Sade, reluctantly back in the spotlight By Chris Richards

June 21, 2011

The conference room at the Hotel Monaco in downtown Baltimore is oppressively taupe. Taupe walls, taupe chairs, taupe tablecloths. Pull back the taupe curtains and enjoy the view: a taupe building made of taupe bricks. ¶ “It’s a bit grim in here, isn’t it?” asks Sade. ¶ Casually dressed in red denim, red lipstick, a red satin jacket and silver hoop earrings big enough to shoot basketballs through, she beelines for a switch on the wall and dims the lights. Soft. Softer. Off. ¶ As she takes a seat in the afternoon sunlight, those reds seem to glow like cosmic embers. At 52, one of the most magnetic singers of our time sips lukewarm coffee from a paper cup and tries to explain how music’s inexplicable gravity pulled her out of a nine-year silence. ¶ “It’s that feeling that you can get a little bit

better,” she says. “That there’s somewhere to go and you haven’t expressed it all.”

Sade — who performs at Verizon Center on Wednesday — is referring to her 2010 album “Soldier of Love,” her first public moment since finishing off a world tour in 2001 and retreating to her home in Glouces­ter­shire, England, to give her young daughter, Ila, her undivided attention.

Her invisibility solidified her reputation as the great sphinx of modern R&B, but “Soldier of Love” stands as Sade’s most expressive album. She describes its creation as both “a mission” and “a spiritual experience” — a John Coltrane-ish pursuit of a sound that comes from within, yet remains forever out of reach.

“I think I’m getting better at letting it out,” she says. “When I’m in the studio, my guard is down. I don’t have any feeling that I should be protecting myself in any way — which is good, because then I can say it like it is.”

Sade’s faithful fans kept “Soldier of Love” at the top of the Billboard albums chart for three consecutive weeks last year, but the singer says that dropping her guard for those same fans in real time is far more difficult. Recounting the April launch of her world tour in France, she describes the moment she stepped back onstage as “a mixture of elation and fear.”

And afterward?

“I was just relieved that it was over,” she says. “Relieved that it was a success.”

Listen to her sing and it’s difficult to locate the point when Sade’s voice ends and silence begins. Her thoughts unspool in a similar fashion. She chooses her words carefully, speaks in fragments, but with great warmth. Then halts.

“Radio interviews are really snappy and I’m just bad at that,” she says of the conversation before this one. “I just close down . . . I get a reputation of being a smack addict or something because I’m just not snappy.”

Sade smells like banana bread. There’s a thin, square slice of it on the plate in front of her, untouched. So it’s not really Sade that smells like banana bread, but the room, which Sade controls via light switch, via contemplative silence, via laughter that comes pealing at frequencies even lower than the bruised alto in which she sings.

Sade is also the name of her four-piece band — saxophonist-guitarist Stuart Matthewman, bassist Paul S. Denman, keyboardist Andrew Hale — which has enjoyed more than a quarter of a century of mainstream success, selling more than 55 million albums across the planet.

The group first splashed down in 1984 with “Diamond Life,” a glitzy, jazzy debut album built around the band’s namesake and an indelible hit single, “Smooth Operator.” Five airy, evocative R&B albums would follow, each somewhat timeless, as if born in a musical ecosystem protected from contemporary currents.

The singer says her band has always considered its place in the greater pop continuum with equal parts ignorance and defiance.

“I don’t really feel like I ever belonged,” she says. “But I don’t really feel like an outsider. I think you only really feel like an outsider if you’ve been an insider.”

That sense of un-belonging can be traced back to Helen Folasade Adu’s bi­racial childhood. The daughter of a Ni­ger­ian lecturer father, she was raised by her British nurse mother in the village of Holland-on-Sea. It was there that she fell under the spell of soul music and the proto-hip-hop of the Last Poets and Gil Scott-Heron. “That was my way of connecting with my could-have-been history,” she says.

At 18, she moved to London to study fashion and design at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design. By 26, she was a reluctant pop star.

“When we started the band, she wasn’t doing it to be famous,” says Matthewman. “It just doesn’t really interest her.”

Over the years, she’s ignored her press. “I wouldn’t want it to affect the process in any way,” she says. “I don’t think anything particularly good comes out of it if you’re someone who challenges themselves, anyway. It’s not like I’m oblivious to my mistakes or shortcomings.”

