Quarter #6 Interview: Omar Lye Fook

Omar Lye Fook is a musical renaissance man; a singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and music producer. His music has influenced and been noted by celebrated artists including Erykah Badu and Roy Hargrove and amongst his list of many awards is one from Her Majesty the Queen, an MBE. He plays at Karamel as a special guest with Ed Riches’ Local Authority on 10th June.

We know that you have released your 7th album, ‘The Man’. What have you been up to recently that we should know about?
I have also been performing a one man play by Ché Walker called Lovesong and I have just finished filming a TV programme called, ‘The Javone Prince Show’ which will appear on BBC2 which will appear on TV in May. I am also touring internationally and in the studio writing.

Very busy! If you look at the musical landscape of today versus the musical landscape when you first started in music, is there one main thing that you would say has massively changed?
The obvious answer is the internet which has made it easier for people to access their music directly. It’s now easier for people to make their own tracks, downloads are now the way for many people to access music. It has a really good side because now we don’t have the constraints that we used to face with just one radio platform, one TV platform etc. It’s made things a lot more interesting and people no longer have to toe the line and do what they are told. The downside is that there are millions of people putting out tracks and there is a lot of questionable quality. Still, it’s better to be free than to be constrained!

You are playing at a variety of international venues, some large, some small. The Xantoné Blacq Presents event that you will be playing at is a smaller event aimed at allowing the local community to access world class musicians like yourself without paying world class prices. Do you like playing smaller venue gigs like ours?
I prefer the smaller venues because the intimacy is there and the sound is generally better. Also you can really engage with the audience which is ideal.

As a Guildhall School of Music graduate as well as a Principal Percussionist in the Kent Youth Orchestra, you’ve obviously experienced a lot of orchestral music. Is that why we hear less orthodox instruments like Bass Clarinet in your music?
Definitely. I am very much influenced by my surroundings and the main thing is that I grew up playing in a lot of different types of groups. From orchestras, brass bands, percussion ensembles, choirs to Jazz quartets. I love the sound of muted strings, harps; all those different sounds move me and hopefully they will move the listener too.

What is your earliest memory?
I lived in Canada when I was 2 years old and I remember my cousins going hunting for snakes. They took the baby with them and all I remember hearing was somebody saying, “RUN, there’s a snake!” and then “Oh no! You forgot the baby!” I was the baby!!

When were you happiest?
I am happiest when my music is performed the way I like it performed; when you do a good show and everybody is having a great time. Of course playing with my children also makes me very happy.

How do you recover from a bad gig or performance?
I just roll with the punches and try to learn something from the experience. I know some people dwell on it but I feel that is a waste of time. Dust yourself off and move on.

What is your most treasured possession? Your children don’t count!
You just took away my answer! Well, other than my kids, one is my car ‘cos it’s a one-off; fat wheels, special engine and lowered! Also, my recording studio.


How do you relax?
I don’t think that’s legal!

What keeps you awake at night?
I also don’t think that’s legal!

What one thing would you say you owe your parents?
I learned integrity from my Mum and my Dad taught me how to produce music.

I didn’t know that your Dad was also musical.
In West London he was more famous than I was. He was a drummer and played with Doris Troy, Bob Andy, Marcia Griffiths and was a friend of Bob Marley. He was at the studio recording of Lively Up Yourself.

Which living person do you most admire and why?
Orin Lewis and Beverley De-Gale. Their son Daniel passed away from a rare form of blood cancer. They’ve been tireless in their efforts to raise awareness in the Black community so that people get themselves on the register to be donors. Every time that I see them, they are out working really hard so I have lots of love and respect for them.

Which single thing changed your life?
Definitely my daughters. It gives you a different purpose in life but aside from that I have never really changed as a person.

What did you want to be when you were growing up?
I always wanted to do music. I knew from when I was in primary school and I would tell all my friends that musicians earn £250 an hour!

Interview by Xantoné Blacq.

Read the latest issue of Quarter here!

Download a copy here