The idea of genre can be perceived as a creative restriction, generating work that at best resembles ‘authenticity’ and at worst is pastiche. Hence the enduring reluctance for artists to define their sound, keeping music writers employed in that very task. As musicians widen their output, further blurring boundaries and incurring ever-more imaginative adjectives, it becomes rare to find acts that engender originality within the concept of genre, rather than running away from it. With the R&B and soul stylings of Rebecca Phillips, aka Omahrose, though, genre refuses to become generic.
Raised in London on Motown classics, ‘70s rock LPs, and ‘90s neo-soul and hip-hop, Omahrose’s sound is one of depth and complexity. Top-line melody is bolstered by luscious harmony, layered instrumentation and the subtle addition of nocturnal electronics to create a whole that is instantly infectious and yet unidentifiably unique.
“I’ve always wanted to be a singer”, Omahrose explains, “it’s a vocation to me”. Starting out with vocal harmony playground performances which were admittedly “probably quite bad”, Omahrose soon developed a conflicting relationship with performance. “I used to find performance pretty scary, it was like an endurance test since I would freeze before I went on stage”, and yet overcoming this fear became an enticing challenge in itself, one that is now enjoyable.
With a string of sold out performances now under her belt, Omahrose has just released her debut EP, ‘Edge’. As its title suggests, the body of work is one that explores the notion of being on a precipice; emotionally, creatively, and personally. “Writing is a constant for me”, Omahrose states, and yet she is inspired not just by personal experience but by “abstractions, whether that’s something visual, verbal, or even others’ experiences”.
Despite this creative distancing, narrative still prevails: “when I look back at the songs, they’re always indirectly tied to me”, Omahrose explains, “I’ve ended up speaking about myself since it’s impossible to remove yourself from the creative process.” On Edge, then, listeners encounter emotionally relatable, character-driven narratives, from the eerie slow-jam sensibility of ‘Hostel’ to the aggressive defiance of ‘Bad Mouth’ and ‘You Left Me’, all of which position themselves on the threshold of genre and self-expression.
Latest single ‘You Left Me’ is accompanied by a stark video of bold colours and movement. “The director, Mark Arrigo, and I didn’t want there to be a specific story behind the video”, Omahrose explains, “instead we wanted the images to express an emotional state. The song is about a woman in a club, trying to hold onto her rage after having been wronged by a man, she’s trying to contain herself and dancing is her escapism. So, employing those colours and movement was a means of taking yourself out of that dark mindset”.
Railing against stereotypes of female passivity and that sense of emotional darkness is a constant theme in Omahrose’s music. “There’s always pressure to present myself a certain way”, she states, “but I’m pretty tough in life anyway, so I do what I want, regardless of whether I feel like or am a minority”.
While the tide may be turning in the R&B world with artists like Erykah Badu, Solange and Syd presenting female sexuality in a three-dimensional sense, refusing to pander to the conventions of predatory male romance, Omahrose still believes “the genre is predominantly tropic. If it’s to change, artists need to talk about these tropes of romance and sexualised subjects in a different way, not just from the perspective of a woman entertaining a man but by having agency instead”.
It is this agency that ties together the creative vision of 'Edge'. Subverting generic tropes while operating within their bounds, using the downbeat parameter as creative impetus rather than restriction, Omahrose presents a work that is defiant, if nothing else. With Part Two of the EP due in early 2018, listeners should stay tuned, as it seems there is plenty more to be said.
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Words: Ammar Kalia
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