Emeli Sandé was only 7 when she wrote her first song, an earnest ditty about an alien visiting Earth. “It came from space and was asking about all the planets,” Sandé recalls before bursting into a giggle. “I was very proud of it and I showed it to everyone.”
Since those formative years growing up in rural Scotland, Sandé, the daughter of a Zambian professor and his English wife, has moved on from writing about extraterrestrials to penning lyrics about alienation, love and redemption. Fans have so embraced her 2012 debut, Our Version of Events, that the album beat The Beatles’ early sixties record for the most consecutive weeks spent on the U.K.’s top 10 list by a debut album.
“Numbers are one thing,” Sandé says with an English lilt that belies her Scottish upbringing. “But if you think about what the numbers mean—that so many people are interested in buying the record—it’s mind-blowing.” Born Adele Emeli Sandé, she shelved attending medical school—she has a degree in neuroscience—for a freewheeling artist’s life and swapped her black fro for a coiffed, platinum-blond pompadour. She changed her stage name after the meteoric rise of a certain porcelain-skinned, cherub-cheeked chanteuse. For one week, Sandé performed as Rio before her mother shut it down and suggested she use Emeli. Since then Sandé has continued to the push the creative envelope. Despite her tremendous European success, she still dreams of joining the American musical pantheon and quickly rattles off names like Nina Simone, Joni Mitchell and Lauryn Hill when asked about her influences. “Regardless of what happens,” the singer says, “with this record, I can go home quite happy.”
Check out the stylish singer’s shoot from the August issue of ESSENCE magazine in the gallery above.