“When I grow up I wanna be like Omar”, Stevie Wonder
Omar awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours 2012
Sing [If You Want It], originally released in 2006 on Blunt Music (Omar’s own label) & re released in 2011 is the British soul supremo’s sixth and perhaps funkiest album so far recording in his own studio Backayard. Featuring guest appearances from Stevie Wonder, Angie Stone, Common, Estelle, Rodney P, JC Bentley, Canitbe and Ashman, and with additional production from Omar’s brother, Scratch Professer, it’s a brilliant collection of music that manages to break new ground for the artist, yet at the same time re-establishes that unmistakable, unique Omar signature sound with his army of fans.
On the last album, Best By Far, I was very influenced by soundtracks and Latin jazz,” explains Omar. “This time I wanted something a bit more funky, something to put my music back in the clubs. I still use the live instruments and the strings when I feel them, ‘cause that’s me, but the kick and the snare are much louder this time. That’s why my brother’s more involved, ’cause he’s great with those hip-hop beats.”
It is, of course, a major coup for any UK recording artist to be able to call on the services of a musical legend like Stevie Wonder. The simple truth is that Stevie has been a fan of Omar’s music since he first heard There’s Nothing Like This back in 1992 – the same year he promised to write Omar “his first number one”. The 14-year wait turned out to be well worth it when, one day, Stevie called Omar out of the blue and told him he was in London and had just what he’d promised. A jam session later and the irrepressibly funky and melodic Feeling You, with Stevie on vocals and keyboards, was born.
As for the other star guests on the album, well, they’re all either long-standing admirers of Omar’s work and/or personal friends. Angie Stone, for example, had often dropped Omar’s name in interviews over the years and she recorded her own version of Omar’s track Little Boy. This then led to a contribution to Omar’s last project when she stepped in to lay the co-lead vocal on one of Omar’s two duet versions of Be Thankful. She applies her distinctive stamp to two tracks on Sing [If You Want It], the gorgeous laid-back ballad All For Me and the driving seduction funker Stylin’.
Conscious hip-hop don Common has also worked with Omar before: the UK soulman lent his talents to Common’s Electric Circus album whilst on one of his now increasingly frequent touring visits to the States; in return Common teams up with Brit-hop legend Rodney P and rising MC Ashman and Canitbe for the atmospheric, vibrant Gimme Sum, already being touted as a future single from the album.
Back home, MOBO winner Estelle supplies a poignant rap to the anti-gun tune Lay It Down, adding potency to one of Omar’s best ever lyrics. Meanwhile ace new vocalist JC Bentley flows sweetly over the bossa groove that is Be A Man.
All in all, it’s measure of Omar’s generous nature that he’s accepted so many accomplished performers onto his album at the same time, and of his self-possession and talent that at no time does Sing [If You Want It] sound like anything other than an Omar album, first and foremost. It’s a great way to christen his new studio, Back A Yard.
“I’m out in the open now,” says Omar. “I left a label and created a new joint venture with my new manager called Blunt Music– and so now I can do what I want, I’m in control. If I want to spend all day in the studio, I can and I don’t have to worry about the time or the cost I’m racking up. Plus now I can take my music direct to the fans.”
Which Omar has been doing at all opportunities during the past five years. He’s toured America a half-dozen times, for example, at last reaching out to a massive underground of support that he’d always known was there. More recently, he toured the Far-East with a UK all-star package put together by Incognito’s Bluey Maunick, a venture that brought him to audiences he wasn’t even aware had heard of him: 10,000 Indonesians singing back There’s Nothing Like This to him soon put him right on that score.
Like us, they’ve been following Omar’s adventures since he first came to prominence more than a decade-and-a-half ago, when his debut single for indie label Kongo Dance Mr. Postman/You And Me made him a hot name on London’s underground. It was soon afterwards that the success of his Ohio Players-influenced love ballad, the much celebrated There’s Nothing Like This, led to his signing to Gilles Peterson’s Talkin’ Loud label. Omar released a couple of albums for the Phonogram affiliate during 1992/3, the first a re-working of his Kongo set for the wider audience, the second, Music, a vastly more orchestral and organic affair that highlighted Omar’s maturing as a composer, arranger and vocalist. Aside from the memorable title song, standout tracks included the still requested Get To Know You Better and the brilliant duet with Carleen Anderson, Who Chooses The Seasons.
