It is nearly 25 years since Omar’s classic ‘There’s Nothing Like This’ hit the UK top 20 and arguably the song has become better known than the singer.
But if Omar had achieved celebrity status to match the esteem he is held in by other musicians perhaps he wouldn’t be playing a gig in a small Cardiff venue. This Friday, September 25 Omar, whose last album was 2013’s ‘The Man’, plays The Globe in Roath’s Albany Road where no more than 350 people will get to see one of contemporary soul’s greatest artists up close.
Back in August 1997, following the release of his fourth album ‘This Is Not A Love Song’, Omar headlined the Sunday night at the free, Cardiff council organised Big Weekend outdoor music festival in the Civic Centre. A few hours earlier, accompanied by my brother, I was fortunate enough to interview Omar in the back-stage area. I’ve reprinted my interview, which originally appeared in an August edition of the Big Issue Cymru magazine, below.
You won’t have seen him on Top of the Pops lately, but British soul man Omar has got American stars queueing up for a piece of his UK gold. Twm Owen met him at the Cardiff festival. Portrait by Rob Watkins
In person Omar comes across just as he does on record, laid back. Omar is frequently distracted by the sight of passing ladies, and returns to the conversation having forgotten what he was talking about. “Where the fuck was I?” he’ll ask.
It is six years since his last UK top 40 hit, the smooth and stylish ‘There’s Nothing Like This’; but despite his absence from the charts, Omar has nonetheless won admiration from Stevie Wonder, D’Angelo and Erykah Badu to name but a few. He has also recorded three more albums, the latest of which ‘This Is Not A Love Song’ was released last month.
As well as recording his own material Omar has produced other artists such as soul singer Laurnea, an old friend of his. “The first time I was in LA, the first party I ever went to it was all people like Dr Dre, Snoop Doggy Dogg, like loads of famous people around me and then this girl comes up to me and says: ‘I know your mum.’ It’s like what? I’m in Los Angeles!
“But it turns out Laurnea did used to go to the gym with my mum, so it’s like a complete coincidence that we’ve hooked up there, and you know, we’ve been friends ever since.”
Omar seems more comfortable telling stories (like the one about the tattoo on his left arm. “The guy who did it booked Bob Marley at the Rainbow. My dad’s played with him as well.”) than he does talking about his music. Ask Omar who he plans to work with next and he answers almost as if he isn’t interested. “Possibly Erykah Badu, erm…who else? Des’ree I think?”
His interest and enthusiasm is obvious when he adds, “Notice they’re all girls!”
Back to music though, doesn’t Omar feel cheated that Americans like D’Angelo and Badu have taken a more British soul sound?
“I wouldn’t even say that they took something. Everyone’s guilty of plagiarising, know what I mean? To make the music that you have to make, you have to take influence from some place. I mean me personally I’m from like the Stevie Wonder type.”
With his fourth album already released (not bad for a man still in his twenties) what does Omar plan to do next? “I’m writing, I’m getting a script written based on a story that I made up about my younger brother. He’s an MC, and he plays the drums and all that, but he’s a character.”
While Omar’s ultra-relaxed personality may give the impression that he’s uninterested in his own music, a listen to any of his albums or a glimpse of his live performance suggests that he’d much rather play his music than sing its praises.