Omar has lived in the same South London street for most of his life. In fact, he bought and moved into the house next door to his parents’ home as long ago as 1991, building a studio at the end of the back garden in 2003 – the same studio in which his last two albums have been recorded, with a third in the planning stages. You’d think his neighbours would by now be pretty used to having a star of UK soul music in their midst.
“Hah! Yeah, you’d think,” he laughs, as we sit in said studio, drinking tea. “And they are, on the whole. But two years ago I got new neighbours and for months after they moved in, every time I’d see ‘em in the street, they’d be singing, ‘There’s nothing like this… ’ It was funny, man.”
It’s cool to be conscious.
Morgan Heritage have been telling us this ever since launching their own CTBC label with Strictly Roots in 2013. Reggae’s royal family had recently returned from a five-year absence and whilst only three of the five siblings still record and tour with the band, they’ve barely paused for breath in the meantime. Latest set Loyalty is their fourth album in six years and there have been plenty of singles and collaborations besides. Yet our call with Mojo Morgan kept being rescheduled for various reasons.
When it finally happened he was driving to an appointment somewhere in the States and having to navigate traffic, as well as questions. Time was short and there was a lot of ground to cover – not least the band’s increasing involvement with Africa and artists from there, such as Stonebwoy, Patoranking and Diamond Platinumz, who all appear on the new album.
“It was just a matter of time before that connection was made,” Mojo explains.
Now here’s a long and thorny question for you.
In the age, post Bailey-Rae, Mvula, Henshaw, Jorja Smith and – perhaps more significantly – Kiwanuka and Yola [especially if the latter wins any of those Grammys she’s just been nominated for], when UK listeners seem to have accepted that black artists can make music without genre restriction and see it top charts and receive widespread acclaim, is it just a coincidence that an increasing proportion of the best soul music being made right now is by white artists? This year alone, outstanding soul [and soul-based] music has been provided by Jo Harman, Katherine Penfold, Kelly Finnigan, Hannah Williams & The Affirmations, Moonchild, various Aussie bands including The Teskey Brothers and 30/70, and more. [And that’s not even to mention that Jarrod Lawson fella.] Perhaps it’s simply one of the positive aspects of this internet age that more artists of all races and origin are able to build careers in any musical sphere of their choosing, now that major record labels don’t have the stranglehold over creativity and marketing that they once had? On the other hand…
When DJ Shadow scored a surprise hit in 2016 with Nobody Speak, his collaboration with Run The Jewels, he could easily have followed it with more of the same. But Our Pathetic Age, his mammoth, 91-minute-long album is notably short on similarly brass-heavy bangers. An album cleanly split between Shadow’s instrumental and collaborative, guest-inviting sides, O.P.A. is as colossal as a Drake release, seemingly designed for the Spotify era. Its instrumental first half however is at the front for a reason.
“Nobody Speak was more successful than anything on Endtroducing,” says Shadow during a promotional visit to London. “It was more successful than anything I made… ”