Thereafter Omar signed to RCA, for whom he cut two further albums that notched up acres of critical acclaim as well as introduced him to several of his musical heroes and heroines. On 1994’s For Pleasure, the set that includes such Omar signature songs as Saturday, Outside and the Erykah Badu favourite Little Boy, he worked alongside the legendary former Motown producers Leon Ware and Lamont Dozier. On ‘97’s This Is Not A Love Song, largely a collaboration with LA-based producer David Frank, he did a great cover of The Stranglers’ Golden Brown and got to sing with one of his all-time favourite vocalists, Syreeta Wright on two songs, including the sumptuous slowie Lullaby.
By 2000, Omar had moved on again, this time signing up with hip French imprint Naïve Records. The following year, now well established as the leading icon of the UK’s resurgent soul movement, Omar released his fifth album, Best By Far, a self-produced set on which he allowed his interest in cinematic soundtracks and jazz to rise to the surface. Once again, the star names turned out: on the album version of Be Thankful, a re-cut of the William DeVaughn seventies soul hit, it’s Erykah Badu who came good on her promise to work with our man. [On the version released as a single, it was Angie Stone on co-lead.] Meanwhile recent MOBO winner Kele Le Roc supplied the strident lead on the anthemic groove Come On, also a single edit.
A former principal percussionist of the Kent Youth Orchestra and later graduate of the Guildhall School Of Music in London, Omar has now been making music for more than 21 years. And while it would be true to say that during that time the high quality of his work has not really been reflected by number of pop hit singles he’s enjoyed, there’s certainly no sign of his being discouraged. Quite the contrary in fact: with Sing [If You Want It], Omar is just embarking on a new phase of his career, one that’s designed to bring him directly to a wider public than ever before.
“I’m enjoying life so much right now,” he says. “I play with great bands, there’s always new music to make, new styles to blend, new people to reach… man, I went to Sainsbury’s the other day and it felt like I’d been on Crimewatch or something, the amount of people looking over and coming up to shake my hand. It really feels like a new beginning for me.”
Omar is currently working on album no 7 ‘The Man’ which is due for release in 2012 & has featured on a number of tracks by Zed Bias, King P, Dru & Perez & Live Tropical Fish. As well as his music Omar has branched out into voice overs (Alfa Romeo) & acting (Been So Long & Love Song) so watch this space for more on Omar.
“Omar is one of my favourite artists ever”
“This cats shit is banging”
Ol’ Dirty Bastard (Wu Tang Clan)
“The original nu-classic soul guvnor”
“The reigning don of UK Soul”
The Face Magazine
“A songwriter who values true classic form, a singer whose phrases are instinctively seductive”
American GQ Magazine
“Distance is the only difference between Babyface, the reigning king of black pop, and Omar”
Rolling Stone Magazine
NATALIE WILLIAMS SOUL FAMILY!
Hosted by the wonderfully charismatic and talented soul singer Natalie Williams and her band, Soul Family Sunday offers the chance to catch some of the best R&B, soul and jazz musicians in the UK up close and personal.
While guests vary from month to month, there is always the opportunity to hear music of the highest quality where the
stars of the British scene showcase their material in an exciting ad hoc setting.
NATALIE WILLIAMS BIOGRAPHY (2010)
“Anxiously awaiting this CD (Secret Garden) to land on the doormat, the moment it turned up the plastic was stripped and into the stereo it went. That was two weeks ago and it’s still there. Natalie Williams has unleashed what quite possibly could be the finest project to have ever come out of the U.K. soul scene…..Versatile, vocally strong and beautiful are all the makings of a superstar and Natalie Williams’ star shines brighter than most at the moment……”
Blues & Soul Magazine
“One of the UK's hottest singers…she effortlessly moves from soul-diva to sensual and sophisticated jazz.” Time Out
“The moment she starts to sing she becomes a commanding, strutting presence, scatting with an infectious relish.” Telegraph
Some people may know Natalie from her self penned solo albums, some might be more familiar with the more jazzy side of things like her standards album? The die-hard D&B lovers may know her soaring vocals on underground drum and bass hits from other various collaborations and others might remember her from a gig they may have seen anywhere around the world… either way…
…"People can't help but go away with a bit of Williams' natural sparkle having attached itself to them" Deuce
"When Nat sings, anything from a jazz standard to a funky original, you can be sure of a voice that is natural, swinging, soulful, playful and blessed with a gobsmacking range. A testament to her power as an artist is a steady stream of Natalie wanabees. I like that. It says that an artist is a vital part of defining a new generation."
