Singer Omar Bridges Gap Between U.S., British Soul British soul singer Omar isn't well known in the United States. But with the support of influential fans such as Stevie Wonder, he now is trying to break into the U.S. market with a new release, Sing (If You Want It).
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Singer Omar Bridges Gap Between U.S., British Soul

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Singer Omar Bridges Gap Between U.S., British Soul

Singer Omar Bridges Gap Between U.S., British Soul

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Michele Norris.

Next we're going to meet one of those artists who only goes by one name, the British soul singer Omar. Unlike Prince or Madonna or Bono, Omar is not well known in the U.S. He has built a large following in Britain with a signature sound that combines jazz, soul, cabaret and Caribbean beats.

(Soundbite of Omar)

OMAR (Singer): (Singing) Cause it's so, love of reggae think I did (unintelligible). Love of hip-hop think I did (unintelligible). Let me crack that beat and (unintelligible) -

NORRIS: Omar's music is hard to find here in the U.S., but over the past decade he has developed a small yet influential fan base in the States, including some of the leading voices of R and B and hip hop - Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, Common and Stevie Wonder.

With their support and an occasional guest appearance, Omar is now trying to break into the U.S. market with a new release called "Sing If You Want It." Omar says you can hear and feel the difference between British and American soul.

OMAR: The main differences are like the influences. Over here, you can really hear the jazz and gospel where ours is more jazz and reggae. You know, it's more West Indian based. Straight away, you can hear.

NORRIS: You worked with a lot of American artists in this latest release. What's the difference, not just in the sound but in the production value?

OMAR: Well, there's certain types of sound in the States, which is very glossy, very clean, pristine, mixed too much. I like the old values of soul music from the '60s and '70s where they had less chances to shine. I think that's the thing that's carried on to the UK.

(Soundbite of Omar)

OMAR: (Singing) Everywhere I look around (unintelligible) used to be. The brother man is (unintelligible) me, yeah. And if this type of soul (unintelligible) in him, I want to soak it up to the top, take him everything -

NORRIS: You write about yourself in your music.

OMAR: Well, this is a myth, you see.

NORRIS: Oh, it is?

OMAR: Yeah. Well, I explained it like I'm an actor whereas I play many different roles. So when I'm writing songs, I try and think of different scenarios and different stories and stuff. So a lot of it isn't me. The odd one might be me but I'm not letting you know which one.

NORRIS: Oh, you're not going to give up -

OMAR: I'm not telling you.

NORRIS: So in a song like "Get It Together," is that sort of a soul opera, if we were to call it that?

OMAR: Right.

NORRIS: What's the story that you're telling in this song?

OMAR: Well, this is about a guy that's been trying to communicate with his woman and he's just getting nothing but a blank wall put up every time he tries to communicate. And he's just getting frustrated and he's near the edge but he's still not doing about it. I just basically got all that from first two lines. When she turns away from me, I don't know where to look, but it's not me.

(Soundbite of music, "Get It Together")

OMAR: (Singing) And when she turns away from me, I don't know where to look. I've tried my best on everything they written in the book. I know it's not the plan to see cause this thing is too (unintelligible) but if she's trying to break the man in me, but you don't know how I feel. I've got to get it together, ain't gonna stay here forever. Got to show that it's a (unintelligible), hope it don't (unintelligible) my integrity so tight. I got to get it together, it's gonna stay here forever -

NORRIS: This song has a sort of signature riff, that bud-da-dum-bum-baa that you hear in several of your releases.

(Soundbite of music, "Get It Together")

NORRIS: Where does that come from?

OMAR: The air, I think. You know, it just comes out. It's just how the music flows and what I think's going to be the next thing to be sung. And like you said, yeah, it's kind of a signature thing. Because - especially when we do the shows. Those are the parts when you see the audience really light up and they're singing with you.

NORRIS: They sing right along with you.

OMAR: Yeah, absolutely.

(Soundbite of Omar)

NORRIS: Stevie Wonder made good on a promise in this release.

OMAR: Yeah.

NORRIS: You met him how long ago?

OMAR: Well, when I first met him was in '87, and then the next time I met him was in '92. Went to see a show of his. Right at the time my manager used to manage him. And so he passed on a CD of mine. And he's telling me he was a big fan of the music and would like to write my first number one, which didn't actually happen until 2000.

NORRIS: Okay. But when he said - this is Stevie Wonder speaking - and he says to you - you're new on the music scene at that point - and he says to you I'd like to write you your first number one.

OMAR: Yeah. Pretty ecstatic, yeah. And also I remember when I was waiting to meet him - it was backstage after one of his shows - and as soon as he came in the door, I mean I'm all nervous, sweaty. You know, like I said, I had to wait eight years before we actually went into the studio, but it was actually worth the wait.

Went into the studio. He was singing, he was on the keyboards, even got on the drums at one point. So, you know, it didn't disappoint. So then the next day I got a phone call saying, oh, I got another song for you, and it turned out to be the one that's on this album now, which is called "Feeling You."

(Soundbite of song, "Feeling You")

Mr. STEVIE WONDER (Singer): (Singing) I'm feeling you, you're feeling me, too. I'm feeling you, I bet you're feeling me, too. I'm feeling you -

NORRIS: This CD, you wanted to return to the dance floor.

OMAR: I was talking with a friend of mine and we were both saying we don't really hear our stuff in the club so much. And then we (unintelligible) haven't really made so much like disco or clubby type of tunes. I mean it's kind of slightly more jazz or, you know, different elements in there. I just wanted something that was just straight up funky.

(Soundbite of Omar)

OMAR: (Singing) One night I was talking to a friend of mine. My (unintelligible) inside, it threw to me there was something on in mine. (Unintelligible), cause I made a mistake. I don't believe the (unintelligible) you gave me was my (unintelligible) -

NORRIS: When it actually appears on the dance floor, do you lose control of it? Cause there's so much, you know, there's so much mixing that goes on in music, sort of shifts and changes. Do you offer the song as, you know, a song that'll get people moving on the dance floor or is it sort the ingredient in a larger mix that you hope will be used?

OMAR: Wow. That's a heavy analysis. I just look at it as like, you know, if somebody else can listen to this and their head starts nodding in the first place and their toes start tapping, then that's kind of what I wanted to achieve.

NORRIS: Omar, thanks so much for coming in and talking to us.

OMAR: No problem.

NORRIS: It's a pleasure.

OMAR: The pleasure's all mine.

NORRIS: Omar, his latest CD is called "Sing (If You Want It)." You can hear more music from Omar at our Web site,

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