story / LOGAN BRENDT
photography / SIMON EMMETT
Leading you into a world full of fantasy with her smoothly powerful voice and soulful melodies on her debut album entitled Our Version of Events, singer-songwriter Emeli Sandé is busy planning for the next few whirlwind months. While her debut is already one of the largest selling albums in the UK for this year, the Scottish songbird is ready to dominate the charts in the States. However, after the unique and incredibly busy summer she has had, it won’t be too hard to do. After all, what performer can say that they not only carried the Olympic torch, but that they also performed in the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympic games? Emeli Sandé can, and there’s no better promotion than that.
At first glance, Sandé intrigues with her bright blonde cropped hair, smoky eyes, and tattoo of Frida Kahlo on her right forearm. When she speaks, her accent is soft and lucid; she seems tremendously regal. Hours away from opening for Coldplay in the U.S., she shifts her attention and begins to tell me about the excitement and honor she felt in being part of the London Summer Olympics. “I was quite nervous because it was such an important song to sing,” Sandé says, referring to the hymn “Abide With Me” that she sang as part of a memorial portion in the opening ceremony. “Everyone would have seen a mistake if it happened,” she reflects.
Despite the estimated 900 million people all over the world watching the opening ceremony, Sandé stayed at ease, saying, “I just tried to think about my parents watching. I tried not think of the millions of people watching, because I can’t even perceive that many people.” Having ended up performing a beautifully haunting and perfect rendition of “Abide With Me”, like the ultimate professional that she is, it gave many people chills and proved why Danny Boyle (the Oscar-winning director and director of the Olympic opening ceremony) picked her in the first place for such an important moment.
From humble beginnings, Sandé was raised in Scotland by her Zambian father and her English mother. Growing up in Scotland, and always with a love of music, especially the piano, Sandé often found herself fantasizing about one day being like the “High Priestess of Soul” herself, Nina Simone. “I definitely wanted to play piano like her and wanted to write like her and have that respect that you could see she had,” she says. “Even as a kid, I really thought she could stand up alone as a woman within the industry.”
While Sandé is now an accomplished pianist, using the piano as the basis for all of her songwriting, she has become more known for her powerful vocal performances. Music fans are extremely fond of her flawless soprano voice and the gospel, soul, and R&B qualities that she brings to her music. Everyone from Adele to Alicia Keys has found themselves completely enthralled by Sandé’s brilliance. Initially though, Sandé’s path was going to be much different from what it is now.
Her initial plan was to become a neurologist or a psychiatrist after she had spent four years studying neuroscience at the University of Glasgow. So, it was very unexpected when she found the spotlight from the music world shining so brightly on her and so quickly too. “Two years ago, I had a completely different life. I guess I’m taking time to really adjust and to kind of take in what’s happening and enjoy it,” she says, referring to her preoccupation with the next show, festival, and next project she is working on. With the help of her sister who is very much into living in the present moment, Sandé is learning to slowly accept slowing down in a world that is a constant sprint. Thankful to her family and the education she has received, Sandé has the ability to deal with the nonstop demands of the music industry, saying, “I feel that the background I had before all of this has prepared me in a lot of ways.”
Along with her debut album that she wrote in West London, her home away from home, Sandé has also written songs for other artists like Leona Lewis, Susan Boyle, and Cheryl Cole. Between the songs that she has written for others and her own songs, she often finds that her favorite tracks are the most recent ones that she has worked on. “I’m really excited for people to hear the songs that I wrote with Alicia Keys for her next album,” Sandé lights up. “I think they’re really special ones; lyrically they’re standouts.” Also describing Keys as “brilliant” and “fantastic”, she adds, “In the industry, it’s quite rare to find people that you genuinely connect with as a writer. It was a real pleasure getting to work with somebody that I admire so much and that I think really understands the writer.”
While Sandé has a very technical mind, she has made sure not to mix the music world with the science world. She mentions, “That’s one reason why I didn’t really want to study music in the university. I always thought music was a very natural side of me and I didn’t want to become scientific or mathematical about it.” However, she has been looking into the possibilities of favorably combining the two worlds. “Maybe one day in a few years, I’d like to complete a medicine degree and train in music therapy,” she says.
There is no denying that Sandé’s purpose is in music. With her pure voice, incredible vocal skill, and the ability to write hit songs the way she does, she has definitely found her calling. However, it’s not always so easy to be recognized for your talents, and you might wonder what her secrets to triumph have been. But, they’re not as mysterious or as complicated as you might think. Sandé believes in focus, working hard, and staying positive. She also feels that people need to avoid getting caught up in the negativity of others that tend to want to see you fail because of their own nonfulfillment. “Focus on something important,” she says, about achieving dreams. “I think if it’s important to you, then there’s not much that can back you off from achieving it.”
From LADYGUNN Issue #6