x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

The coming era of Ora

We speak to Rita Ora about her rise and when she met Jay Z looking not quite her best.

Rita Ora. Samir Hussein / Getty Images
Rita Ora. Samir Hussein / Getty Images

It is quite a moment.

The 21-year-old British pop sensation Rita Ora realises she is on the phone to a journalist from the Middle East while in a plush office in Australia. She is there promoting her debut album to her legion of fans Down Under.

Ora pauses to take it all in.

"Without sounding clichéd," she continues, "all of this is just a dream come true. To know the album is out there is so surreal. I just can't wait to come out there to you guys and perform because that is what I live for."

Ora's rise seems sudden. Her first releases may date back to a 2007 guest spot on the Craig David track Awkward and a year later on Tinchy Stryder's Where's Your Love, but she truly hit the big time only this year, when she released three consecutive singles that topped the British charts: Hot Right Now, How We Do (Party) and the Tinie Tempah collaboration R.I.P. Her debut album Ora - released in the UAE today - also became a British number one.

"The reaction has been loud and amazing," she says. "Especially in America. I feel so proud to be accepted there because if you break it in America you really feel like you have done something."

The Kosovo-born singer's self assurance comes from a hard work ethic, stretching back to her days as an unsigned artist gigging around London.

Despite the growing hype, interest from local record labels failed to materialise after preliminary discussions. Ora says it was the first of many lessons about patience in the music game. "It was definitely frustrating," she says. "My aim was to keep performing and have the whole industry to talk about me but it never got to that next level."

Despite the setbacks in the UK, word of "this Rita girl" filtered through to New York to the office of Roc Nation, the record label helmed by the hip-hop superstar Jay-Z. Impressed by Ora's demo tapes, the rapper flew her from London to meet her in person.

Ora's first encounter with Jay-Z at his 40/40 nightclub was another moment.

"I landed and got straight in the car," she says. "I walked into the club and I was wet because it was raining. I didn't have a shower and I looked bad, my hair was wet and I was wearing a Run DMC T-shirt. I said: 'Hi, my name is Rita,' and he smiled and laughed and we went to the studio to listen to music for an hour."

Excited and with a notebook full of songs, Ora expected her major-label signing would herald a prolific string of releases. She didn't expect a three-year wait before her debut album finally hit the shops; a period in which she scrapped a full album after the songs were deemed not up to scratch.

"When I got signed, I thought my music would be out next week," she says. "I didn't understand why I couldn't just put things on the internet but obviously Jay-Z and Roc Nation knew what they were doing. They told me to wait till the time was right."

With hindsight Ora describes the nixed songs as too calculated and less edgy than the current hit-laden batch. "It was a different sound and not as honest as I wanted it to be," she admits. "I want to leave a great impression so we can build a second and then third album. I had to be honest with myself so I can then be honest with the fans. It was a process."

Ora didn't remain idle, however. One of the perks of being part of the Roc Nation team is rubbing shoulders with some of pop music's hottest producers including will.i.am, Chase & Status and Stargate. The hit-makers lent their talents to Ora with sizeable results. The energetic R.I.P. is produced by Stargate and Chase & Status while the lilting Hello, Hi, Goodbye boasts an envious production credit by The-Dream and Diplo.

Ora says it isn't just the revolving door of producers responsible for the album's genre-hopping, from 1990s hip-hop and dub-step to saccharine pop. Arriving in the UK as a one-year-old from the Kosovo capital Pristina, then part of Yugoslavia, Ora says her multicultural upbringing naturally extended to her taste in music.

"The Kosovo culture was very important in our household and I speak [Albanian] fluently because my mum and dad would speak it to me when I was young," she says. "My dad also had an amazing record collection and music was all around the house and that was how I was introduced to different kinds of artists."

And how do they view their young daughter's growing international fame? "Oh they love it," she laughs. "My mum is getting phone calls from people she hasn't spoken to in years."

With more hits surely on the way, that phone won't stop ringing anytime soon.

 

Ora by Rita Ora is out now through Sony Music Middle East. Check out the album review tomorrow in Arts&Life