If you listen to Omar Kamal sing with your eyes shut, you can almost imagine it’s Frank Sinatra. If you open them, you’ll find Kamal is slightly more chiselled.
The 24-year-old from Nablus released a jazzy cover of Michael Jackson’s Love Never Felt So Good in November. He quickly became known as the Palestinian Sinatra.
“I’m going to be positive here and say that it’s something which people felt proud of and that’s how the nickname picked up,” Kamal told tabloid!.
He doesn’t have time to dwell on the whys and hows. He’s gearing up to release his first album, a collection of covers titled Serenade (already on pre-order via iTunes) on January 12. He rearranges classics by the likes of Paul Simon, Andy Williams, Noel Harrison and, on one track, hair metal band Extreme.
Kamal’s upbringing fuelled his affinity for music. His mother and sister would always sing at home; his brother would play the piano; his father, often travelling, would return with CDs from around the world.
At a young age, he learnt to play violin and the piano. He began dabbling in “an awful lot of swing” music and dipped into Sinatra’s backlog. At 16, on a trip to Spain, he performed in public for the first time.
“I was participating in a music festival for a piano masterclass, and I remember singing Strangers in the Night and My Way in front of the whole team at one dinner party,” he said.
His teachers often called on him for school plays and year-end shows. But he always regarded himself as more of an artist than a performer. An overachieving one at that.
“I was a nerd until grade nine,” he said. “But I remained an A student until I graduated from high school.”
At Cardiff University, he graduated with a Masters of Engineering with First Class honours. Now he’s back to chasing his dreams.
Kamal signed to Sony Music Middle East earlier this year. He worked with veteran producers Bob Rock (Aerosmith, Bon Jovi, Metallica), Al Schmitt (Natalie Cole, Quincy Jones, Frank Sinatra) and Dave Pierce (Michael Buble, Bryan Adams, Sarah McLachlan).
His own inspirations varied, from The Weeknd (particularly his album Trilogy), Michael Jackson and The Beatles to Fayrouz, Mohammad Abdul Wahab and classical composers Chopin and Bach.
His main inspiration remains clear, but he doesn’t intend to live in Sinatra’s shadow for long. “That link will soon diminish,” he said.
After Serenade releases (“It’s a romantic album, but at the same time it has got a lot of identity, so it’s not like your standard Valentine’s album”), Kamal will go on tour and focus on his original material, both in English and Arabic.
Being from Palestine has instilled in him a desire to reach as many people as possible with his art.
“Growing up under difficult and unusual circumstances can create a strong appetite for success, distinction, and beauty,” he said.
Go get yours
You can pre-order Omar Kamal’s Serenade on iTunes now.