Omar Apollo brings brown-eyed soul into the 21st century | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

Omar Apollo brings brown-eyed soul into the 21st century 

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click to enlarge Omar Apollo

Omar Apollo

Aidan Cullen

Omar Apollo, born Omar Velasco, arrived in the spotlight 21st-century style. The singer-songwriter wrote some tunes on his guitar after going through a bad breakup, uploaded them to a few streaming platforms, and woke up one day to find that he’d racked up tens of thousands of listens to his single “Ugotme” overnight. Since then his popularity has continued to rise, and it’s easy to hear why. Now 22, Apollo defies easy categorization: as he declares on “Hijo de Su Madre,” from his 2018 debut EP, Stereo, “You ain’t ever seen a Brown boy like this,” and it’s not entirely bravado speaking. The eclectic 80s sound of his tunes owes more than a little to Prince; Apollo’s shape-shifting music moves from irresistible funk to dreamy retro soul to bedroom pop, with occasional touches of rap and reggaeton, sometimes all on the same track. He anchors “Ashamed” with a warm, soulful croon, climbing into a falsetto that can glide smoothly or turn staccato. Though he’s impeccably bilingual, Apollo mostly sings in English, and his unabashedly romantic tunes recall the torchy forlornness of traditional Mexican ballads as well as the brown-eyed soul that emerged among Latinx musicians in California and Texas from the 60s through the 80s. At this show—where Apollo will be accompanied by drummer Joey Medrano, bassist Manny Barajas, and guitarist Oscar Emilio—he’ll perform tunes from Stereo and this year’s more polished, funk-leaning EP Friends. Blessed with a charismatic stage persona and an earnest charm, Apollo shines in live performances, and it seems inevitable that his career will continue its ascent.   v

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