Tuesday 20 August 2013

MTV IGGY: ICON: Omar Is A Soul Survivor, HRH-Approved

By Joseph 'JP' Patterson

Two years shy of a three-decade-long career in music, Omar Christopher Lye-Fook embodies the true meaning of an icon. The London-based neo-soul singer may have been in a few major label situations in his time, but it’s his work as an independent artist that has led to him being the globally recognized star that he is today. From debut LP, There’s Nothing Like This (1990), to seventh studio album,The Man (June, 2013), Omar’s passion for his craft has never waned—despite not always having the machine/team to back it. Surprisingly for the "Golden Brown" star, his contribution to music was given a nod by the Queen in 2012. But it wasn't just any old nod and handshake. Oh no: it was an MBE, one of the highest esteem. Being the independent-and-proud musician that Omar is, receiving such an honor was groundbreaking for not only soul music, but black music on a whole. His hearty songwriting and unique vocal arrangements have made impressions on some of the best in the biz, too, such as Erykah Badu and Stevie Wonder, while his long-standing career continues to be a blueprint for rising soul newcomers the world over. MTV IGGY digs deep with the British treasure.

It’s been nearly three decades since the release of your first track, Mr Postman. What are your secrets of survival?

Just pure stubbornness, really. I’ve still got the passion to make the music, and there’s still that fire in my belly when I hear a good tune. I’ve been making music for that long and been getting a lot of love from people so when people tell me to keep doing what I’m doing, that’s enough for me.

You’ve been signed to a couple of majors in your time, but would you ever go there again if another offer was put on the table?

There are pros and cons of being on a major label. I’ve done a major label before and you get your business class flights and budgets taken care of, sure, but if you’re not one of their main acts they’re looking after, you can kind of fall by the wayside. They’re picking the songs, but you’re not getting the TV and radio exposure. I made up my mind a long time ago to be headstrong, in terms of what music I want to write, produce, and perform. I’m not in any rush for any major label deal. The deal I’ve got with Freestyle Records is working out pretty sweet, actually, as we work hand-in-hand. The label’s a breath of fresh air, and works well with my music and its market.

You’re pretty much classed as a British treasure now. HRH gave you an MBE last year to prove it,! What was the feeling like when you were told that you were going to receive the royal accolade?

Pretty special! I’m not really a mainstream artist, so to get it from that high office was something very different. It was a proud moment, because I’m just little old me making my music. My talent is a gift that I give thanks for every morning, so to get recognition like that was amazing.

What perks do you actually get from having an MBE attached to your name? I’ve always wondered [laughs].

I’ve heard stories about upgrades on planes, but I checked online once and it said that I can only get £250 towards an upgrade [laughs].

Better than nothing, I guess [laughs]. There’s a seven-year gap between your last album, Sing (If You Want It), and your new one, The Man. What were you up to during that time away?

I started acting, I moved down from London to Brighton, there’s been fatherhood, touring – which was worldwide, pretty much – writing this album, and working on other people’s projects. I’ve been pretty busy.

Speaking of fatherhood, your twin daughters are five years old now so you’re still in that new parent zone. How do you manage family life along with being a working soul music legend? Both are time-consuming and demanding roles.

I’m blessed, as my partner holds down the fort when I’m away. Women are generally the boss of the house, and she’s very understanding of the business, accommodating, and accepting when I have to travel. I’m performing in Italy next week, and I’m getting to take the family with me, which is always a nice little touch. We’re still waiting to see what direction the girls are going to go in. My partner’s trained in dance and art, so they could be turn out to be quite artistic. We just have to wait and see.

The Man, which dropped June just gone, is your seventh studio album. How would you say you’ve grown as an artist since the release of your first LP, There’s Nothing Like This, in 1990?

If you play both, I think you can definitely hear the development. I didn’t see myself as a singer – I still don’t, really – it’s more just a part of the process of being a songwriter. If you listen to the arrangements and productions, you can really hear the growth. One thing I always wanted to do when I started out was develop my sound, and I’ve pretty much done that.

Let me just say, it’s a brilliant piece of work and well worth the seven-year wait. What journey did you want to take your fans on with this project?

Thank you! Well, it kind of worked backwards. I didn’t start out with an idea of what the album would or should be about. I got to a point, seven years after releasing Sing (If You Want It), where I’d been working on music and needed to get it out. I looked at what music I had, and it came down to picking a title. I do the same thing with all my albums; I look at all the titles of the songs and pick the strongest one – The Man was pretty much jumping out at me. When I was putting the treatment for the video together, it hit me: this song is actually about me! I didn’t write it about my life, but it ended up coming out like that. I used to be a certain type of person, but I’ve changed and got lots of responsibilities now – with me being the family man that I am – and that’s the basis of the song, so I involved my missus and my girls in the video. The whole album encapsulates the same feeling as the song. I do cover other things on the album, but The Man is the strongest message.

Being the authoritative soul figure that you are, are you happy with the space British soul music is currently in? Or, are there a few things you’d like to see improve?

Soul music has still got a way to go. I mean, we don’t have our own radio or TV station – BBC Radio 1Xtra takes care of certain portions, but it’s not mainstream. It’ll get there eventually, though. I’ve got a lot to thank the internet for, because my fans can access the music directly. There used to be a time when my fans couldn’t even get my music in certain stores, but it’s now all online. When I previewed The Man online, people were commenting from Argentina, Mexico, Venezuela, and China. I was like, 'Wow! My music really does reach out to those people.' It was really exciting to see that my music, which I initially made for people to enjoy, was having that effect. The internet really does put everything into perspective.

You’ve got so much going on – with the recent release of the album, and all – but what else can we look forward to in times to come? 

It looks like I’m going to be in the East from December on: Thailand, Cambodia, New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, other parts of that region, South Korea too. I’m in Italy next week, and I just came back from France and Sweden – it’s always ongoing. We’re working on the next single, which I’m really excited about, and we just got a wicked remix back from Opolopo, but more on all of that soon. Man, it doesn’t stop. It never stops! I really want to thank all of my fans for sticking by my side over the many years.

This also appeared over at MTV IGGY: H E R E