Platinum blonde, platinum album and a truly golden voice: This is not only an apt, abridged description of Emeli Sandé, but also the starting point of a fairytale career about to take off with a bang!
Young, pretty and successful, 25-year-old Scot Emeli Sandé not only stormed the charts with her debut single Heaven, but also managed to turn her UK No. 1 album Our Version Of Events into a cool shade of platinum. Sounds like an easy ride and dream come true? Well, all this nearly didn’t happen …
Starting out, Emeli initially opted for the safe and sensible solution, studying medicine with a focus on clinical neuroscience. Why? Her nonchalant answer: “I guess I really like all that brain stuff.” While this might be a down-to-earth plan B for those years after pop’s glittery sparkle wears off, it would be criminal if someone blessed with such an exceptional voice did not share it with the world.
And a quick glance at her life to date reveals why Emeli Sandé picked a musical path. Ever since she was ten years old, the vivacious prodigy had been writing and playing her own songs on the piano, strongly encouraged and supported by her loving parents – her dad hails from a musical family from Zambia while her mum is English – from day one. Apprehensive of the harsh limelight glare, Emeli started out as a professional songwriter for both mainstream stars like Cheryl Cole, Leona Lewis, Susan Boyle or Tinie Tempah and more off-kilter fare like her collaboration with Brit rapper Wiley. Their joint hit Never Be Your Woman, featuring vocals by Emeli herself, shook up the UK top ten last year and, with its early 1990s drum & bass sound, also references Emeli Sandé’s first solo hit and debut album opener Heaven.
“Every morning I wake up with the best intentions, but the day is simply too long”, she sings and thus pinpoints our oh-so-human everyday tendency to try and get everything right for once. With its epic cinemascope sound and impressive visual aesthetics Heaven, incidentally, hints at another classic from the British Isles. Almost two decades ago Massive Attack’s Unfinished Sympathy caused a stir in the world of music – not the worst reference for a new talent! In any way, we can count ourselves lucky that Emeli did not stick to just writing songs. After all, it is her exceptional voice that truly makes her stand out from the crowd. Soulful, obviously; inimitable, definitely. A voice that manages to combine a rich, expansive timbre with a welcome sense of intimacy – a sound that works equally well in small clubs or huge stadia.
Add to that her absolutely unique and personal look. Sporting long, auburn curls in Wiley’s video clip, she now turns heads with an edgy, bleached quiff and shaved sides – not exactly the standard look of a former medical student! Emeli herself calls her style simple, yet effective. When she talks about her work, it soon transpires that this young woman has found and chosen her future path. At the same time, her real passion remains writing songs, or so she once stated in an interview. “Lyrics will outlast a voice. I want to be remembered for my lyrics and saying something that made people think.” She appreciates honesty in songwriting and thinks a good writer should know how to say a lot with a minimum of words. A philosophy reflected in her own output: Her songs invariably deal with topics we all care about: love, fear of loss, trust, hope and the future.
Yet her talent truly comes into its own during the quieter, more intimate moments of her album; moments filled with nothing but the piano and her wonderful voice. Even her unfinished song demo Easier In Bed manages to convey this sense of easy familiarity. A sparse beat, some atmospheric sounds and strings – that’s all it takes to make her voice shine.
One of Emeli’s idiosyncratic quirks seems to be short, one-word titles. A notable exception: Next To Me, her third album outtake after Heaven and Daddy. Dealing with the loving and faithful man at her side, the song alludes to her current squeeze and fiancé Adam, a marine biologist with Serbian roots. His name also pops up in a tattoo, hidden away underneath the singer’s left shoulder. A true declaration of love, this Volim Te Adame means I love you, Adam in Serbian and joins a range of other permanent ink on her body. Her right arm, for example, is adorned with a portrait of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, a woman admired by Emeli for her emancipated approach to art and society. And there are other strong, iconic women who continue to shape and inspire Emeli Sandé’s life and music; women, who have certainly managed to carve their own niche: Nina Simone, Lauryn Hill or Joni Mitchell.
Emeli Sandé knows what she wants. With a clear goal and aim, she could simply go on writing songs, following her tried and tested recipe. Add her angelic voice, and the last remaining doubters are silenced – no matter what the future might hold.
More information on Emeli Sandé: www.emelisande.com