Rita Ora: Incredible Ora
Having recently enjoyed a Number One UK single as featured vocalist on drum’n’bass pioneer DJ Fresh’s chart-topping "Hot Right Now", 21-year-old West London singer/songwriter Rita Ora this month debuts as a solo artist in her own right with the bass-heavy, infectiously-melodic "R.I.P.". Which - written by Young Money hip hop superstar Drake and produced by credible-UK-dance-music titans Chase & Status - additionally features a typically-energetic guest-rap from London rhymesmith Tinie Tempah while prestigiously also marking Rita’s first release for US rap icon Jay-Z’s Columbia-affiliated Roc Nation label.
Born Rita Sahatciu Ora in war-torn Yugoslavia (now Kosovo) in November 1990, by the time she’d reached her first birthday Rita had already permanently moved with her parents and elder sister to London. Where, having begun singing at the tender age of six, as a teenager she would go on to attend the capital’s famed Sylvia Young Theatre School (whose other notable alumni include Amy Winehouse and Emma Bunton) before, in 2004, snagging her first acting role as Rosanna in the British comedy-crime movie "Spivs."
Meanwhile, it was in 2007 that a then-16-year-old Ms. Ora attained her first music release, guesting on an album track ("Awkward") by globally-successful UK R&B don Craig David - a feat she repeated the following year by also contributing her voice to Craig’s Tinchy Stryder-featuring 2008 single "Where’s Your Love." Following which she next went on to audition for the BBC One TV talent show "Eurovision: Your Country Needs You" to become the British contestant for the 2009 Eurovision Song Contest, before suddenly withdrawing from the competition just a few episodes later... An unexpected decision which would interestingly precede the arrival of her big break as a recording artist literally by a matter of months. When, after meeting her in New York in 2009, aforementioned rap megastar Jay-Z decided to sign Rita to his then-fledgling Roc Nation - the label through which she is now all set to release her eagerly-anticipated debut album "ORA" later this year.
… All of which now brings us bang up-to-date, with a bubbly and instantly-friendly Ms Ora (who has impressively also just been confirmed to support world-conquering rock giants Coldplay on their European tour this summer) meeting up with ‘Blues & Soul’ Assistant Editor Pete Lewis for mid-morning drinks and personalised cup-cakes (!) in her publicist’s spacious West End offices. Where - charismatically rocking her signature red lipstick and platinum-blonde hair - she happily and enthusiastically discusses her current role as “the jewel in the Roc Nation crown”; her natural penchant for mixing street-beats with pop; plus her interesting, multi-national background.
PETE: Let’s start on obvious ground, by discussing your new debut single "R.I.P."
RITA: “Well, as a new artist wanting to make a statement, I definitely felt a confidence-boost would be the way forward. Which is why, as soon as I heard "R.I.P.," I loved the MESSAGE behind it. Because in my eyes it was very much a women-empowering kind of track that straightway reminded me about my female powers in a relationship and what we as women STAND for. And then to have Chase & Status produce it and Tinie Tempah guest on it for me brought a whole additional kind of MUSICAL edge to the whole thing.”
PETE: By having Tinie Tempah guest on "R.I.P." do you feel it was important to bring on board a male rapper?
RITA: “I definitely feel that it’s important to try and involve another form of talent SOMEWHERE within your music. Because to me the more talent in one room, the bigger the VISION!... So yeah, to have Tinie - whose work I really admire - guest on the track I feel definitely gives it a different twist and, in my ears, makes it cooler than it was WITHOUT him being on there.”
PETE: So what in general can we expect from your forthcoming debut album "ORA", which (in addition to the aforementioned Drake and Chase & Status) is set to include transatlantic production input from such names as StarGate, The-Dream, Diplo and Switch?
RITA: “Well, I’m basically just a normal girl from West London who speaks from her heart and who loves MUSIC. You know, I don’t really have that many judgements on things, or crazy statements that I feel like I have to put across. So I guess as a PERSON what I’m bringing is just a little HONESTY. While as an ARTIST what I’m bringing is VARIETY, where musically I’m just picking up soil from a lot of different GROUNDS. Like I go from a song called "Fair"- a slow ballad about a heartbroken relationship, which I wrote with an amazing songwriter called Ester Dean - to (the new US single) "How We Do", where I’m really showing my love of Nineties hip hop and of artists like TLC, Total, B.I.G., 2Pac… Plus, with my dad having a huge CD collection where he’d listen to a lot of reggae as well as people like Eric Clapton and B.B. King - who were like my idols when I was younger - I also wanted to put across that kind of melody and POWER... So yeah, I basically just wanted to mix CULTURES with this album, because I don’t BELIEVE in genres. To me music is just MUSIC.”
PETE: Having been born in war-torn Kosovo in 1990, by the time you’d reached your first birthday you’d moved with your parents and elder sister to London where you grew up. How do you now look back on your early background?
RITA: “Well, I don’t really remember much about Kosovo. I only remember growing up in LONDON, where my parents had to basically start from SCRATCH. You know, my mum didn’t know any English and, with her having been a doctor back home, she obviously had to learn the language and then re-do some QUALIFICATIONS over here. While my dad - who started out working in a pub - now owns a LINE of restaurants and pubs!... So yeah, they basically had to just work themselves up from nothing while raising me and my sister at the same TIME. So I do give them PROPS for that. And while of course we had our ups and downs, what I can say is that our family morals and our support for each other were always really STRONG. To where, by the time I was in my teens, I was actually able to attend The Sylvia Young THEATRE School! You know, I don’t know how she did it, but somehow my mum did find the money to support my TUITION. And so what I’m doing now is basically paying her BACK - because I just think it was so great that, against the odds, I did get given that chance to do what I WANTED to do.”
PETE: Your first released recordings were two songs where you featured with world-conquering UK R&B don Craig David (the 2007 LP track "Awkward" plus the 2008 single "Where’s Your Love"). What was the story there?
RITA: “What basically happened was, I was at a fun-fair with my mum when out-of-the-blue she put my name forward to sing ONSTAGE! And though at the time I was like ‘Oh my God mum, this is so EMBARASSING!’, the fact is that if I’d never sung on that stage I wouldn’t be here TODAY! Because watching me at that fun-fair in West London was a producer who’d taken his kids there and who, on seeing me, gave me his card and said ‘I really feel we could DO something’ - which in turn led to us meeting him at his studio a few days LATER. And - though I was only 14 and still in my school uniform when we got there! - I did actually click with him to the point where he offered me a PRODUCTION deal! And it was during that two-year production deal - when the guy who’d taken me on was doing stuff with Jason Mraz, James Morrison and Craig David - that I actually met Craig coming out of the STUDIO one day, which resulted in him asking me on-the-spot to demo a TRACK for him!... So I put my vocals on the track - and, because they really liked what I’d done, they decided to keep me ON it! And it was literally after Craig kept me on that track that the doors suddenly opened and people were like ‘Who IS this? What’s this girl ABOUT?’… Which is something I’m still grateful to Craig for to this DAY.”
Rita supports DJ Fresh on his UK tour - dates running from May 7 to May 19 inclusive
The single "R.I.P." is out now through Roc Nation/Columbia
TO READ MORE OF PETE'S INTERVIEW WITH RITA ORA, ORDER YOUR PRINT ISSUE OF B&S BELOW.
Words PETE LEWIS