While many Palestinians have often used artistic expression and music to express their struggle for freedom, Omar Kamal, dubbed the Frank Sinatra of his generation, is a distinct talent whose abilities have seen him sent to Hollywood.
Born and raised in the city of Nablus in Occupied Palestine, Omar took up piano lessons from the age of nine. “We didn’t have many options of going out there and doing something in groups,” he told MEMO, saying his city was so small and quiet that Nabulsis had to find something to do in their spare time.
“In my case, it was music,” he added.
Omar spent much of his childhood and teenage years listening to classical and world music, before he started singing. “We got a bit of music in my family,” he continued, adding that both his mother and sister used to sing and his brother used to play the piano.
“We had that atmosphere in the house, and it was a nice environment to grow up in and do that,” he continued.
Omar left Palestine in 2010 to study architectural engineering at Cardiff University in the United Kingdom. However intense the coursework was, Omar did not let it pull him away from his ultimate passion, music.
During his time at the university, he founded the Sinatra Society and toured the UK with the university’s Big Band, as the musical group is known, as their lead vocalist.
“Every young, aspiring musician would look at Sinatra and see him as an all-round entertainer,” Omar told MEMO. “He’s got the full package as a performer.”
Listening to Omar sing, it is easy to appreciate why he got so much attention and why he was dubbed the Palestinian Sinatra. His impeccable, deep vocals and his immaculate covers of Ol’ Blue Eyes’ masterpieces have undeniably revived the spirit of the music legend that is Frank Sinatra.
It was when Omar went back to Palestine in 2014 to organise a couple of concerts that his talent caught the ear of Sony Music Entertainment Middle East. Not long after, he signed a multi-year record deal with them, which led to the birth of his single “Love Never Felt So Good” released in October 2016.
The single, a unique take on the Michael Jackson hit, was accompanied by a video clip which lends the track a vintage, retro feel as well as showing that Omar has the capability and musical breadth that goes beyond reviving Sinatra’s tones.
Although the clip was shot in Italy, Omar’s track was mixed at Capitol Studios in Hollywood by the 23-time Grammy Award winner Al Schmitt, who has recorded for the likes of Sinatra, Paul McCartney and Bob Dylan, to name a few.
The song and Omar’s forthcoming debut album were also worked on by renowned producers Dave Pierce and Bob Rock, who produced for global artists including Jon Bon Jovi, Metallica and Michael Buble.
“It was magical to say the least, shooting in Rome and recording in Hollywood,” Omar said with a smile.
“You always have dreams but you don’t necessarily have a plan for them”, he continued. “Once you focus on what you want to do and why you do it and why love it, it just takes you places without you having to think a lot about it.”
A quick glance at his shared videos and tracks on social media reveals just how much support Omar enjoys from Palestinians all over the world. Being from Palestine can be a positive thing and can be a negative, he said.
“It does give you that kind of push, but at the same time it could be a negative thing when it comes to politics and things like that.”
Having lived under occupation for so long, many Palestinians often struggle to break free and overcome the barriers and limitations imposed on them. But for every sad story that tells the horrors of war and conflict endured by Palestinians in the occupied territories, there is another that speaks of hope, resilience and unbreakable ambition.
Although Omar sings mainly in English, he has also sung in Arabic, Italian, and French. His track singing the Palestinian national anthem “Mawteni” has amassed over 300,000 views on his YouTube channel, while another Arabic classic he covered, “Le Beirut”, or For Beirut, gained him over 58,000 views.
“I think the spirit of the place you come from always comes across in the work that you do,” he asserted. “So, it doesn’t have to be singing in Arabic or singing about Palestine, but rather what you find yourself in.”
Omar is planning to tour Palestine during the Christmas period to promote his new album, set to be released in December.
MEMO had exclusive previews of some tracks in the album, and each one of them appears excellently handpicked to suit Omar’s striking vocals and musical gift, while also serving as a pleasant surprise for Omar’s fans.