She’s also been a dogged guardian of her privacy — something she protects even more fiercely in the era of social media. “People are so used to having their lives filmed, they’re not even conscious of having cameras around,” Sade says. “I still have that sort of suspicion when a camera comes out. I view it as a thing to fear.”

That might make this tour especially terrifying — the technology sleeping in her fans’ pockets has changed so much since 2002.

The singer gets wistful thinking about concertgoers chasing after digital moments to put on YouTube before others have had the chance to experience those same unexpected moments in real life.

“It’s like a preview at a movie,” she says. “Everything is prequeled. Life is prequeled. Are we only living to upload it?”

Sade’s commitment to living in the now, of course, applies to music. “It’s never a backdrop to another event,” she says of her listening habits. “It is the event.”

And that’s a little tragic considering how many naysayers have written off the group’s music as the stuff of bubble baths, dinner parties and dorm-room make-out sessions of yore.

But over the years, Sade’s songs have gained depth and intensity, articulating our most tangled feelings about heartbreak, desperation and loss with emotive elegance. That intensity is tough to summon, which is why the singer says she was unable to raise her daughter and pour herself into her music at the same time.

“It’s about going within,” she says of her process. “There’s not room for everyday normal things when I’m making a record. It’s not like a job. It’s a state of mind. It’s a state of being. Maybe that sounds a little bit dramatic, but that’s what it is.”

The songwriting is a collaborative effort, but Matthewman says that the singer holds most of the creative cards, especially as an editor. “She has a big influence on our sound in the stripping away,” he says. “She’s amazing at that.”

She also negotiates the balance between the brash and the delicate. You can hear it on the title track of “Soldier of Love.” “I’m at the borderline of my faith,” she sings sorrowfully over bursts of military percussion. “I’m at the hinterland of my devotion / I’m in the frontline of this battle of mine / But I’m still alive.”

Launching her U.S. tour at Baltimore’s 1st Mariner Arena the following night, she opens her set with “Soldier of Love.” But it’s the group’s more billowy hits — “The Sweetest Taboo,” “Your Love Is King,” “Cherish the Day,” “No Ordinary Love” — that cause the audience to sway like a field of uncut grass, singing along as if they’ve lived her lyrics.

Sade loves this. “Once a song’s out there, it’s no longer mine,” she says. “And that’s the whole purpose of music: to belong to people.”

She’s also more pleased with her voice than she’s ever been — this is her first tour since quitting smoking — but she still puts her faith in the material.

“It’s almost that the songs are imprinted in me,” she says. “I’ve never tried to be a great singer, just a singer of great songs.”

And those songs have to last. After tracing the American interstates through September, she says she’ll fly home to Gloucestershire where she can take long walks in the woods behind her house, dig around in her garden and try to do a better job of getting dinner on the table before 9 p.m.

Could it be another decade before we hear from her again?

Could it be forever?

Sade’s brown eyes search for an answer in the ceiling. Or maybe from God. Her reply is slow. Rhythmic. Like the refrain of a song that tries to wring out fresh meaning with each repetition.

“I don’t know,” she says. “I don’t know . . . I really don’t know.”

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She doesn’t have to pretend to be resolute. Born Helen Folasade Adu in Ibadan, Nigeria, the daughter of a white English nurse and a Nigerian teacher, she’s been overcoming obstacles—cultural and artistic—virtually her entire life. Sade says she has always felt “accepted,” but when she was 11 and living in England, she recalls being surrounded by white schoolboys and assailed with taunts such as, “Go black home, you’ll be all white in the morning.”

“I was perfectly happy about being black and didn’t consider it an insult,” she says. “So I just singled one of them out—he had really lank, greasy hair and acne—and I said to him, ‘What about the way you look? You should look in the mirror. I know who I am.’ Once they were afraid of being singled out and humiliated, they left me alone.”

- Sade (via blackculture)
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REBLOGGED blackculture 2 years ago (ORIGINALLY blackculture)

A convo with Sade: “I’m not trying to promote an image”

Sade emerges from her country retreat

She’s Britain’s most successful female solo artist but has remained a glamorous enigma - until now. Sade emerges from her country retreat to tell how she’s a tree-climbing tomboy at heart

Sade is so very private, so extremely wary of the press that her friends - all of whom are bound to silence - have nicknamed her Howie, after Howard Hughes. The most reclusive British singer of the 1980s has kept such a low profile since her Smooth Operator days - one tour in 14 years - that, when we meet at the London office of her record label to hear the songs from her new album, Soldier of Love, I am the only person in the room who has met her before.

