On Wednesday, February 6th, Omar Apollo performed at the Rotunda, a church, turned concert venue and community–gathering place. Within this cozy and basement–like venue, Jazz & Grooves, a sub–group of Penn’s Social Planning and Events Committee, has hosted R&B stars like Daniel Caesar and BROCKHAMPTON’s Kevin Abstract. The quality of performers that Jazz & Grooves brings through the Rotunda’s doors is exceptional, and Omar Apollo is no different. This 21–year old Chicagoan has been making waves in the indie–pop genre by drawing on jazz, soul, and latin vibes. A true genre–blender, Omar Apollo's music has hints of (Sandy) Alex G’s lo–fi minimalism, The Internet’s modern soul, and the renowned latin pop of Pedro Infante and Vicente Fernandez. 

Photo: Julia Davies Omar Apollo (Julia Davies)

Omar Apollo is a man of many genres, which made the concert’s openers especially appropriate. The first opening act, Moses Mosima, a local Philadelphia artist, brought classic hip–hop to the stage. Switching from throwbacks like a cover of Usher’s “My Boo” to improvising bars from words shouted from the crowd, Moses Mosima and his talented band energized the crowd. Following Moses Mosima was Moroccan–American singer, Dounia, who brought alternative R&B and humor to the stage. Revealing to the crowd that she changed from a dress to sweats right before taking the stage, Dounia was as much a stand–up comedian as she was singer. 

Two hours into the concert, the crowd was clearly entertained, yet eager to see the main act. The band set up, played a few beats, before Apollo came jumping, leaping, head–banging onto the stage opening “Ignorin,” one of his singles from his new EP, Stereo. He has the energy of a rock star—if you were to just look at him play you would think he was playing heavy rock and roll, not soulful R&B, but this is what makes him such an engaging rising star. Moving on to one of his earlier singles, "Algo," Apollo showed his bilingual talent as he switched from Spanish to English verses about unrequited love. Disappointment in love is a common theme in his music. In his next song, “Erase,” he sang of lingering feelings after a break–up. He didn’t play this song like the reflective ballad it could be, but rather he swept his hands through the crowd, leapt around the stage, and danced. Taking a break from his songs off of Stereo, Apollo played (Sandy) Alex G’s “Brite Boy,” bringing his own energy and heavy instrumentals to an originally lo–fi indie rock song. 

Photo: Julia Davies Omar Apollo (Julia Davies)

Sometime in the middle of his set Apollo cut his finger on a can of pineapple juice. He played his electric guitar, head–banging and singing while his finger bled until a kind fan gave him a band–aid. He remained upbeat through it all, quite literally smiling through the pain. He fittingly performed “Unbothered,” ramping the song up with infectious energy and calling the audience to form a mosh pit. In this song, he sang again about heartbreak, but this time more confident—pushing, singing, dancing through those hard feelings.Then he played “Today,” one of his more grungy songs about stress and depression, but with his signature soulful voice and youthful enthusiasm. Apollo moved on to play “Brakelights,” one of his slower, more soulful songs in which he ponders why his lover would want him, comparing himself to a used car. The crowd swayed, singing along with Apollo to the intimate and self–conscious lines with paradoxical confidence and exuberance. Then he does what everyone in the audience hoped he would do, finishing with the fan–favorite "Hijo de Su Madre." It's not his most popular song off of his EP, but among his fans it's one of the most beloved, perhaps because it's Apollo at his very best. He interweaves jazz, pop, rock and latin influences in a three minute–song. By the end, everyone was exhausted and out of breath from dancing.

For many, the concert was a cathartic release in the middle of the school week. Omar Apollo knows the stresses and pains of young adulthood, but he parties through them alongside the audience. If there’s one thing Omar Apollo knows what to do, it’s to sing through the turmoils of love and life, and to get others to do the same. 


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