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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