It’s 10 years since her last album release, the 2000 offering, Lovers Rock. Despite or maybe because of that, the reverence she commands is palpable. She is the most successful solo female artist Britain has ever produced: she has sold more than 50m albums in a career that stretches back 27 years. And more than half of those albums were sold from the mid-1990s onwards, when Sade all but disappeared from view. Since then, she has only surfaced a few times — and this is the only face-to-face interview she will consent to now.

Paradoxically, in person she is open, friendly and relaxed - she’s happy to let me into her spacious Georgian house in leafy north London - and willing to laugh at herself. Unlike her songs, which are often freighted with introspective sadness and regret, her conversation is punctuated with a lively and very English self-mockery. She tells me about a graffitied poster of herself that her guitarist Stuart Matthewman spotted in New York. Above her glamorous image, some wag had sprayed the observation: “This bitch sings when she wants to.” Sade thinks this hilarious. It sums up her career pretty well. She makes music on her own terms.

She tells me how, on seeing a poster for Lady Gaga’s album The Fame Monster recently, she wondered: “Why can’t I get so worked up about being famous?” She is a complicated, ambitious woman. “Artistically, I have high aspirations. I don’t want to do anything less than the best I can do,” she says. Yet she spurns the promotional rigmarole of the industry, despite knowing that it’s hard to win the public’s sympathy if you ignore them. 

She learnt the downside of fame - “not the sweet, rosy thing anybody expects” - very early on. As her albums sold millions all round the world, paparazzi climbed the trees around her London house to get an intimate shot of her. Rumours about her personal life plagued her, even the funny ones such as the report that she was about to buy Fulham Football Club. “I came to think that those tape machines the journalists used would just scramble what you say, like a liquidiser. It’s terrible, this mentality that if something seems simple, there must be something funny going on.”

During one gruelling interrogation by a female tabloid journalist about her love life - which, as we’ll see, has been far from straightforward - she burst into tears and vowed there and then to give up interviews altogether. “It started to feel like opening yourself up to everybody you’d ever sat next to on a bus. Why would you do that?” Nor did she enjoy being promoted as “this sophisticated lifestyle accessory”, though she doesn’t regret it. “If the music didn’t outshine the image, it just wasn’t being listened to in the right way.”

She doesn’t look to have aged much during her long absence. On the eve of her 51st birthday, her face is unlined and she is still striking. Taller in person than she appears on stage (she is about 5ft 8in) with that large, domed head, wide-set eyes and coil of jet-black hair, she has an exotic allure that she professes not to care a fig about. “People always used to say, ‘What’s it like to see your face on the cover of a magazine?’ But it doesn’t mean anything to me at all. I don’t really see it. I’m not trying to promote an image.”

Despite being awarded an OBE in 2002, nowadays her largest fanbase lives in the States, where Lovers Rock sold nearly 4m copies. Her dressing rooms at American concerts are regularly festooned with flowers sent in by star admirers such as Aretha Franklin. Audiences are noisily ecstatic in the presence of a performer who, unlike every other Brit-soul export, doesn’t try to play the gospel diva or even an American accent. Our transatlantic cousins like Sade, it seems, because she sounds like nobody but herself.

Reviewers here meanwhile complain that she can’t really sing. The first time I put this to her, she giggles, the way she often does when fending off jibes. “It can be very hostile, England. Not just to me, to everybody. England’s like a sour old auntie. You go and stay with her although she criticises you all the time and doesn’t treat you right, even when you’re doing your best. But you keep on loving her, in a certain way. And then you die.” She laughs. “Those bitches always outlive you!”

So here she is, still cheerfully resident in the unkind UK, with no plans to leave if higher-rate income tax goes up or Soldier of Love performs no better here than her previous two studio albums. She keeps her London house for business meetings, but her home is now a village near Stroud, Gloucestershire, where she has been based since 2005 with her daughter, Ila, 13, and her boyfriend for the past four years, Ian, a former Royal Marine.

Stroud may seem a strange choice for a half-Nigerian soul singer whose music and lifestyle are usually construed as consummately “urban”. She has never lived down the image of her sashaying around in a designer frock singing Smooth Operator. But like so much of the little that is known - or believed - about Sade Adu, that’s not right. She is very clear that her family roots lie deep in the English countryside. In her mind Sade is, and always has been, a country girl at heart.

