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Omar, Love in Beats

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Del Cowie

Omar is R&B royalty. Erykah Badu, Maxwell and Common are all fans of the U.K. soul singer's music, and Stevie Wonder, who once wrote a song for Omar, is succinct: "When I grow up I wanna be like Omar," the legendary artist said. And if further evidence of Omar Lye-Fook’s regal qualifications were needed, in 2014 Prince Charles not only bestowed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) honour on him at Buckingham Palace for his services to music, but also asked to be given an advance copy of his next album.

And now that album is here. Omar's eighth full-length, Love in Beats (released in Canada via Do Right! Records) finds the classically trained multi-instrumentalist still at the top of his creative game. Like much of Omar’s back catalogue, it's inimitably diasporic, mixing jazz, R&B, reggae, zouk and Latin influences into an undeniably soulful stew.

While maybe best known for his 1990 single “There’s Nothing Like This,” Omar is also known for the consistent high quality of his music — and long gaps between his most recent albums. His last project, 2013’s critically acclaimed The Man, was his first record in seven years. However, Love in Beats appears after a gap of just over three years, a short hiatus by Omar’s standards, and one that he attributes to a familial intervention.

“What's happened is me and my brother [producer] Scratch Professer decided to partner up on this album a bit more closely a bit more than we used to do,” says Omar, speaking to CBC Music. “This time he's had much more involvement. Because I wanted to change and update my sound.”

The fraternal partnership brings a balanced sound to Love in Beats. Scratch Professer’s fingerprints are all over instant head-nodder “This Way, That Way,” while lead single "I Want it to Be" is trademark Omar. Other collaborators include jazz stalwart Robert Glasper, who appears on album opener “Vicky’s Tune,” and Floacist of Floetry fame on “Feeds My Mind.”

Omar also tapped Leon Ware, legendary producer and arranger for Marvin Gaye, to appear on album highlight “Gave My Heart.” “He's using one of his old songs, 'Rockin' You Eternally,’" says Omar. “[Ware] gave me the masters. I gave it to my brother, he cut it up and slapped a beat on it and I did a whole song over the top and got Leon to join us on top of it and it sounds [performs a chef kiss], if I may say so myself.”

Indeed, Love in Beats is a tasty confirmation of Omar’s musical sovereignty, yet he maintains a magnanimous and humble approach over 30 years into his career.

“I still get that fire in my belly and a passion about making the music when I’m doing the harmonies or when I'm doing the rhythms or when I'm doing the string arrangements, or the horn arrangements,” says Omar. “I still get excited like I did when I was a 21-year-old that did 'There's Nothing Like This.' I was 16 when I first started and I’ve learned a lot of tricks and techniques along the way to getting the music done. I've been blessed. I've been really truthfully blessed.”

Pre-order Omar's Love in Beats on iTunes here

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