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Interview: UK Soul legend Omar talks being awarded MBE, new album and working with ODB (WuTang), Guru (Gangstarr)

In Interviews by Nick BlatantlyBlunt

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credit: palace photos

With a career spanning over 20 years, and having collaborated with the likes of Stevie Wonder, Angie Stone, Common, Estelle, Bashy, Zed Bias, Rodney P and more, the Kent born artist’s forthcoming seventh album ‘The Man’ set to be one of 2013’s highly anticipated UK vocalist releases.

Omar has now received official recognition of his major contribution to the burgeoning reputation of UK music as he has been awarded an M.B.E for his unrivalled, ongoing contribution to the cultural life of the United Kingdom.

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Nick Russell spoke to him exclusively for Blatantly Blunt as he discussed ODB’s unorthadox appearance fees, performing at the Jakarta Jazz Festival, why ‘The Man’ is his best work to date and loads more…

Hey Omar how is 2013 going for you so far? You must be happy about your recent honour!

Not a bad start to the year is it?! We had a party to celebrate with a bunch of friends, had a great time…

How did you feel when you were first informed about being awarded the MBE, and how did you find out?

It arrived as a very officially worded letter. Reading the first couple lines you think “I’m not sure this is real” and then it dawned on me that it definitely is, which a definitely a pleasant surprise! I never really had any recognition from the mainstream; it has always been the people that supported me. 

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How would you describe your personal style of soul music?

A combination of “lively up yourself” and “knees up mother Brown”. Typically British and not something you would expect to hear anywhere else in the world, which also goes for music like jungle and grime.

What consistency and approach to work has prevailed throughout your career?

My stubbornness – I have a certain way of doing things and to me, my first single was kind of a let down – I didn’t like it. It has to be music you are going to play for years to come.

The music I have released has been a mix of reggae, funk, soul, and Latin, as well as a mixture of string and brass instruments. The core element is me – I want people to know that as soon as they hear it!

What can we expect from the new album?

I have a couple of guests on the album such as (legendary guitar player) Pino Paladino. He appears on a re-working of (the 1991 hit) ‘There’s nothing like this’, which I wanted to release on the 20th anniversary (of the single) but it took longer than planned. The album is thirteen tracks, which I consider my best work to date. It has all the raw edges and the styles I mentioned earlier and it is very much of a ‘live’ album.

Do you ever feel your back catalogue is overlooked due to the success of ‘There’s nothing like this’?

It’s always nice when more people discover I have more music and I am never going to say it’s a shame people only know that one. So it has never been a bad thing, or hindered me in terms of my creative output or when performing.

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Which countries have surprised you the most when abroad, in terms of the reception people gave?

The one that comes to mind was at the Jakarta Jazz festival in Indonesia. When I left the airport there were posters and taxis with my face on, and during the performance the audience were singing along to my lyrics. I never realized my music travelled that far!

Which of your collaborations (aside from with soul artists) stand out the most to you?

The track ‘Dancing’ from 2011 with (legendary UK producer) Zed Bias was definitely a blast – it was one of those moments where we just ‘clicked’. As soon as I heard the track I knew I could do so much with it, and it’s great every time we perform it at carnival.  

How did you track with (the late Wu Tang legend) Ol’ Dirty Bastard come about?

He was in town and one of my A&R people spoke to him to ask whether he would rap on a track for me and he agreed! All he wanted was £10,000, a bottle of baileys and two hookers – I never actually met him but I phoned him up the next day and thanked him for getting on the track.

Omar feat. ODB – Say Nothin’

You also worked with Guru from Gangstarr right?

Yea that was an interesting one. We kept meeting across the world and I said we had to work together so he sent over a track I then vocalled, which was eventually used volume 4 of his ‘Jazzmatazz’ series.

What are your thoughts on the current neo-soul scene?

For me d’Angelo was the marker and a lot of people try to emulate that sound he created. Regarding the current scene, I feel like (the industry) is trying to push neo-soul underground, as I don’t see any big artists pushing the sound in the mainstream.

I think what Tinie Tempah and Labrinth are doing is great. They’ve managed to fuse their ‘British-ness’ with that commercial sound – and a lot of people make the mistake of trying to be American with that type of music.  

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Finally, Name something the people don’t know about Omar…

I do muay Thai boxing training twice a week in Brighton!

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Omar’s forthcoming album ‘The Man’ is due to be release in June on Freestyle Records.

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