So effortlessly does Bo Saris tap into the golden era of vintage soul that, when you first hear his voice, it's hard not to believe he's a contemporary of legends like Sam Cooke and Otis Redding, Al Green and Marvin Gaye. Curtis Mayfield and Donny Hathaway.
Listen to his self-released single “She's On Fire” and you might even think you're listening to a long-lost song by Marvin Gaye, or maybe that sweet falsetto is Al Green, or Smokey Robinson. Then you take a look at the video and you'll think he looks a lot like Sam Cooke. But that is Sam Cooke, in a cleverly edited montage that pays homage to his heroes.
In fact Bo Saris is a young Dutchman with one foot in the past and the other firmly in the present. He comes not from Harlem but 3,000 miles away in Haarlem – the Dutch town that lent its name to soul music's spiritual home in New York City. But don't let that put you off: as Michael Jackson put it, “It don't matter if you're black or white.”
You don't have to be American either. Plenty of contemporary soul singers can attest to that, including Amy Winehouse and Plan B (London), Paolo Nutini and Emeli Sande (Glasgow) and the new kid on the block, John Newman (Yorkshire).
Bo Saris sits as comfortably alongside them as he does with the veterans who inspired them. He is equally at ease in the dance world. His vocals embellish a self-penned song on Chase & Status's new album. And Bo's own career kicked off in the clubs with Maya Jane Coles's deep house remix of “She's On Fire,” showcasing his remarkable falsetto. Bo's affinity with the dance world is borne out by the fact that another of his tracks, “The Addict”, is now also riding high in clubland thanks to a house remix by the great Todd Edwards.
So who exactly is Bo Saris?
He grew up listening to his mother's collection of soul and funk music, and inspired by his father's career as a popular jazz singer in their native Holland. Bo made his musical debut at school and played his first gig at 16. In his teens he converted to hip-hop, and discovered Prince, factors which may help explain the contemporary edge to his take on classic soul.
It's a balance beautifully brought out on Bo's first album - GOLD - by renowned producer Dre Harris (Michael Jackson, Mary J Blige, Usher, Chris Brown) during recording sessions in Los Angeles. “I'm trying to combine a vintage soul sound with something more modern, taking bits and pieces from different styles and eras of soul music,” Bo explains.
His eureka moment came in 2011 when he performed at a televised tribute to soul great Bill Withers in Amsterdam. At the after-show party, he found himself chatting to one of his idols. “When we started talking I realised this guy was one of the most humble people – maybe the most humble person - I have met in my life. Such a pure and beautiful person. That blew me away. His musical legacy speaks for itself but the man himself is very inspiring. The whole conversation was inspiring for me and I took very important things out of it.”
One of those things was to move to London to launch his career in the UK. “I realised I have to stay true to the black music - soul, blues, jazz, funk - that is my influence and inspiration. That's what I grew up on and that is who I am.”
In his video for “The Addict,” Bo Saris starts to reveal himself, albeit in animated form. But he promises that he will emerge before long. “People love a mystery and it's been fascinating to see how people respond when they don't know who the singer is. But now I'm ready to step into the spotlight.”