The British newcomer talks about her American debut, her influences and having the same birth name as Adele.
Singer-songwriter Emeli Sande is the latest British import taking over music; think Adele, Rebecca Ferguson, and Lianne La Havas. The 25-year-old former neuroscience student’s big voice conjures up the likes of Jennifer Hudson, and even Celine Dion. But she’s also got a little bit of Nina Simone, and a whole lot of Alicia Keys, whom she refers to as her idol. Like Keys, Sande is a master pop musician who plays piano, writes her own songs and produces.
In the States to promote her album Our Version of Events, Sande took a moment to chat with ESSENCE.com about her American debut, loving Lauryn Hill and having the same name as that other British chart topper, Adele.
ESSENCE.com: Your album Our Version of Events came out in America last week. You must be excited.
EMELI SANDE: Yeah, I’m excited because being from the UK you always look over to the States like this massive big land and if you ever got to release and introduce your music over there it would be really exiting. So it feels like a completely new adventure for me. It’s such a new place and new people and a new way of doing things.
ESSENCE.com: Why call it Our Version of Events?
SANDE: Well, it is an introduction to me and the way I write. With this album I hope to say things that aren’t being said in pop music at the moment. I didn’t want to compromise and make an item that is so left that it would never be in the mainstream or played on the radio. I wanted to make an album that melodically people can connect to; something that reflects our times and the kinds of difficulties we face. But, I don’t think it is a necessarily political album at all. I just feel it’s… I hope it can be our version of events. I hope people can really hear their stories within it.
ESSENCE.com: Even matters of the heart can be political, right?
SANDE: Yeah, I think so. I try to speak of a love that not necessarily romantic. I think there is so much love between people and so much love people want to give but it’s harder and harder these days to show that, to celebrate that, you know?
ESSENCE.com: You’re being compared to everyone from Alicia Keys to Tracy Chapman for your singing style. Who are the people who influenced you coming up?
SANDE: A lot of vocalist influenced me. When I was around six or seven I was blown away by Anita Baker, Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston. And people who could just do these incredible things with their voices. I was around 8 or 9 when I first heard Nina Simone and she was the first person to show me what an artist could be; someone who reflects the times. It’s not about being the loudest or doing the most tricks with your voice, it’s about the subtlety of the lyric and the tone of her voice. So Nina was a really big influence to me as an artist. I wanted to play piano like her, I wanted to be important with my music. After Nina it was Tracy Chapman and Joni Mitchell, really strong, powerful women who knew how to say something.
ESSENCE.com: You're also a die-hard Lauryn Hill fan.
SANDE: I just think to have a whole generation waiting for what she is going to come out with next is testament to how incredible she is as an artist. You know I would wait, however long it takes, I know it is going to be fantastic. So I don’t even care, she can take her time.
ESSENCE.com: Funny enough your first name is Adele much like that other British diva we love.
SANDE: Emeli is my middle name. It’s my grandmother’s name actually. I started using it when Adele was starting out. In retrospect I never thought she would be this big but I think it was a good idea I changed it.
Our Version of Events is available on iTunes.