From his collaborations with Ralf GUM and Boddhi Satva among others to his own repertoire, Omar keeps on spreading the unique spirit of the Brit-Soul all over the globe. No matter what… There’s nothing like this!
So strange (and touching for me) as at the beginning of the video clip of Omar‘s ‘Stop War, Make Love’ single, I could see the covers of a few publications. Beginning with the one of the mag I was working for – Black News – itself bringin’ us back to the beginning of the 90’s when we happened to meet for our very first interview… “Yeah, man, it’s been a long time”, he said. “I remember. It was at the record company! (Kongo Records)
“I actually started 30 years ago, and no need sayin’ how things have changed. Beginning with the record industry with the successive arrival of tools which have obviously affected the productivity of music in terms of access to it. “
You were around doin’ your debut alongside Caron Wheeler. Even before the (official) arrival of the so called Brit-Soul…
“I remember I used to listen to Soul II Soul, Brand New Heavies, the Pasadenas. We also used to talk about Acid-Jazz back then with influences from the American Soul of the seventies. Something we also call Neo-Soul nowadays. “
I thought Neo-Soul was more of an American thing with people like Maxwell, Raphael Saadiq and the likes…
“Yeah, that’s what it is. They sort of got it from us. Coz’ by the time we were doin’ Brit-Soul, they were doin’ R&B mainly based on samples. We sort of both enriched ourselves from one side of the ocean to the other and vice-versa. And I can say that a big part of my fan base is located in the States, as I’ve been lucky enough to be mentioned by quite a few people.”
“A Soul Music legend and considered as the father of the Neo-Soul genre. Omar already worked with Caron Wheeler of Soul II Soul fame in the late 80’s. And since then he has kept the flag of UK soul flying high all the time. Meanwhile staying open for various collaborations in related genres. I wanted to hear him on a rather simple but cool House playback so that his vocals really can shine.” (Ralf GUM )
I remember a boiling London scene back at the time. Thus with parties, gigs, concerts all over the place. Be they by the likes of underground artists. And this, with the support of countless pirate radio stations, fanzines. But also eventually national magazines and radios. How is it nowadays?
“Well, everything seems like blog-based now with people havin’ Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, their own sites eventually. This makin’ things different. In some ways, it’s pretty good as it may expand accessibility. But in the meantime, it’s so hard to get a foot hold in the business coz’ of so many people trying to do it at the same time.
There’s so much on offer. And I truly feel blessed I started back then as I can see how hard it is for kids to come up nowadays…”
Many things have drastically changed since then, affecting our daily lives all over the world. What would be the key ones on your side? As a human being, as an artist?
“As a human being… (laughs). Well, as an artist, I remember seeing a blog where they would share my music and eventually have it downloadable for free. And despite the fact it wasn’t what I really expected, I would tend to consider that it’s more important for me to have my music spread to the masses than strictly considering it in terms of downloads. I mean I’ve never been a mainstream artist. You’ve never seen me on TV so much nor on national radio stations. But I gotta say that Internet has allowed my music to go around the whole globe though…”
This brings me to conversations I had with a long time friend of mine who’s been working on a new British act for months. He told me how hard it was to get aired on national radio stations, unless paying on most cases…
“Exactly. I had a couple of releases on the last album. And I eventually thought it could be different because of havin’ a certain reputation, but it has been pretty much the same for me. I mean we’re fronted with teams of people that don’t really know about your thing. They are not really interested and they try to keep control of their own practices. So they’re only a few people I think gettin’ that little thing. As a result, I forgot about it for a long time, coz’ that’s not what I’m makin’ music for.
I’m not makin’ music to please these people. Music is just about me expressing myself. “
I gotcha. Although I suppose it’s kinda frustrating, whenever you’ve got the talent and the material, to see these people on the major radio stations mainly programming crap. Things they got paid for playing. So once you can’t count on radio support which means finances from the airplay in addition to the disappearance of the medium (ie vinyls, CD’s), I wonder how an artist can make him/herself a proper living…
“It’s PD’s, it’s merchandising, it’s doin’ live shows as well or doin’ PA’s, DJing. I mean you have to be diversified in the business now. Because it’s not based anymore on (only) selling CD’s. You gotta deal with it no matter how hard it is to start off. You may at times not make money out of it. But you can build your reputation if you care enough about it on Internet…”
Is it to say you could manage to create a big buzz while using the social networks. Or should they rather be considered as a complement?
“I think so, as long as you know what you’re doin’. “
I mean in such a way it can get to the ears of the ones in control of the major media???
“Well, all they care about is numbers, you know what I mean? Like the amount of hits on Youtube which are things they would pay attention to. That’s how they work, they’re not interested in anything inbetween. It’s the numbers that count. They’re not caring about developing the artists.”
Technology allows us to do many things which were thought impossible back in the day. Your reflection about it and the things you’ve integrated from it in your way of working as an artist.
“The first thing comin’ to mind would be the miniaturization of the equipment. I mean back in the day, I would have had to carry a whole bunch of boxes on the road. Meanwhile now I just need a computer and a keyboard possibly. “