Sounds like heaven
EMELI Sande stands out from the crowd.
That’s even before you see the startling peroxide blonde quiff and know anything about her part- Zambian, part- Scottish background.
The first thing you notice about her is the voice. First evidence of that in Australia was her first single Heaven, a classic slice of Brit- soul that harks back to bands like Massive Attack and Soul II Soul with its skipping electro- beat, lush strings and ascending chordal hook.
But what really grabs the listener is that voice, an instrument that’s as soulful as it is soaring. With the success of Adele, it seems a no- brainer that someone with a voice as striking as this would make their mark.
And she has. Sande ( pictured) won the Critics’ Choice section at the Brit Awards before the release of her debut album, Our Version of Events. Last month that album knocked Lana Del Ray from the top spot in the UK.
Yet it was not as a singer but a songwriter that Sande first won attention with hits for Chipmunk’s Diamond Rings and Professor Green’s Read All About It, not to mention a song for Susan Boyle.
She is also not about to be pushed around as anyone’s pop puppet. She’s a high achiever, a former medical student at Glasgow University who only gave up her studies ( neuroscience) when she was offered a songwriter’s publishing deal with EMI.
‘‘ Music was always something that I’ve been passionate about ever since I was really young,’’ Sande says.
‘‘ I knew in my heart I was a musician and that was what I wanted to do with my life.
‘‘ I also wanted an education and a degree before I did anything in the music industry but it came to a point where the door opened for me in music and I decided to defer medicine for a couple of years.’’
Now that safer career choice is on hold indefinitely, although she does see the parallel between the two in that music also has a healing kind of force.
‘‘ I was always interested in the link between therapy and music and how music can change us in the head,’’ Sande says.
‘‘ I’ve been to a lot of music therapy sessions and seen how powerful music can be, especially for children with learning disorders or autism, and with treating depression as well.’’
No one is unhappy when they are singing or writing a song, or listening to their musical heroes. In Sande’s case, those are people such as Joni Mitchell and Nina Simone, strong, distinctive artists and personalities who created records people are listening to 40 and 50 years later.
‘‘ I always wanted to be a singer but I also wanted to write songs that would last a long time, to really learn the craft of writing. The big influence for me was Nina Simone.
‘‘ I had heard the big ballad singers and had been impressed by their vocal technique but when I heard Nina it was all in the tone of her voice and the really subtle changes she would use. That’s when I realised you really need to know your voice to bring out the emotion without being too powerful with it.’’
While studying at university she played piano part- time to earn money but says her course was so intensive she found it very difficult to write.
Back then she was known by her first name, Adele, but as she launched her recording career a change to her second name, Emeli, was needed for obvious reasons.
But she says artists such as Amy Winehouse and Adele showed the path for her: ‘‘ They really changed the game for me because they are people who had the bravery to try something different.’’
In a world awash with generic, sound- alike pop songs, she thinks the only sensible course is to carve your own niche.
‘‘ If you do something different now it’s like a breath of fresh air. Because everyone feels they have to make the same kind of pop to get on the radio, it’s almost a bit easier now if you are brave enough to take your own route, to stand strong in what you do, then you stand out more.’’
Her thoughts on the commercial aspects of the music industry are contained in a song on her album called Clown, which draws the analogy between the pop artist and the circus performer with lines like ‘‘ I’ll be your clown/ Behind the glass/ Go ahead and laugh ’ cause it’s funny/ I would too if I saw me.’’
‘‘ There is the risk you will be the clown, be made a fool of and laughed at. But if no one tries anything, if you’re afraid, then nothing is ever achieved.’’
In Sande’s case, look who’s laughing now.