British R&B and Soul star, Omar rose to fame in the early 90’s with the chart hitting single ‘There’s nothing like this’. Since then he has continued to bless us with record after record. It’s been over twenty years since his thrust to the limelight but Omar is still going strong; with the release of his eighth studio album ‘Love in Beats’ out now, and his one man band show coming out this summer. Omar caught up with us to discuss his career, secrets to success and his MBE!
Mr Omar! Thanks for meeting with us! You are known as the Father of British neo-soul, but tell us how you started off your career?
Thanks guys, great to be with you! Well I went to school in Kent and studied piano while I was there. When I was 14, I started to write my own music. It wasn’t until I was 16 that I signed under my dad’s record label; Congo Dance.
So then after, you started creating singles. Your fifth single, ‘There’s nothing like this’ went into the top 20 on the UK charts – how did it feel to receive such success?
Well it was great- but you’re right, it certainly wasn’t an overnight success. I released my first single in 1984- it was a song called ‘Mr Postman’, then I released one single every year until ‘There’s nothing like this’ in 1990. So that is six years of grind before a hit!
What’s funny is; I put the single on a cassette tape (If you don’t know what that is…. Google it!) and played it on repeat so many times, but didn’t get bored of it. That’s when I knew it was going to be successful
What were the biggest challenges you faced when attempting to break into the music industry?
Institutionalised racism. You try to ignore it, but when you get passed over for projects like video’s etc., you know there is something wrong. I did an album once, and there were quite a few string [instruments] playing on it and the head of the label told me to change them to synthesisers because he didn’t want to pay the musicians. After that, I saw a video with Jason Donovan with string sets in them. In fact, the same string set that I used on my record. It occurred to me that there was a bit of favouritism going on there. That’s the kind of thing you had to deal with then.
Racism is hard to tackle! How did you overcome it?
Generally ignore it. That’s pretty much what I’ve done. It’s not a big mystery, it’s either you let it get to you, or you ignore it. I’m an artist so I’m all about expressing myself. I am not really worried about what other people think
Thank goodness things have moved on since then, but you are still very active as an artist, how do you feel the industry has changed since your debut in the 90’s?
Technology is the main thing. When I first came out, I would have to have a van full of cassettes, and drive them around the country to distribute! Forget YouTube or SoundCloud- that is the only way people could hear your music. We also didn’t have that many television channels dedicated to music. But you know… technology helps and hinders. There are a lot of people who are trying to be famous through music now, and because of that, it could be seen as harder to make it nowadays in comparison.
Let’s talk about Channel4’s ‘phone shop’- your biggest selling single re-emerged thanks to a characters love of the song, what were your thoughts on that?
I loved it! I was cracking up! It settled in the mind of someone who used it for the whole episode, so that was great for me!
You’ve been signed to some really awesome record label’s, do you still feel there is a relevance to being signed?
Labels have their benefits; aspiring musicians need to know that they vary quite a lot. It depends on whether they are a major label or a boutique one. They can obviously help with the registration proportion of it.
If you want to get a major deal, the benefits are they give you a lot of money, but the hook is; they want to get paid for spending that money on you- so don’t forget that!
Also, you may get lost in the crowd so they may not give you proper training. My recommendation to artists coming up is to check it out for yourself! As an aspiring musician, you need to think about what you want to achieve and see whether the labels fit with that.
There are a lot of musicians that struggle to have longevity, if you can give us three skills needed to maintain a long career, what would they be?
The key to longevity is stubbornness, be able to carry on regardless. You’ve also got to keep things interesting because people can get bored of you quickly. Stretch the peoples minds a bit. You need something that people will remember you by, either its your looks, or you gimmick. Something that differentiates you.
What would you say has been the highlight of your career?
Well I have many, from having songs at the top of the charts to receiving and MBE for my work in music. But working with Stevie Wonder was one of my biggest highlights.
That’s amazing- congratulations! What should we expect from you in the future?
Well I have just released my eighth album in January called Love in Beats. I am on the road right now though so performing around the country. I have been doing some acting. Currently on my one-man band show which is coming out in June, so a lot is going on!
Glad to hear it. Piece of advice for people coming up?
Patience, perseverance and practice. Be realistic with what you can achieve. Nothing comes for free. Don’t think you have it all when you haven’t achieved anything yet.
Awesome, thanks Omar!
Omar’s album is out now. As Omar said, there are key skills needed to become a successful recording artist, so keep an eye on our website for more exclusive interviews, hints and tips, and even work opportunities to help you break into the industry.