REVIEW | IMAN OMARI (@IamImanOmari) LIVE AT THE JAZZ CAFE (@TheJazzCafe)

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Com­ing straight off an elev­en-hour flight from Los Ange­les, sing­er and pro­du­cer Iman Omari per­formed on Janu­ary 31st at the Jazz Café in Cam­den without even meet­ing his live band. Des­pite not hav­ing time to even rehearse with them, Omari brought a spec­tac­u­larly chilled, ambi­ent and soul­ful vibe to his Lon­don fans.

In 2011 Iman Omari released his debut album Energy and since then has been a for­mid­able for­ce in the West Coast soul and RnB scene. He’s pro­duced for Dom Kennedy, Ty Dol­la $ign and col­lab­or­ated with Mac Miller. In fact, not only did he pro­duce Chapter Ten on Kendrick Lamar’s acclaimed debut Sec­tion 80 album, but Lamar dir­ectly incor­por­ated Omari’s Omari’s Mood song into his mes­mer­ising 2016 Grammy per­form­ance.

Iman Omari head­lined the sold-out show at The Jazz Café in Cam­den, bring­ing with him rising stars Ill Cam­ille, Emmavie and Afro­naut Zu. Emmavie opened the night with her won­der­ful self-pro­duced neo-soul rhythms, before giv­ing way to an elec­tri­fy­ing per­form­ance by Afro­naut Zu. Afronaut’s Oh My God is an incred­ible, thun­der­ous oth­er­worldly track per­formed with ter­ri­fic intens­ity. And he turned up the oth­er­worldly theme for the aptly named Mar­tians, end­ing his set bril­liantly. LA rap­per Ill Cam­ille came through with more good­ness, cour­tesy of a lyr­ic­al, funky and indefatig­able per­form­ance. She’s very pol­ished and can craft emotive verses, as seen in Spider’s Jam and Again. Her acapel­la verse, for example, about miso­gyny towards Black women – was lyr­ic­ally one of the best moments of the night.

Did I men­tion that Iman Omari came straight off an elev­en-hour flight and dir­ectly onto the stage, had no time to rehearse with his live band – and had nev­er met them before? I did? Well, it needs to be said again because Omari and his live band were smooth and so pre­cise des­pite an obstacle which would have floored oth­er musi­cians. Aside from the micro­phone being tuned a bit too low at the begin­ning, which was quickly resolved, they soun­ded pol­ished and were able to effort­lessly craft a cool and lov­ing atmo­sphere, even launch­ing into a few impro­vised moments. Mid­night, a song off from his Energy LP, encap­su­lated Omari’s romantic soul style.

In an inter­view with The Fader last year, Omari explained the philo­sophy behind one of his songs as him “just doing my part to ensure there’s love on the plan­et”. Listen­ing to his music live gives you the sense that he’s try­ing to invoke a grown-up, thought­ful kind of RnB and soul, where smooth sen­su­al lyr­ics are just as import­ant as laid­back ambi­ent sounds. The bass­lines are deep, the piano and gui­tar chords soft, and the lyr­ics are often con­ver­sa­tion­al in his music. Case in point: Kama Sut­ra, from his late 2017 release IHY (a title that refers to an ancient Egyp­tian deity of music), is a strong example of the way he blends chilled exper­i­ment­al RnB and soul with the thought­ful lyr­ics he’s become known for.

Per­haps the high­light of the night was Omari’s Energy, which cur­rently stands at around 2 mil­lion streams on Spo­ti­fy. The Jazz Café lent itself well to a lulling immers­ive atmo­sphere which fans clearly took advant­age of – with many of them pas­sion­ately singing along to Energy and Take You There.

After calls for an encore, Iman Omari returned to the stage and brought the show to a close with an impro­vised rendi­tion of Take You There. After leav­ing the Jazz Café and giv­ing Omari’s dis­co­graphy a few listens, I got the dis­tinct sense that given enough time and a big­ger plat­form (and if he plays his cards right), he could eas­ily be tour­ing or record­ing with someone like Erykah Badu, D’Angelo or Kelela. The strength of his per­form­ance and stu­dio work pretty much demands atten­tion from any­one ser­i­ously inter­ested in the new breed of soul and RnB.

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Mark Mukasa

Mark Mukasa

Mark is a South Lon­don based writer and avid fan of all things hip hop. He’s also an MMA and his­tory enthu­si­ast who tries to keep his love of animé under wraps.

About Mark Mukasa

Mark Mukasa
Mark is a South London based writer and avid fan of all things hip hop. He's also an MMA and history enthusiast who tries to keep his love of anime under wraps.