UPDATE 6/1/12, 4:30pm: The Omar performance at Weeksville Heritage Center has been postponed. Please see video for update.
Three years ago, in 2009, was the last time I saw U.K. soul singer Omar play New York City.
It wasn't the first time I'd attended one of his shows. But for this one, what I remember as most remarkable was the vibe at his show: The moment I walked inside, literally, I was swept away, lost in a sea of swooning women.
And yes, swoon really is the only way to describe what one does at an Omar performance, because… well, that’s just how it goes down.
Even the fellas would attest, the combination of Omar's voice, arresting stage presence, heartfelt lyrics and nearly pitch-perfect soul leaves you with but one of two choices: Either pretend you are blind-deaf-and-dumb... or join the bandwagon of swooners.
Omar Lye-Fook -- known to his fans as Omar -- is an internationally acclaimed British soul singer, songwriter and musician. He grew up in Canterbury, a historic English cathedral city in Southeast England.
He studied in London at the Guildhall School of Music where he became a proficient trumpet, piano and drum player. Although he is classically trained, his roots are in jazz and his calling is R&B/soul.
Beginning in 1991, with the release of his first single, “There’s Nothing Like This,” which reached #14 on the UK Singles Chart, Omar quietly has claimed and maintained a respected title as the U.K.'s reigning King of Soul.
He’s known for his keen collaborations on songs with some the greatest soul music contemporaries, including Stevie Wonder, who admittedly became a fan of Omar’s music after the U.K. artist dropped his first single. In fact, in 2005, while on a visit to London, Stevie called Omar out of the blue and scheduled an impromptu jam session. From that collaboration came the funky and melodic tune, “Feeling You.”
Now, 22 years, hundreds of thousands of fans, a set of twin daughters and six albums after his debut, Omar is preparing to release of his 7th album entitled, “The Man.”
On Saturday, June 2, at 2:00 p.m., Omar will be in New York City to give fans a rare, sneak peak into his forthcoming project at a free outdoor concert at Weeksville Heritage Center, 1698 Bergen Street, Brooklyn—his first U.S. performance since 2009.
In advance of his show on Saturday, Omar has granted Bed-Stuy Patch an exclusive interview to catch his fans up on his new life, new loves and latest projects.
Bed-Stuy Patch: It’s been about three years since your last stateside performance. Can you tell us what you’ve been working on?
Omar: Basically, I’ve just finished my seventh album, which is called “The Man.” If you know my music, this is still very much Omar-- a mix of Latin funk, classical jazz. It’s all done in my own studio I built in 2004, called Backayard. Also, I’ve been touring, been on the road; I’ve been quite busy, I was in Brussels, Denmark, and I’m going to going to Poland after I leave New York.
BSP: How is this new project different from your last projects? In what way can we expect to see the evolution of you, Omar, your music and where you are today?
Omar: Well, I’m working with some new people. I’ve reached out to work with more people on a production level. I usually don’t like to give up production and songwriter responsibilities. But on this one, I’ve let go a bit more; I’ve reached out to give people lyrics credits. More people are contributing. But fundamentally, it is quintessential Omar; all the stuff you like about me before, it’s all there.
Also, I'm really really excited, because I’ve done a brand-new version of Nothing Like This. It’s going to be the 22nd anniversary of this song. I just had an epiphany one day. I’ve been trying to re-do this song for four years. But then I had a brain wave of trying to do it like Marvin or Donny Hathaway, and when I finally finished it, I almost shed tears, because I finally got it to sound the way I want it to sound.
BSP: Wow, will you be singing this on Saturday?
BSP: It’s been six years since the release of your last album, “I Want to Sing.” I'm sure a lot has transpired for you personally. So where are you now? Any new interests, new obsessions?
Omar: I’ve started acting… about 4-5 years ago. I was in a musical called “Been So Long,” which ran for about 3-4 months at the Old Vic Theatre in London. It’s about unrequited love. It’s my first experience of stage acting, and it has been an incredible experience.
BSP: Acting? Is this something you want to continue to pursue?
Omar: Well, it’s funny you ask, because the guy that wrote the play, Che Walker, is a big fan of my music. And so he also wrote a one-man play for me. It’s a 50-minute monologue of all my songs. It’s just me and a keyboard and an audience of people sitting around, drinking coffee, smoking, eating, just listening, and it does so well wherever I perform it. I’ve done it in pubs, art galleries, libraries, you know, places with a like laid-back intimate vibe. In fact, I’ve been talking to a couple of guys here in the states to see if they can set something up for me while I’m in New York; I’d love to do a few sets while I’m here…
BSP: As far as today’s music, who are you listening to now?
Omar: I did a tour with Beverly Knight Electric Empire, an Australian band. I got really excited about them, because it’s a long time since I’ve heard a really good band-band. So these guys come with a traditional sound. Also, it’s an exciting time for young black musicians in the U.K. I’ve noticed that we have a lot more of a black profile than there ever used to be. I used to call the scene here one-in and in-out, meaning one would come in, you’d hear them and no one else, until that one was gone. And then after that one was over, one other person -- just one -- would step in. But it's not like that so much anymore. There are a lot of really talented young kids coming out that I really like, like Rizzle Kicks, Tinie Tempah, Red Street, all these kids doing things where black kids are representing. They’re standing up to the American sounds. That’s fantastic to me.
BSP: Okay, so the big question is, when is the album coming out?
Omar: We don’t know yet. We’re still looking around for deals; we’re looking for a home. So I don’t want to speculate. But you can expect to hear some of the music and see me with a full band on Saturday. You can get a preview at that time!