Anna Omak: Non-conformist with Endless Possibilities


[Photo by Michele Roux]

As Anna Omak arrives at a central London location for our interview, I am struck by how positively statuesque she is. Tall and poised, today she favours the simple elegance of dark denim jeans and a black winter jacket whilst sporting a luscious shiny mane of carefully styled afro hair. Her clear, coffee bean complexion brings out her striking bone structure. No wonder British legend Sting was quite smitten by Anna during a chance encounter, claiming if he wasn’t already taken he would have married her.

But it would do a disservice to Anna to let you think she’s just another good-looking chick with vague musical aspirations. A self-taught guitarist, singer-songwriter and vocal coach, she’s the genuine article.

Born to Nigerian parents with a diverse musical palate, Anna has them to thank for some of her own eclecticism. “The artists I grew up with weren’t generic. They stood out for who they are, whether it be Bob Marley or Kate Bush,” she explains. ” They all did their own thing. As a musician and an artist you have to create. I just feel I got that from those people.”

Anna draws her biggest inspiration from some of music’s great storytellers. “I think the artist that’s really influenced me is Joni Mitchell. I love her!” she gushes. “Her writing, her creativity – both as a painter and a musician. Her ability to tell a story really captivates me… I love just hearing the way she uses her poetry to paint pictures.

“Also Tracy Chapman; I think she’s a genius. From her writing to her guitar stuff… Her image, the fact she’s just herself. She’s not polished; that’s very relate-able. She’s just being her. I want to be that kind of person. I want to be relate-able, very personable. That’s what it’s about; just being who you are and not apologising for that.”

As early as primary school, Anna’s musical ability made her stand out from the crowd. But it’s at church, she says, that her talents were encouraged the most. And it wasn’t as a vocalist that she first got noticed, but as a drummer. “I managed to start playing drums at the age of 10. That’s my first instrument. I was getting all this attention because I was a female drummer. I must admit it was a real plus.”

Much later, aged 20, Miss Omak discovered the guitar. Her natural propensity for the instrument plus a hunger to learn (practising up to five hours a day) meant she made speedy progress. “I excelled fast. I was able to go out and gig very quickly because of my practice time. The guitar is such a great instrument. Obviously you’ve got that harmonic accompaniment. So once I picked it up I was able to write and just find my own style.”

Anna also plays a bit of piano (for writing purposes only she insists). She’s self-taught on both instruments.

[Photo by Philip Ryalls] “I just play by ear literally. That’s always been the way, even with the drums; learn by ear. That’s definitely a gift and it’s from God. I can’t make any mistake about that.”

Like many before her and since, Anna’s desire to pursue a future in music came into conflict with external pressures to take a conventionally more stable path.

“I ended up doing a Business degre…” Omak borders on the apologetic before adding, “I won’t say I regret it. I learnt a lot more about myself within the University setting than the actual Business [degree] itself. Deep down I always knew music was what I was going to do. I had to just get rid of a lot of fear and insecurities, a lot of outside voices saying it’s not going to work.”

Anna is finding her former vocation comes in very handy with the marketing side of the music industry. “It’s definitely beginning to help me to go out there and actually promote [myself].”

After successfully resisting the qualms of well-meaning naysayers, Anna’s resolve to chase her artistic ambitions is stronger than ever. “I thank God now I know that [music] is exactly what I’m called to do. There’s no doubt about that. Whether I sing in front of five million or even five people I’m going to do it well.”

Miss Omak refuses to be weighed down by the obsession with celebrity. “I’d like to say I have a following’ she admits. “We all like that. But I’m not here to necessarily get caught up in that whole vibe…the fame. I just want to sing, that’s what it’s all about.”

Some of Anna‘s musical odyssey is immortalised in her debut single, ‘Endless Possibilities’. Although initially the song appears to describe the emotional recovery following a painful break-up, Omak is keen to point out that there’s much more to ‘Endless Possibilities’.

“I spoke about two different scenarios. Obviously one was a break-up; typical right?” she smiles, feigning mild exasperation. “There are different things in there. The kind of things that weigh you down as a person, eat all your energy. [The single] is pretty much a mark of my journey; a journey without fear, doubt or insecurities. Just trying to leave all that behind; there are so many possibilities in life. If you have a dream, go for that. Learn to stand in your own light. Know that you have something to give and just go for it.”

Anna’s vocal style has changed significantly over the years. She jokes that she was once known as a young Kim Burrell after memorising and mimicking all the Gospel pioneer’s riffs. Still, as is often the case, Omak’s own musical identity has developed with maturity.

“It just came naturally. I’ve got many different influences and I didn’t necessarily feel the pressure to sound like the R&B/Soul singer at all. I know my voice is individual; I have it for a reason. I believe in the freedom to create. I don’t believe [because] I wear my hair in an Afro that I’m some neo-soul singer.”

