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Reject my MBE? ‘Why would I do that?’

STILL THE MAN: Omar recieved an MBE for services to music

OMAR IS the first to admit that his career hasn’t garnered an abundance of mainstream plaudits. So when the UK soul star learned he was to receive an MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) last year for his ongoing contribution to the cultural life of the United Kingdom, he confesses he was “blown away” by the news.

“I was surprised, because I don’t really get much recognition from the mainstream,” says the There’s Nothing Like This hitmaker. “I’ve got no Brit Awards, no Mercury Awards – and an MBE is quite a mainstream award to get! So when it was announced that I was getting it, I was blown away.”

And unlike others who, for various reasons, have rejected the award (think UK poet Benjamin Zephaniah, who refused an OBE in 2003 because of its association with the British Empire and colonialism), Omar didn’t consider snubbing the award.

“Hell no! Why would I do that? Everyone is entitled to their opinions, but I have no problem being recognised for my music,” he responded.

And whilst receiving the award from Prince Charles, the singer even made a little small talk with the heir to the throne.

“He asked me if I’m still making music and I said, ‘Yes, I’ve got a brand new album coming out in May or June.’ He replied, ‘Oh, do drop off a copy when it’s finished.’

He may have rubbed shoulders with royalty, but amongst soul music lovers, Omar himself is deemed pretty royal. With fans across the globe, who appreciate his unique blend of soul, funk, jazz and Latin grooves, the singer has been able to enjoy the freedom of making music straight from the heart – rather than conforming to the current ‘in thing’. 

That trend has continued with Omar’s new album, The Man, which is due out later this year. Featuring a reworked version of the singer’s classic 1990 hit, There’s Nothing Like This, does Omar think he’ll get critics lambasting him for tampering with the original?

“It’s a new take on a classic track and I’m sure it will split people into two camps: those who like it and those who don’t! But it’s an updated, more mature version of the original. I wrote the original when I was about 19 or 20, so this one is more mature, with a Marvin Gaye or Donnie Hathaway vibe to it. And when I’ve performed it live, people have gone crazy for it.”

Considering the secret to the success of his hit, which remains a cult classic to this day, Omar says: “I think it came at the right time. In 1990, hip-hop was in its infancy but it was still popular, then you had acid house – it was a time when it was all about machines making the music. But the stuff I was listening to at the time was more soulful. 

There’s Nothing Like This was influenced by a song called Heaven Must Be Like This by a band called The Ohio Players. That’s the kind of thing I was listening to, but you didn’t hear that type of music on the radio. So I was trying to recreate that type of sound and obviously it struck a chord with people, because it was different to what they were hearing on the radio at the time.”

But even before the song was released, Omar says he had an ‘inkling’ it would be big.

“After I made the song, I got a cassette – that shows how long ago it was – and on one side of the cassette, I put the song on over and over again. At the time, my dad was part of this company called the Black Music Association and we used to go there and have meetings,” he recalled.

“We went there one day and I had the cassette and said to everyone, ‘listen to this’. My manager at the time and his business partner were there, and as we sat listening to the song over and over again, no-one got bored of it. That gave me an indication that it was probably gonna be big!”

Fast-forward to present day and with six albums under his belt, Omar is looking forward to the release of his seventh, which, in addition to the reworked version of There’s Nothing Like This, also features a duet with Soul II Soul songstress Caron Wheeler.

Remaining true to himself with this album, Omar says that making music he can be proud of has always been important to him.

“My art form is about self-expression. For me, it’s not about trying to do what’s on the radio now. I kinda tried that in the beginning when I was listening to A&R people talking about, ‘you need to do it like this so it will get played on the radio.’ But at the end of the day, it’s me that has to live with the music. I don’t mind not selling any records as long as I’ve made the music I’m happy with. And I’ve been fortunate enough to build a fanbase who appreciates that,” the British national awardee said.

“The way I’ve worked is that I II might’ve woken up angry about something one day, so I wrote a song to fit that mood. Another day, I might’ve woken up happy about something so I wrote a song to suit that mood. That’s how I make my tunes and whether or not that fits with what’s ‘in’ at the time is irrelevant to me,” he explained.

Omar’s new album The Man will be out later this year on Freestyle Records. For more information visit

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