Meet the young Palestinian Frank Sinatra
Nablus - Omar Kamal is the newest musical talent to emerge from the Palestinian territories. With a voice and demeanour uncannily similar to that of the American singer and actor who sold more than 150 million records, it is for good reason that Kamal has been called the Palestinian Frank Sinatra.
Over coffee at a café in his home city of Nablus, in impeccable English, Kamal spoke about the world of music, the challenges he faces and his hopes for the future.
The 24-year-old singer credits his parents for his love of music. His mother, who has a degree in English literature, is a fan of Lebanese diva Fairuz, whose music Kamal describes as having a tinge of a Western influence. His father, an engineer, often returned from business trips abroad with recordings by Western artists.
“It was mostly my father’s musical taste — Frank Sinatra, Tom Jones and Dean Martin — that inspired me,” Kamal said.
One of three siblings, he was 8 years old when the second intifada began in 2000, forcing him to spend a lot of time indoors with not much to do. Music became an escape, he said. He took up the piano and, soon after that, the violin. By the age of 16, he had participated in two music festivals — one in Germany and the other in Spain.
He attended Cardiff University in Wales. Music, however, did not take a back seat to his studies. “I earned a spot as the lead vocalist for the university’s big band, a 20-piece brass orchestra, which toured the United Kingdom,” he said.
In 2015, Kamal was awarded a master’s degree in architectural engineering and had to decide what career path to choose. Sometimes, Kamal said, one just has to listen to one’s heart — and that is just what he did.
His decision not to follow in the footsteps of his father and brother but instead to pursue a career in music, which is often unpredictable and financially precarious, worried his parents. “I knew that success would make them change their minds and give me the green light,” he said. “After all, they are my biggest supporters.”
It was not long before he got his big break.
In 2014, while organising concerts in the Palestinian territories, representatives of Sony Music Entertainment Middle East heard Kamal perform and recognised his talent. Soon after, he signed a recording deal with the company.
Kamal’s debut single, Love Never Felt So Good — his rendition of the Michael Jackson song — was released in October 2016. With the accompanying video, Kamal’s voice and suave appearance take listeners back to another era. “Being called the Palestinian Sinatra doesn’t bother me,” Kamal said. “He is one of the best entertainers ever and there will never be another Sinatra.
“I never intended to follow one genre only. Every artist has to start somewhere and from there develop his own identity,” he said. “As a young musician you want someone to look up to. It’s all about developing your own identity and that comes from an accumulation of all the different styles you come across.”
Kamal’s first album, Serenade, which was recorded in Hollywood in coordination with top engineers and musicians of various musical backgrounds, was released January 12th. On it, he covers a wide range of songs from the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s, all of which he “has added a modern, revolutionary twist to”.
Kamal does sing in Arabic at times but admitted: “I am more comfortable singing in English.” It is when he sings in Arabic, he is often told, that he best expresses the emotions in his songs. “I guess it’s the music that connects with my core because I’m singing in my own language,” he said. “Maybe it’s a subconscious thing.”
Kamal does not want to rely on his Palestinian nationality for success. “If I am going to make it as an artist just because I am Palestinian, then I don’t deserve to succeed,” he said.
His biggest challenge is to “carry across my artistry or vision as quickly as possible and develop that identity without being pressured by record labels”.
“I just want to make beautiful music and reach as many people as I can,” he said.
“The biggest question is how can one have reach and recognition and have really good quality music? I think that is the challenge for every artist that does not just want to get out and make it big.”
Serenade is available on iTunes or Apple Music.