By Heather Wall
The first thing that struck me about Omar was the roughness of his voice. His recorded singing voice is so smooth and melodic, but his speech is far more British and ‘real’ than I had ever guessed. As I walked through the back door at Band On The Wall I saw him instantly, waiting for me. He greeted me and my Mum (yes, I bring my Mum with me to gigs!) and told her we looked like sisters. He’s quite charming.
We went downstairs into the basement of Band On The Wall and I couldn’t help but notice the tattoo on the back of his neck. Two girls’ names and a date – 2007. It was the date his twin daughters were born. It doesn’t take long to realise that Omar is a family man.
We walked into a room full of tables and chairs and Omar offered me and my Mum the (large) leather stool to share, whilst he drew up a table.
It’s been seven years since Omar’s last album, Sing If You Want It (2006), was released so I was keen to find out what he’d been up to all that time. Having kids and being a dad, acting, moving to Brighton – those were his answers. It’s his family that he mentions first.
The Man is the album he’s just released. What’s his favourite song? He tells me ‘that’d be like asking me to choose between my babies. That’s something I can’t do.’
How does he come up with an album? The concept? Well, he writes the songs, and then the album as a body flows. It’s not a concept album. It’s a body of music, songs he’s written coming together.
My favourite track on the album is Ordinary Day with its percussive, Latin feel to it. It sounds somewhat Brazilian with the light guitar, the scatting in the intro and the percussion which permeates the whole sound of the track. I want to know if this Latin feel was completely intentional. When he originally wrote that track, he explains, he wrote it to have a House feel. It was when he saw an advert that he heard Ordinary Day again and realised it needed a percussive feel. It wasn’t originally intended. I am certainly glad of the development.
So who are his influences? Well, Bill Withers for a start, someone he’d be keen to work with in the future. I asked him if he thought he was defined as a Soul artist. It was Soul that first influenced him, so the Soul sound that he’s famous for came from that love. What was it like working with Stevie Wonder? Omar smiled. Stevie Wonder is one of his huge influences. In Omar’s words; ‘it was a dream come true’. He has been listening to Stevie since he was a child.
Who does he think is one to look out for? Lianne La Havas is one of a number of young Brits moving up in the Soul sphere.
What was it like being awarded with an MBE last year? He’s proud. It was great to have his contribution to British music recognised, particularly as his music is not mainstream.
What does it mean to Omar that he’s held up as a British Soul voice? In his words, he’s ‘proud to be British’. That combination of Knees Up Mother Brown and the Jamaican influences in British music, he told me, and our Jungle music and Hip Hop – all these sounds and fusions are unique to British music, and Omar is proud to be a part of that.
What keeps him going? Omar says when he walks out his front door and meets people who tell him they love his music. The fans. That’s why he does it. That’s what makes it worth it. The people.
So, after this colourful, fulfilled music career Omar has had, I asked if he had any advice for us. What has he learned?
‘Be true to yourself’. Be unique. Get your music out there. Don’t be afraid to do your own thing and create your own identity.
Me and my Mum left happy. Omar is personable. He’s real. And he’s so grounded and so clearly family centered that he emanates a real ease. Especially when you’ve brought your mum to an interview!
We came back later, locating a bird’s eye view at Manchester’s Band On The Wall. Omar has a real energy and warmness in his performance, in the way he relates to the audience, as well as his band. He’s laid back, friendly and quite funny actually. What a gem. He’s proud to be British. Well, we’re proud of Omar.