Sade was born Helen Folasade Adu in Ibadan, Nigeria, the daughter of an English district nurse, Anne Hayes, and a Nigerian university teacher, Bisi Adu, who had met in London five years earlier. The marriage broke down and the four-month-old Sade - her Ibadan neighbours refused to bother with her English name - returned to England with her mother and older brother Banji. Her parents’ divorce left an abiding impression that comes through in her songs: “There’s a lot of me in them, probably more than I realise.” Love often figures as unattainable yet powerfully enduring, or a long hard struggle. All of this, she acknowledges, can be traced back to her parents’ troubled marriage. “My mother left my father because she found it impossible to live with him, although they loved each other very much. It was hard for my mother because he was the man of her life. On her wedding day my father gave her a red rose and when he died she threw it in his grave. She’d kept it for 30 years. That was the moment I realised how deeply she cared for him.”

The couple stayed in touch and even talked of getting back together when Sade was 21, but it didn’t happen. “He was a very strange man, my father, very boyish. But he definitely loved my mother very much.” This despite his having fathered four more children - two boys, two girls - by three different women. Sade stays in touch with all of her step-siblings, who live in Switzerland and America.

The broken family went to stay with her English grandparents on the Essex-Suffolk border near Colchester, and while her mother worked all hours nursing in local villages, Sade was largely raised by her grandparents. Theirs was an unusual story of radical English non-conformism. Grandfather Hayes was a Catholic socialist small farmer, the son of upper-middle-class parents who were involved with Whiteway, a quasi-socialist utopian community, formed around the turn of the century on a back-to-the-earth ideology promoted in Russia in the late-19th century by the writer Leo Tolstoy.

Her great-grandparents had eventually left Whiteway, Sade learnt, “because they were devoutly religious and found some of the communal stuff at Whiteway a bit risqué. They weren’t into the ‘open unions’, which basically meant sharing partners.” Her grandfather stayed in the Stroud area, briefly trained as a monk, and tried to enlist on the leftists’ side in the Spanish civil war. After marrying, he moved east. “But he was always waxing lyrical about the West Country. He knew the novelist Laurie Lee and he loved that area. We’ve ended up five minutes from his old stomping ground in the Slad valley.” There’s a spot near her cottage where Sade says she always pictures her grandfather as she drives past.

When Anne Hayes announced in 1955 that she was marrying a Nigerian, her parents “found it difficult, but fortunately my granddad was a big fan of the black-American singer and human-rights activist Paul Robeson, which made it easier”. In recognition of this, Anne gave her firstborn son, Banji, the middle name of Paul.

Sade grew up not, as has often been reported, an Essex girl but an East Anglian tree-climbing tomboy who loved watching cowboy movies. She has retained many guy-ish characteristics - a deep, mannish voice, a loud, ready laugh, and a legs-apart stance - which sit oddly with her elegant looks. She betrays a rare hint of embarrassment when this is pointed out. “There were no girls of my age around, so I played with the boys on the fringe of my brother’s circle. I didn’t have a girl friend till I was nine. But I had complete freedom, out on my bike from morning till night, helping my grandparents dig their garden. I was very independent. My mum gave me that freedom, though she didn’t have much choice because she was working full time.” She still loves gardening. “It’s so satisfying after you’ve spent a day trying to write songs!”

When her mother’s job changed, at 11 Sade moved to a coastal town near Clacton “which I didn’t like. The majority of people living there were over 65 and it wasn’t country enough for me”. Next stop was London where, having shown a talent for art at school, she won a place at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design. Here she eventually traded the earthiness of the country for a rough urban equivalent: slogging around in a battered transit van, usually driven by herself, singing backing vocals in a soul band called Pride. Her London home was a squat in a disused fire station with an outdoor bathroom shared briefly with her then-boyfriend, the style journalist Robert Elms.

Music wasn’t her first choice. After graduating Sade set up as a clothes-maker. But she was a fan of the American soul giants Donny Hathaway and Bill Withers, and being a black singer in a largely white ersatz soul outfit lent credibility to the outfit. “I didn’t have any confidence as a singer, but I found that I liked writing songs.” Smooth Operator, which she sang solo, soon attracted record-company talent scouts, although at first, her fierce loyalty to her band meant she ignored them. Sade is keen on “loyalty to the point of clannishness”, according to one longtime friend.

