It’s fair to say that Zak Abel has a voice far beyond his years. One listen to his raw, gutsy and supremely soulful tones, and you’d expect to find an aging Stax legend from the heart of Memphis, not a fresh-faced teenager from North London.
Having named Bill Withers and Gil Scott-Heron as two of his major idols, the 19-year-old’s mature vocal style shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. But that’s where the comparisons stop, as Abel is far from the retro-soul act his influences suggest.
Sure, Abel still occasionally flirts with the lush orchestration and jazzy grooves of the early 70s – check out the string-soaked soul-pop of “Don’t Belong” for proof – but overall, his sound is far more rooted in the here and now.
Issued earlier this year, his debut E.P., Joker Presents, is an intriguing blend of two-step garage, post-dubstep and digital soul, while his recently-released follow-up, One Hand on the Future, saw him team up with the in-demand Kaytranada (The Internet, Vic Mensa) on the gloriously booming electro R&B of “Say Sumthin’.” Meanwhile, his list of guest credits already reads like a who’s who of contemporary British dance-pop.
Indeed, after hitting the studio for the first time with UK garage pioneer Wookie (“Higher”) at the age of 17, Zak Abel has gone onto score a chart hit with Gorgon City (“Unmissable”), tour Europe with another deep house duo, Bondax, and join forces with fellow youthful Londoner Tom Misch on the sun-soaked club anthem, “Beautiful Escape.”
Abel, who signed a record deal with Atlantic at the same time he “messed up” his college studies two years ago, has also been busy this year supporting Game of Thrones star Raleigh Ritchie and hotly-tipped soulman Kwabs, and appearing at festivals such as The Great Escape and No Tomorrow.
With a debut album scheduled for early next year, expect to hear Zak Abel’s name at the top of the list when it comes to all the Ones to Watch for in 2016.