Ade Omotayo: ‘Working with Amy Winehouse was magical’

Hackney band Equals: Ade Omotayo and James Low

Hackney band Equals: Ade Omotayo and James Low - Credit: Archant

Hackney singer Ade Omotayo talks singing with Amy Winehouse, his band Equals and the democratisation of music

For Ade Omotayo, the music never really stops.

Even when he isn’t touring as a backing singer for Gorillaz or doing gigs at the Shoreditch Blues Kitchen or singing in his own band Equals, he’s going to gigs and listening to new music - there’s a lot going on.

He got the bug when he was 18 years old.

“I didn’t know how to talk to girls and I felt like that might be a trump card,” he says. “A girl that I liked at the time told me I could sing and I believed her and decided to teach myself.”

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And did the singing help him in that department?

“No comment!” he laughs. “It doesn’t hinder, let’s say that.”

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Ade has an emotive singing voice, one that hits you right in the gut.

“I couldn’t afford a teacher so I initially joined the church choir and sang there,” he says. “At one point I was at the Hackney Library on Mare Street and saw these flyers for a singing workshop at the English National Opera. There were bullet points: Have you ever wanted to sing? Have you ever wanted to record your own music? And it was like the clouds opened, yes that’s me.”

That was where it all took off for Ade. He met other musicians of all kinds, and began to properly collaborate with artists.

“There was a guitarist at that workshop and he had a band. He said ‘would you mind singing with my band?’ He said ‘I hope you don’t mind, there’s another singer and I know how you singers get’. I didn’t mind. There was this girl called Amy, she was a teenager at the time. We hit it off from there, and when she started doing her thing she said ‘join in’.”

Ade sang with Amy Winehouse from the beginning of her career right up until she died in 2011, touring with her, performing live and on her studio albums.

“Working with her was “magical”, he says. “It was so natural for her, she just went ahead and did it the way she wanted to do it and it was always really good. It was one of those things you don’t realise how special it was until it was done. While I was doing it, it was just fun, it was just a thing with some mates, whereas afterwards you think oh my god, that was something.”

He recalls walking through Camden after she died and seeing the murals and tributes to Amy, the devotion that people had towards her.

“I used to equate all of that kind of stuff with Hendrix. It was like: Wow.”

This was the start for Ade, who is currently touring as backing singer with Gorillaz, whose recent album Humanz was met with acclaim from critics and the public.

Working with famous artists like Damon Albarn, Ade gets a different view of the music industry than when he works on his own music. The scale of the production and popularity of the music might suggest that he would have to deal with much of the industry malarkey that puts a lot of people off working in music. But Ade says that he has been lucky enough to work with artists who care more about the quality of music than how well it does from a financial perspective, something he has in common with them.

“With Gorillaz and Amy, both artists aren’t bothered with the games, with the politics of it. That’s not happening when you’re with them, it’s more about the music. It’s encouraging because you think it is possible, that most of them are focusing on the work and not on the other razzmatazz.”

His work with his own band, Equals, an electronic soul project with another east London musician James Low, has been met with a host of positive reviews from NPR to BBC Radio 6 Music’s Lauren Laverne.

“Music is going through a crossroads now in terms of piracy and streaming and how to make it make sense as a business. It kind of led to a democratisation of it all – anyone can pick it up and do it, which I think is good – but the real ball-ache is to stand out among all that. It’s an exciting time.”

Having been shut away in the studio for six months working on their music, Ade and James have come up with a track that combines really impressive vocals with an interesting beat and bassline. Daylight Dreaming is their fourth release.

Ade seems happy with where his career is taking him, as he should be. It seems to be down to his work ethic, and he certainly puts a lot of effort in to make it work.

“There are other means of working within music without necessarily being signed,” he says. “If you really love your music and try your best to really pursue it, that’ll be it.”

Equals’ new single Daylight Dreaming is out now. You can listen on Soundcloud.

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