Finally, in 1983 she signed to the Epic label, on condition that she took three of her bandmates with her (guitarist and saxophonist Stuart Matthewman, keyboard player Andrew Hale and bassist Paul Denman). Their earnings from recording and live work have always been an even four-way split. There have been arguments over the years - “because my naffometer is much more sensitive than theirs”, she claims - but no break-ups or new members. The band remains one tight unit under the control of a matriarch who likes the nickname “Auntie Sade”. None of the other three has ever spoken a word against “Shard”. “They’re like old family friends,” she says. “There are moments when it’s like Christmas and the skeletons come out. But generally it’s good.”

What wasn’t good in the early days was being branded cheerleaders for aspirational Thatcherite values. To be fair, they did themselves no favours, titling their debut album Diamond Life and exuding a glamorous aura very much in keeping with the materialistic impulse of Britain in the 1980s. Sade defends her youthful image as an echo of the dressy style favoured by her American soul heroes.

But the old charge that Sade was the backdrop of the yuppie era still rankles, making her unusually tetchy. “With my family history, that really irks me. And it so annoyed me at the time, when we were secretly giving money we didn’t even have yet to Arthur Scargill and the striking miners.”

With plenty of money in the bank - The Sunday Times Rich List recently valued her as worth £30m - Sade has moved into a lower gear career-wise and devoted more time to her personal life. This has not been an easy ride. As an obstinately independent woman, long used to looking after herself, Sade is, as one old associate puts it, “no pushover” at the dating game. “I’ve paid some rugged dues,” she observes of her romantic relationships. Her six-year marriage to the Spanish film director Carlos Pliego ended in 1995 “because he found it hard to share me with the world”. Despite her buying a flat in Madrid and spending as much time with Pliego there as she could, it wasn’t enough and the marriage unravelled after her long absence on an American tour.

A subsequent affair with a Jamaican musician she met in London produced her daughter, Ila, in 1996, but ended unhappily. This proved a difficult experience for a black-British woman who, with her complicated background, has at times struggled to feel she belongs. As a teenager, she saw the Jackson 5 on television and was “more fascinated by the audience than by anything that was going on on the stage. They’d attracted kids, mothers with children, old people, white, black. I was really moved by that”. Encouraged to explore her boyfriend’s Jamaican roots, the family visited Kingston, but got arrested for speeding, came home and split up. Relations between the three are now strained.

Her new man, Ian Watts, whom she met after moving to Stroud, she believes to be The One - and the real country article. “Ian was a Royal Marine, then a fireman, then a Cambridge graduate in chemistry. I always said that if I could just find a guy who could chop wood and had a nice smile it didn’t bother me if he was an aristocrat or a thug as long as he was a good guy. I’ve ended up with an educated thug!” Sade laughs like a drain at this, and is still chuckling as she recalls her mother introducing Ian to someone as “ ‘Sade’s current boyfriend’, like he was on a conveyor belt, or something”.

Ian’s 18-year-old son, Jack, lives with them in the cottage in Stroud, so they make a modern “nuclear” family. “Ian is Ila’s dad, really. He does all the things a dad would do, and she really looks up to him.” Her daughter has a caring stepfather and an older stepbrother she adores. Sade says: “I feel like I’ve won the lottery, finally.

“I’m not someone who needs a lot of money. You could break into this house and leave after half an hour without finding anything worth stealing,” says Sade, and it’s hard to disagree. The first-floor drawing room of her London house is a large but sparsely furnished space with a couple of white fabric-covered sofas, a polished-wood floor and nothing much on the walls. For the past hour we’ve been sitting on a red rug in front of a one-bar electric fire that must be about as old as she is. She has several of these obsolete burners, she says. “They’re my favourite.”

Frugality - another traditional country habit - is her style, but she’s generous with it. As soon as the royalties rocked up, she helped her mother buy a house in Clacton, bought her brother Banji a place in the States, and supported various unnamed friends in “business ventures”. Her touring musicians comment on how fair she has been in awarding valuable songwriting credits for their contributions — a rare thing in the tightfisted world of pop accountancy.

