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British Soul Man Omar Talks New Album ‘The Man’

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If music could literally flow through human veins, then Omar Lye-Fook would be made up of notes and clefs. Omar, the son of Byron Lye-Fook, a studio musician and drummer who has worked with Bob Marley and the Rolling Stones, plays the drums, taught himself to play the bass, is formally trained in music and has performed in Italy, Brazil and the United States before the age of 15.

However, it wasn’t until the 90s, with his hit single, “There’s Nothing Like This,” that his impact really began to be imprinted on music. Omar is widely regarded as the father of British neo-soul but over the years he has caught the attention of artists like Erykah Badu, India.Arie, Angie Stone, Stevie Wonder and more. Even Prince Charles is such a fan that he recently awarded Omar with an MBE.

After more than 20 years in the game and a seven year time lapse between his last album and is forthcoming project, Omar is gearing up to release, The Man, an opus he describes as a mixture of Latin, Funk, Jazz, Soul—and generally all the elements that his diehard fans have come to love over the years.

JETmag.com caught up with the well-respected Musician to chat about how new fatherhood has influenced his music and why The Man is the perfect soundtrack to the summer.

You probably get this a lot but what have you been up to in the seven years since you last dropped an album?

I had some babies—well, I didn’t have them my woman did [laughs]. I did some touring and side acting so I’ve been pretty busy.

What’s the side acting stuff you did?

I starred in a musical called Lovesong, in Waterloo and it’s a one-man play by Che Walker. I’m playing the keyboard, telling stories and playing songs so that’s what I’m doing.

And about your album, what’s the concept behind The Man?

It’s kind of about my evolution as a singer/songwriter and what I do as far as sound. It’s a mixture of funk and reggae and Latin jazz. I like to experiment and try to keep it fresh. My stuff is pretty much organic. It’s 95% organic, the instrumentation, the arrangements, the vocals everything is coming from a live point of view. So it’s another marker in my musical journey.

And then there’s your lead single, also called “The Man.” The video was so sweet seeing you with your lady and your twins.

What’s funny is when I wrote the song I wasn’t singing about them. I just came up with a concept for the lyrics, but then when we got the treatment for the video it just kind of make sense, because I’m holding the camera the whole time. We shot it in Brighton where we live and I’m singing in the song about making change—that would be the girls and how I feel about my lady as well so it all fell in place.

Who did you work with on the album?

Caron Wheeler. She did a duet with me on a song called “Treat You.” It’s a song based off the introduction. It’s just a snippet and I went somewhere and someone said they wished the song was longer so I decided to work with her and I did. It was a Soul II Soul reunion. We go back quite a few years; she actually sang backing vocals for me in 1985 so it was a circular thing to get her singing on this track. I got Pino Palladino playing bass on a new version of “There’s Nothing Like This,” and Stuart Zender from Jamiroquai playing bass on “Ordinary Day.”

In a nutshell, give me three really cool points about album and why people should go get it.

If you know my music you’re gonna dig this because it’s basically what I specialize in doing. The mixture of funk, reggae, Latin and classical jazz all mixed into one but in a new but old style. That’s what I do best. The one thing about it is the arrangements. I got to work with a couple of people as well. I try different things in terms of writing. I worked with an old friend of mine Vanessa Haynes, who I used to work with back in the day. I produced a couple of tracks for her on her album and I brought her on board to write lyrics for me, which I’ve never really done. I’ve never really had anyone write lyrics. I normally take care of them but I wanted to relieve the pressure from that. I usually keep it in house. If it’s not me it’s my brother, he’s also on the album Scratch Professor. So I kind of just gotta reach out a little bit more but I also took on more of the arrangements as well. I usually do string arrangements myself but I took it on board a little more like, with “The Man,” I did the brass arrangements.

Are you still in touch with Stevie Wonder? Is he someone you go to for counsel on musicality?

I wish. Stevie has kinda gone underground. I haven’t been able to get in contact with him over the last couple of years but that inspiration is always there because that’s my boy right there. That’s my idol in terms of my main inspiration when I create. Plus, I can hear that detail. If you listen to the introduction of the album there’s a song called “Simplify” where I played the strings and I went, “Man, that sounds like Stevie!” so he’s always there.

This is your first album in the social media age so how are you using it for your promotion, especially in the States where people still may not be as familiar?

It took a little while to embrace the concept because I don’t really want anyone in my business. It’s a bit too much for me but someone explained it to me in a different sense. Like, the Internet is the saving grace of us independent artists because we don’t get love from TV or national radio or mainstream, so the only way we gotta get the music out now is by the internet. And I’ve seen lots of bloggers posting my stuff and people responded to them in forums and stuff and people responded from China and Argentina and Venezuela, Mexico, and I’ve never even been to these places, but the music has reached out there and that’s just a beautiful thing. So yeah, I thank goodness for that. What’s quite amazing since my last album, Sing if You Want It—there was no Twitter or Facebook and that’s like seven years ago, and all of a sudden these things came up and it helps.

Father’s Day just passed here in the States but what’s one of the most important things you’ve learned about yourself since becoming a dad?

I need my kid’s [laughs]. I’ve got so much love for them. It’s one of those things where you love them so much you want to cry. I was a little bit worried about how my life would change after they were born. I wondered how much of a difference it was going to make in my lifestyle and my music when she had the children, and I think it’s inspired me even more. And this comes out in the music. I feel more expressive in some ways, because it’s a lot that I haven’t really felt before.

How do you balance your career and family?

It balances really well because my Mrs., she’s a beautiful mother and she takes care of the house and the family while I have to work. There’s no conflict there. We moved to Brighton and my studio is in London so basically when I’m in Brighton I’m with family and when I’m in London I’m working so I split between the two.

Back to the music, what do you want fans to take away from The Man?

I hope they get inspired by the instrumentation, the vocals and the lyrics. I hope they can take something from it that brightens up their day. I’m glad that it’s coming out in the summer time because that’s the time it’s meant to be out there. So I’d just like for it to move people. If it moves them then I’ve done my job, because it moves me in terms of, it’s been such a long time to get all the music put together and in the right order and everything, and once I listened to it, I was like, “This is pretty bad!” so I hope they get inspired.

You’re spot on about your artistry. Your music always sounds like you’re having fun and it’s not forced, which is probably why your fans love you so much.

Basically, after my first song—my first song was called, “Mr. Postman”—after playing it for two weeks I hated that song and so I just decided that what ever music I make I’m gonna have to enjoy making it because, with there’s nothing like this—all my music—I’ve had to sing it for the last 23 years and I will have to keep on singing it. You always have to make music that you enjoy and that’s the thing why I left the labels because I wasn’t making music for them or anything that was going on in the charts at the time. I was making music that I would enjoy making and I hope that comes across.

 

 

  • Vannessa Simon

    Just to correct some info in this piece. The vocalist that co-wrote some songs with Omar on his new album 'The Man' is named Vannessa Simon, not Vanessa Haynes.