"Natalie Williams is most definitely the real deal. Trail blazing voice, and pure utter soul from every pore. I LOVE listening to her, and singing with her and being around her just to experience some of the essence of what this music is honestly and rightfully about. A stunningly talented woman."Liane Carroll
“…She’s Joss Stone and Erykah Badu times 20….
… I saw her play recently and it was just incredible. She’s a truly real, beautiful star, worthy of everyone’s attention.” Jamie Cullum
Born and raised in Berlin to a Hungarian mother and British father, Natalie Williams realised her love for music, in particular jazz, at the age of 15, discovering her dad’s, the poet John Hartley Williams, immense record collection. Her early influences included singers Nancy Wilson, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan and Aretha Franklin, and these legends inspired Natalie to pursue a career in singing. In 1997 she decided to take her passion further by moving to London to study at the prestigious Guildhall School of Music & Drama, becoming the first person to study both classical and jazz singing on the undergraduate course.
Natalie has toured extensively throughout the world, performing at an array of renowned festivals, including opening the recent 2009 London Jazz Festival as a featured soloist alongside Kurt Elling and Sheila Jordan with Guy Barker’s ‘Jazz Voice’ at the Barbican Centre. Other memorable appearances include Glastonbury Festival, Montreux Jazz Festival, Abu Dhabi Jazz Festival, Kaunas Jazz festival in Lithuania and the Kathmandu Jazz Festival ‘Jazzmandu’. She has appeared as a featured artist with The Heritage Orchestra, Goldie and Bugz In The Attic and alongside Amy Winehouse, Shlomo, John Legend, Lemar, Alison Moyet, Jamie Cullum, Babyface, the Neville Brothers and recently with Manu Katché on his French TV show ‘One Shot Not’ on Arte.
September 2006 saw her fulfilling a dream of becoming the resident singer at the world renowned Ronnie Scotts Jazz Club, supporting international jazz stars on a weekly basis with the Ronnie Scott’s All Stars.
There she has played opposite Jeff Beck, The Crusaders, Tower Of Power, Steve Gadd, Kenny Barron, Nigel Kennedy, Joe Lovano, Jon Hendricks and Jools Holland among many others and having become somewhat of a fixture at the club, she also runs and hosts the now legendary monthly soul night, Soul Family Sundays; a regular sell out event 3 years running!
An accomplished songwriter, Natalie signed her first publishing deal with Peer Music in 2007 and as a top-line writer she has collaborated with Shy FX and Hospital Records’ Nu:tone, gaining fans from enthusiastic D&B lovers worldwide.
Signed to independent label ‘Eastside Records’, she has recorded 3 albums ‘Yours Truly’, ‘Lucky Old Sun’ and ‘Secret Garden’, and is set to release her 4th album ‘My Oh My’ in April 2010. All of these have been met with critical acclaim, including underground classic singles, 'Butterfly' and 'This Girl' which was A-listed at BBC Radio 2 and also won her ‘best video’ at the 2007 Urban Music Awards. ‘Secret Garden’ to date has achieved 80,000 downloads,14 weeks featured on iTunes and number 1 in the We7 album, soul and RnB charts for 6 weeks in early 2008
While many artists talk about taking creative & artistic control of their careers, few actually achieve that high ideal, but in 2009 Natalie took matters into her own hands, co-founding her own label Sound Tribe Records, entering into a joint venture with Eastside records to release all of her upcoming new material.
Natalie has even taken the whole thing a step further than simply releasing her own music, by developing and presenting an online music TV series (due out early 2010) - the Sound Tribe Show (www.soundtribe.co.uk) for the Daily Telegraph, modeled on the same format as the successful live Soul Family shows.
“I began to realise I wanted to expand what I do musically into other areas and take more control of what I do artistically”- comments Natalie.
Her electrifying single ‘Lilʼ Wiser’ (from the forthcoming album ‘My Oh My’) achieved great support from BBC 1Xtra (No. 4 in R&B Top 5) and Kiss 100 and the follow up single ‘Keep Me Holding On’ (for which the Esquire remix went to number one in the Music Week club charts) will be out in April 2010, closely followed by the album.
Natalieʼs obvious talent and tenacity are gathering well-deserved attention, so expect much more to come from a lady who is proving to be a more than just a ‘Lilʼ Wiser’.
Check out www.myspace.com/natwilliams for her music and videos!!!