Omar Hakim, Drummer Of The ’80s: Seven Of The Best

omarhakim3Of the all-time-great drummers who emerged in the ’80s – a list that would have to include Manu Katche, Dave Weckl, Dennis Chambers and Trilok Gurtu – you could argue that Omar Hakim was the main man. His hip, funky, vibrant style typified all that was good about the music of the era.

Effortlessly versatile, endlessly creative and always musical, Hakim emerged from the early ’80s New York jazz and fusion scene and quickly became the drummer of choice for David Sanborn, David Bowie, Dire Straits, John Scofield, Weather Report and Sting. He could play everything from straight jazz to heavy rock’n’roll with total ease, great feel and a beautifully light touch.

I first became aware of Omar when he demonstrated his ‘Children’s Crusade’ beat on BBC TV’s ‘Rock School’. I was a major fan from that day on.

Here are seven great Omar performances from the ’80s:

7. Sting: ‘I Burn For You’ (1985)

Drum legend Jeff Porcaro waxed lyrical about this performance which appears in the 1985 film ‘Bring On The Night’. One of Omar’s specialities is soloing over a static vamp, and he really takes it out about as far as it can go here.

6. Dire Straits: ‘So Far Away’ (1985)

Omar can do slick, clean, laidback rock too, as heard on this Brothers In Arms opener. Check out his lovely fills, layered in at the end of each chorus, bringing the playing of Motown star Benny Benjamin into the ’80s.

5. David Sanborn: ‘Rush Hour’ (1982)

Omar dusts off a much-imitated ghost-note-inflected groove for this track from the As We Speak album, possibly influenced by the late great Little Feat sticksman Richie Hayward. Only Hayward could have nailed this with as much panache, drive and subtlety.

4. Weather Report: ‘Db Waltz’ (1984)

Omar pulls out all the stops on this ingenious 3/4 (or is it 6/8?) groove, the centrepiece of the Domino Theory album, falling somewhere between a swing feel and straight feel just the way the old guys used to do it on the R’n’B hits of the ’50s. He also demonstrates some jaw-dropping chops towards the end.

3. Special EFX: ‘Sabariah’ (1988)

The music comes uncomfortably close to smooth jazz on this opening track from the Confidential album but Omar’s grooving is just sublime. The controlled energy explodes from his kit.

2. David Bowie: ‘Neighbourhood Threat’ (1984)

Omar could also play heavy rock with the best of them as demonstrated by this underrated track from Tonight. And not even Jeff Porcaro could have conceived of the floor-shaking fill at 2:14.

1. John Scofield: ‘Techno’ (1985)

The lead-off track from the classic Still Warm album, this perfectly illustrates Omar’s intricate hi-hat playing, as distinctive as Stewart Copeland’s almost a decade before. I dig the way he takes the tune out with some sick china cymbal/snare combinations.


4 thoughts on “Omar Hakim, Drummer Of The ’80s: Seven Of The Best

  1. Really enjoyed that Matt. I love Omar Hakim’s playing and I also first saw him on Rockschool (I was wowed by that groove he laid down on the electric kit with some awesome hi hats if my memory serves me…) I would loved to have seen that Sting band play. I saw Sting tour a few years later with Vinnie Colaiuta, and that was pretty cool, but Hakim is the man.

    As far as recent stuff goes, I love his playing on the Daft Punk album, particularly on the Georgio Moroder track.

    Manu Katche is level pegging for me along with Hakim and I would love to see a similar selection as above for him ( I know my faves but I won’t divulge them for now!)

    Cheers, Leon.


    • Hi Leon, thanks for that and glad you enjoyed it. Another ‘Rock School’ fan! It was essential viewing back then, wasn’t it? I got to see Omar with Sting at the Albert Hall in 1985 but don’t remember that much about it apart from a very long Darryl Jones bass solo. But there’s some brilliant footage of Omar playing with Sting on The Tube here:
      Manu and Vinnie also played beautifully with Sting, as you say. In fact, I wish Omar had played on that later material in the late-’80s, early-’90s, Sting’s songs were much better around then!
      I’ve been meaning to check out Omar’s playing on the Daft Punk album, will definitely do it. I wasn’t blown away by the single though but I’m sure there are hidden gems.


  2. I have to wonder why Hakim never seems to make these “Best Drummers” lists that we see all the time. We’re talking about a major innovator/pioneer in the electrics scene, a guy who’s played and toured with titan talents, well known in the business and well liked, highly accomplished, and with a style that really is all his own. I find it super odd, especially since most of these “lists” are well-represented and seem fair enough, overall. Hm.

    Liked by 1 person

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