Touring Well with Umar Zakaria

  • What do you always do before you go onstage?

    I try to find a quiet place and clear my mind for a few seconds before I go onstage. I also sometimes get my band together for a kind of group meditation or group blessing, to get us in sync. It can be as simple as just breathing in and out together a few times. And of course always get to the gig early on the off chance that there may be problems. The more time you have to deal with it, the less it stresses you out!

    How many days in a row can you perform? - before your voice/body needs a break.
    I can perform 7-8 days in a row, but I try to keep track of how much I need to perform and how much I'll get to rest after that, and pace myself according to that. If I play 2 nights in a row and get 2 nights off, I'll really give those gigs everything. But if I have 6 days in a row and 1 night off, it's really important to pace yourself through those first 4-5 days so that your last performance is at least as good as your first one. And that's why it's important to rehearse to a really high standard, so that if you have to play 5 gigs at 50% of your maximum capacity, you can still put on a 10-out-of-10 performance for your audience.

    What hacks do you have to make sure you get enough rest?
    The most important hack is learning to say no, and actually scheduling free time. If someone asks me to do something and I technically have time, but it would mean that I have no free time that day, I will try to reschedule it or cancel it. When I'm working, I'm going hard, so I need that time to reset, and that is as important to the next performance as rehearsing is - but not more important!

    If eating a balanced diet is important to you, how are you able to find healthy options while you are touring?
    I love food so much, but it's good to eat healthy and restrain yourself when on tour. Sushi is a very good pre-performance meal, or anything that 'burns clean' in your body and doesn't make you feel too tired while digesting it. Something with a lot of vegetables is good, but not if those vegetables are covered in a lot of oil. So, sandwiches, salads, kebabs, light Thai food, et cetera. I really recommend that musicians learn a little bit about nutrition because every little thing you can do to improve your performance is worth it, and good nutrition is one of those things. Before the gig, every action you take should be tailored to the upcoming performance. After the gig is a much better time to enjoy food, because you can sleep it off afterwards and you have time to recover before the next performance.

    What do you enjoy most about touring?
    I love building a connection with different audiences and seeing how they react to my music. As I get to play for different audiences, I get to learn how the same songs affect other people in different ways. And sometimes in the same way, which is a really good sign that the song has achieved the goal of touching on something that we all understand. That helps me to understand and appreciate my own music more. I also really believe in my band and what I have to say, so it also makes me feel a sense of accomplishment to be exposing more audiences to our music, sharing our message and vibe with them, and receiving their appreciation in return.

    Photo by Alexandra James (NYC)