I wonder if an artist such as Anna, who doesn’t slot easily into any one genre even sees the logic in categorising her music.

“I see the point so people know what they’re getting,” she concedes. “But then there’s still the element of surprise. I don’t want to say it’s ‘soul’ because it’s more than just that. I feel that soul is any music that comes from the heart anyway. My music is very honest.”

Away from her solo efforts, Anna has provided backing vocals for the likes of Michael Olatuja, Westlife and Mary J Blige. It was while playing a gig with Blige at the Colosseum in Italy that she had that brief, albeit charmed, interaction with Sting.

“We’d just come off [stage] and Sting was about to go on. He was waiting near the dressing room. There were half-naked girls around…I guess it was part of the scene. He bypassed all of them and came up to me and said, ‘You know what? If I wasn’t married I’d marry you’. I was like, ‘whoa!'”

Flattery aside, Omak holds The Police front man in very high esteem.

“He’s a great songwriter. He’s such a cool guy. He’s a very spiritual person in his own way. He carries that kind of presence so when he walks past, you notice him; not because he’s Sting. He just carries something…”

Despite rubbing shoulders with international superstars, it’s musicians closer to home with whom Anna enjoys collaborating the most. She discusses working with Michael Olatuja on his fantastic debut album, Speak.

“Michael’s got such a great work ethic. He’s a very humble person; amazingly talented. He’s got so much to give. Just being in the studio with him and guitarist Femi Temowo has definitely been a big influence on my life. They opened me up to Jazz at a very early age so when it comes to the things I hear musically it’s quite advanced. Femi and Michael introduced me to different chord structures and songs by amazing Jazz musicians.”


Perhaps it was this synergy that motivated Anna to make her debut album Travelling Light (scheduled for release this summer) a family affair. She’s strictly chosen to work with musicians who are also close personal friends.

“I’ve kind of used people within my community who I know will understand my story and really bring it out the way I want to bring it out. We’ve got people like Gavin Holligan, Femi Temowo and Jam Story on it. It’s a good, very honest, acoustic guitar –based album. It’s got a mixture of soul, blues and folk influences. The musicality and production is great. It’s very ‘singer-songwriter’; the story comes first. I’m not necessarily writing to a beat. The music is tailored around the song; whatever it needed to bring the story to life…”

Anna’s prioritising of a good narrative should come as no surprise. Long before she started writing songs, poetry was her primary form of expression. “That came first to be honest. When I was younger I was quite a shy person. It was very hard for me to share my opinion; I felt insignificant. But I felt I could write. I could fill up my A4 notepad with just poetry; anything and everything that I noticed. Poetry’s definitely dearer to my heart.”

That said, Miss Omak confesses that her songwriting output far exceeds her poetic explorations these days.

“I’m just engulfed in the melody and creating. When I listen to music I can understand what the composer was trying to do. [Even] without lyrics the music is amazing. Lyrics just allow you to really understand what the composer wanted you to understand. But without the lyrics music is incredible. So [Songwriting]’s definitely taken over.”

There’s a profound sense of well-being, even relief, speaking to Anna. In this post-post modern world of conveyor-belt music it’s forever refreshing to hear an up-coming artist actually talk about crafting a song; doing what’s best by the composition rather than needless showboating or being overly-preoccupied with commercial success. Yet, bucking the trend is an intrinsic part of who Anna Omak is.

“I feel there are so many followers, not enough leaders,” she laments. “I don’t want to be a follower. I can understand the tendency of younger people to do what’s ‘in’…you want to impress people. Just sing the song! That’s a rarity now.”

“With a lot of these pop artists it must be hard to do what their record company wants them to do. The actual pop trend is always changing. I don’t know how they keep up. If you’re a follower, you’re always going to have to do what the next person’s doing. I find that harder to do. I hate following trends even from the things I wear; I can’t stand it. I’ve always wanted to be a non-conformist. That’s me naturally.”

Anna and I discuss whether this lack of individualism in music has anything to do with the way it’s taught academically; a topic about which she is evidently passionate.

“A lot of teachers try to feed [students] their [own] style. When I studied vocals (Anna won a year’s scholarship to Berklee College of Music, Boston USA) I didn’t really appreciate how you get taught a certain way in institutions. I feel they should allow an artist to grow. When you can find yourself and grow in yourself and experience different things other than music, your music becomes better. You’re writing about life, you’re not just writing purely for the sake of music. You’re not trying to sound smart, throw in that major or diminished chord for the sake of it. It relates to life. It has meaning…a wider perspective.”

Anna’s single ‘Endless Possibilities’ is out now. She’ll be supporting the single’s release with some live dates this month. For purchasing information and forthcoming live dates please visit www.annaomak.com or www.myspace.com/annaomak