After his fifth album, Best By Far, was released, Omar inexplicably stepped into the shadows for a half-decade. Now Englands longest reigning soul provider is back – and it would appear to be by popular demand. Omar aligned himself with the incomparable Stevie Wonder for his new album, entitled Sing (If you want it), which will be released this month in the U.S. The project is a fusion of funky vibes and soulful instrumentation, with some Hip-Hop added for good measure.
Omars break from the scene was not a selfish act, even though die-hard fans of the man that brought us the classic jam Theres Nothing Like This may have felt a little left out in the cold. The musical purist has been laying his own foundation, literally, in his own London garden. Setting up his own company may have been a factor for his leave of absence, but it was most certainly a stride in the right direction for his life. We took some time to talk with Omar about label politics, his adventures in carpentry, and what its like to get calls from Stevie Wonder in the middle of the night.
AllHipHop.com Alternatives: When you look deep into the label structure in England when it comes to urban music, do you ever see there being a breakthrough?
Omar: They are doing it right now with the MOBO Awards, but they seem to have bypassed me. I am not used to being picked for stuff like that. How I have got my reward is by having people come to the shows; that to me is one of the greatest rewards there is really. You know wherever I have been in the world people have tapped me on the shoulder to tell me they know my music. That is what I go for.
AHHA: But do you think that your tenure in the game makes it acceptable to ignore the lack of interest labels show – but for an up-and-coming artist it may be a little different?
Omar: Possibly. It depends on what you want out of it. You know if you are looking for that kind of recognition, you are going to be disappointed. Unless you are going to be one of the lucky few that gets through. Life has been made a lot easier this day and age with the likes of MySpace, you can get [music] out there and not have about all the other stuff.
AHHA: You are using the internet as a viable way of marketing yourself and your projects then?
Omar: Absolutely. You know you have to make sure you have your website, make sure people know who you are, give people an opportunity to listen to your music. That is a basic fundamental when you start out.
AHHA: When you see how far technology has taken the music industry, was it easy for you to move ahead with the times?
Omar: You just kind of find yourself having to move with the times. You know all of a sudden the stuff that you were using to record on and record with are obsolete and you have to work that out so you are compatible with other people. It is just something that you have to do as you may just be out of date.
AHHA: Yeah I remember being terrified of breaking a computer. [laughs]
Omar: [Laughs] Yeah, I mean, it took me ages to figure out how to use the program for my computer, but once I got the hang of it I was ok.
AHHA: Listening to your new album, live instrumentation is still very important in your creativity.
Omar: Yeah I think if the rock boys can still have their rock bands, why cant we? It is good to mix and match – I dont just stick with the instruments, there are certain ones that have samples in there. You have to make sure that your music fits in. I am kind of disappointed that we dont have funk bands – we have rock bands, but there are no complete funk bands where they are a complete unit performing and playing a song. But hopefully we will get back to that one day soon.
AHHA: There was definitely a lot more funk in this project than the Latin jazz vibe we heard in your last project. How do you determine the vibe of your projects? Do you just flow with it?
Omar: It is absolutely something I flow with. My philosophy is that once I am done with one kind of style I am kind of done and move onto another. There are so many different combinations, your reggae, funk, jazz, Latin, soul, classical; so many different combinations you shouldnt run out of things to work with.
AHHA: You said it was imperative for you to have your own business/studio, are you happier working in your own environment? I mean you built your studio in your garden shed I believe.
Omar: Well, yeah, that was just a necessity, because I am always coming up with vibes. I wanted something professional, not just like a bedroom project, that I would have to take somewhere else. So basically I have recorded, mixed and mastered in the studio and I also recorded the live instruments in there.
AHHA: That must be a big garden shed. [laughs]
Omar: [laughs] Its not massive, but it is a big enough size to do what I want to do, which I am very happy with.
AHHA: Going back to label politics, how strong a person do you have to be going through all the drama that sometimes goes along with trying to get out of deals?
Omar: You either got to be ignorant or totally bone-headed or something, because like you said, I have a lot of people giving me enough props to keep me going as opposed to doing this willy-nilly. I just had to ignore all the executive record company bullshit where they try to tell me to look like this or to look like that, and I just keep on doing what I do. Because at the end of the day all that I have left is my music, and the people that love the music. Especially when I wrote my first, that single; I hated it after two weeks, and I said I would never do that again. I just wanted to do music that I can keep playing over and over, as that is what it is really. I have been lucky to do something like that and stay true to that and it shows in the music I think.
AHHA: Would you say you are your hardest critic?
Omar: Probably not.
AHHA: Is there one critic that you always listen to?
Omar: My Dad is one. When I first started out, he had a kind of way of telling you, his production values in a sense. You know he cant describe it to you personally, but he can give you a vibe of what he is trying to say. and I think I have carried that on in terms of how Ive put my things together. He is definitely the biggest influence in that sense.
AHHA: You have garnered the attention of some of the U.S.s leading soul ladies – Jill Scott, Erykah Badu for example. How did they make your acquaintance?
Omar: Because of my stubbornness, how I do things and how I stand out from a crowd that has got me noticed. In this music game, people get passed CDs when they are on the road and listen to them on their tour buses, and I was just very fortunate to get passed around in their fraternity. They are not the general public at large and the general public may not know me, but these people do, so whichever way you want to look at it, I feel blessed. Someone is checking me and I have been doing the right things so far. What I wanted to do with this album, is take it up to the next notch and get more people knowing the music.
AHHA: You have Stevie Wonder on this new project, the song called Feeling You. He promised you a track when you first came out in 92-93 was it?
Omar: 92 was when I first met him, at a concert at Wembley Arena. He got passed a CD from my old manager at the time, Keith Harris, who managed Stevie as well. That was how we got to meet. and he said he wanted to work with me from then. But I think we went into the studio well I went into his studio back in 93 at like 2:00 a.m. in the morning, and I sat down with him for about half and hour and had a conversation with him. That time was the last I actually saw him in the studio.
I did a TV show with him afterwards, and then finally I got a call in the year 2000, the he was in town for a little while, Lets hang out, go [to the] studio. We had the vibes that we had had that first day. Then he called me up at 4:00 a.m. in the morning and said that he had another song, so that was two songs from Stevie Wonder, and that experience was everything I wanted it to be. He sang, was on the piano, played the drums. He was just relaxing in the studio. I couldnt have paid for an experience like that.
AHHA: How are you promoting this project in the States?
Omar: We are looking to tour the states in October. Then Japan, Europe and hopefully Indonesia.
AHHA: You have quite a fan base in Indonesia dont you?
Omar: Yeah I was out there earlier this year with Incognito and we were doing a couple of tracks and we did Theres Nothing Like This, and we had like five thousand people singing it back to us word for word.
AHHA: So no signs of slowing down then?
Omar: This is what I do. I didnt go to college to become a carpenter, and suddenly decided to do music, and then go back to being a carpenter. I have been doing music since I started to walk and talk and bang stuff. Ill always be doing music, and for all the fans out there checking the music, I will be bringing it to you.