South African pianist and model Malika Omar has become a regular fixture on Dubai’s scene, playing her distinct brand of ‘classical fusion’ – a blend of contemporary styles presented in a classically-tinged solo piano context – at gigs, events and restaurants across the city for several years. With recent stats declaring her the UAE’s sixth best-selling artist ever, according to Virgin Megastore, we decided it was high time to sit down with the 27-year-old South African.
She describes her music as ‘classical fusion’. ‘When I was in South Africa I realised I could make music professionally at the age of about 18, and I spent a lot of time at the piano. My grandparents, who are huge Bollywood fans, were in the room while I was practising for a performance and asked me to play “I Have a Dream”, and I just found a way to move between the pieces I was playing [into that]. This started the idea of merging melodies and tunes, and it now brings out elements from Arabic and classical music, to Coldplay and Rihanna.’
She owes her success to a mystery man. ‘It sounds like a cliché, but I was discovered in a music store. I walked into this music shop and was looking at this keyboard instrument, and I couldn’t tell if it was a piano or an organ. This guy came up and said, “It’s an organ – do you play?” I said, “Is water wet?” It turned out he owned the whole franchise for that chain of stores. He took me under his wing, took me to a label and introduced me to Fernando Perdigao – who’s worked with people like Hugh Maselka – and who produced my first album, [2007’s] Morning Dew.’
She’s more happy with last year’s follow up, Sand Star. ‘I was very happy with Morning Dew, but it was a shame that only two of the tracks were original compositions. That’s how Sand Star started. Its my experiences of living in the city. It’s my tribute to Dubai.’
But the next one is likely to sound rather different. ‘I’m working on something now that you might hear in the club. It’s still me – I’m a trained classical musician – but this is something… different.’
Malika has played some rather bling instruments… ‘I played a 24-carat gold-plated piano! Only in Dubai, right? I was scared. I might have broken it…’ Malika plays Mon and Wed from 4pm until 8.45pm at Al Fayrooz, Al Qasr, Madinat Jumeirah. www.musicmalika.com