can do it twice, I can do it forever. He pounds his hands again. And that is how I live my life. I have to make it happen because no one else can do it for me. I have to produce my music because no one is going to produce it for me. There’s a sound that I want to make that doesn’t’ follow the politics of sound that people want to give you. I want my sound. I’m all about working hard to a goal. You’ve got a goal, tunnel vision that. Find what can help you wake you up in the morning. People look at our struggles and think they weigh us down, but they are not, they are our wings. If someone can do it, I can do it. People think winning the Grammy is the biggest thing, it’s not. It’s doing the Instagram, writing that blog post, those small things, they make you happy and help you grow. Small goals bring you happiness.
Happiness is not a huge thing, it’s a balance of things, it’s always coming in and out in and out. So, I have to get my goals because I know I can get my goals.
c.: What are your goals now?
s.o.: Balance is the best way of life. The journey is what brings you happiness. Music, own my own coffee shop, work under a roaster, photography that’s what I’ll do. A short term goal is by the end of the year, to have an exhibit called Balances, addressing mental health in the black community. There’s so many levels to mental health. I want to not only show visuals but to inform people. Depression and suicide can’t be taboo words anymore.
c.: You’re creating your own way, you’re creating your own coloring book.
As told to Chérmelle D. Edwards