As we count down to the 2016 ESSENCE Festival, taking place June 30-July 3 in New Orleans, artists from our power-packed lineup will sum up their lives—from childhood to stardom—in 10 songs. First up: British soul singer Daley, who will bring his smooth sounds back to the Festival for the second time.
1. Rufus featuring Chaka Khan, ‘Sweet Thing”
I first stumbled across this song in my parents’ CD collection as a kid, but forgot about it completely for years. I then rediscovered it in my early 20s, with a whole new appreciation. Chaka’s voice takes hold of my entire being. She uses her instrument like no other and, quite simply, it brings me joy. This song makes me want to be in love every time I hear it.
2. Sade, “Cherish the Day”
A voice I remember hearing played around the house as a kid, from another artist who I came to appreciate on a whole new level as an adult. Sade is a timeless beauty, and her music fits that description perfectly also. I always found the groove and melody in “Cherish the Day” to be so addictive and hypnotic, so I always come back to this song.
3. George Michael, “Jesus to a Child”
His album Older was one of the first albums I remember listening to from beginning to end as a kid. It’s actually quite dark, but even then I was drawn to it. There’s a sadness to this song that I love to indulge in from time to time. Songs like this helped me to understand sadness as an emotion that can be harnessed for inspiration.
4. Usher, “U Don’t Have to Call”
8701 was a turning point for me in my love for R&B. It caught me at the perfect time in my early teens. I remember playing it on repeat and loving every single song, learning every word, every ad-lib and harmony. This song is probably my favorite from that album; it reminds me of school dances and teenage crushes.
5. Craig David, “Fill Me In”
This song also caught me at a key time in my youth and holds a lot of good memories for me. I’m not sure how “Fill Me In” went down in the U.S., but it was a big thing in the U.K. Craig David came up through the U.K. garage/club scene and forged his own lane of British R&B, which felt like the first of its kind at the time.
6. Prince, “The Ballad of Dorothy Parker”
My life changed when I discovered Prince at age 17. My whole life. His music opened my mind to the endless possibilities, reassuring me that nothing is off-limits creatively. This song is a masterpiece of storytelling, vocal arrangement, musicality and production that sounds forever fresh to me. It’s one of a kind, like nothing else I can think of.
7. Imogen Heap, “Hide and Seek”
A total curveball that veers away from a lot of the music I was occupied with in my teens. I remember this song was one of the first tracks I purchased on iTunes. It felt like a weird little vibe I’d stumbled across online that no one else knew about, and it further opened my mind to what you can do with your voice.
8. Maxwell, “Pretty Wings”
People often assume Maxwell must have been one of my biggest influences growing up, which is a huge compliment. I actually only got into his catalog five or six years ago—and of course was instantly hooked. I started singing an acoustic version of “Pretty Wings” at open-mic nights in London when I was starting out. I’ve since had the pleasure of becoming friends and touring with him.
9. Radiohead, “Nude”
This song is an ethereal experience and a thing of beauty, so much soul expressed in such an unconventional way. It impacted the way I write and made me want to find ways to put feeling into music without always being predictable. My late manager Richard Antwi introduced me to this song. He unfortunately passed away very recently and unexpectedly, and this song stands to remind me of him.
10. Joni Mitchell, ‘Both Sides Now” (Dreamland version)
When people ask me what my favorite song is, I usually mention this one. I was moved to tears the first time I heard it arranged with strings on the Dreamland version. Joni’s voice is aged and filled with experience in the most beautiful way. The lyric uses a metaphor of viewing clouds from both sides, from above and below, the good and the bad.
Purchase your tickets to the 2016 ESSENCE Festival here and make sure to check back for more updates.