She has done this on the strict understanding that none of the beneficiaries talk about it, “or ever write anything about me”, which they haven’t. It’s not just a personal-privacy thing, or control freakery, she claims, “I just don’t like the power relationship it implies”. She isn’t shy about the money per se. “I always wanted to have money. When I was a little girl I used to do the football pools. But the great thing is when you’ve got it, your life doesn’t revolve around money any more.”

Hers clearly doesn’t. She’s dressed today in a plain black top and nondescript black trousers. As we talk, she rolls her own cigarettes and blows the smoke up the chimney above the empty fireplace. (She gave up smoking for five years but reverted, as she always has, while making her new record.) Outside on the drive is her boxy old Volvo estate, which she traded for her vintage BMW after she had Ila. Her stylist, video director and friend Sophie Mueller used to say that behind the wheel Sade “drove like an immature man in a woman’s body”. It’s hard to picture her like that in the Volvo.

With her sensible country head on, she realises how fortunate she is. She has sorted out her home life, earned all the money she will ever need, and continues to make music in her own time and in her own way. “Is it still worth it? I think it is. After every album, I think, ‘Right that’s it, no more.’ But how lucky am I at my age still to be doing this without any outside pressure?”

Her place in Stroud is a small cottage she calls “a cave”, a stone-built wreck that, five years after she moved in, is “finished, kind of. There are still wires hanging out of places”. She and Ian are now doing up a nearby farmhouse “but God knows when we’ll finish that”. She enjoys the easygoing privacy of living in Stroud, where the local newspapers pay her no attention. “They’re more interested in Eddie the Eagle, he’s a bigger star in those parts than I am.” And Ila appreciates the countryside. “She’s fascinated with frogs and newts and worms and slimy things, just like I was.”

How to balance career and family is now her big issue. “Being a mother is the biggest and hardest job I’ve ever undertaken. I’m not complaining, but I’ve never had a nanny. For years after she was born I put Ila to bed every night. As soon as she arrived she became the centre of my life.” She took her five-year-old daughter on her last world tour in 2002 “but I didn’t let her see any of the concerts because I didn’t want her to hear people shouting for her mum. She wasn’t ready for that”. Ila sings on one of the tracks on Soldier of Love — but Sade is in a quandary as to what to do with her when she accedes to the inevitable pressure to support her new album with a big tour.

She professes to love performing, regarding her concerts as the ultimate riposte to her critics. “Whatever anybody might say about me, when I feel the warmth we get back from the audiences, particularly in America, I think it’s worth all the bullshit. I actually prefer singing live now, I feel much more comfortable than I did. I used to be a bit frozen and worried about my vocal performance, as if I hadn’t learnt the language properly.” These days, Sade is perfectly at home with herself. “It’s much easier for me to express myself now.”


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Journalism: Interviewing Sade… (and other celebs)

Sade only granted two print interviews regarding the release of her new album, Soldier of Love. One was to the New York Times. The other was to Ebony magazine. After working for a year to verify that the album would be coming out, I finally was able to snag the interview.

Sade was gracious and thoughtful in answering her questions. She also laughed a lot. She was interested in my opinion on her album. Her interest flattered me, but I had to keep the interview on her thoughts! Not mine.

I will tell you the most surprising thing she told me: she eats bush meat. On second thought, this shouldn’t be surprising because she is a native Nigerian. But she waxed so poetic about egusi stew and the grass cutter rodent that I now have to find a friend to make me some!

Students frequently ask for advice on interviewing celebrities, and my take on it is that an interview is an interview is an interview. It doesn’t matter who the subject might be. Every subject is worthy of study prior to the reporter asking the first question. In Sade’s case that means knowing her parentage and where she was born. That also means knowing enough about her to ask about egusi stew… And as a side note, one should always prepare for an interview, but with celebrities I’ve found that the interview rarely takes place at the time and date when you agree that it will take place.

Sade’s interview, for example, was scheduled for a Friday but got delayed and then delayed again until the next week. My interview with Diddy was delayed from the initial date and time. And my recent interview with a popular actor took me by surprise. I was headed out to lunch when my phone rang and boom, it was him. I texted a friend to cancel lunch plans and sat down to talk with the Academy Award nominee who will show up in my future work.

I’ve found that once you set up the interview with a celeb, you should do the research and be ready to conduct the interview at a moment’s notice. Even though they say they’ll call you next Friday, they might just call you in the next ten minutes. That said, it pays to be prepared.


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The Barefoot Sade by Michael A. Gonzales

With the possible exception of all those D’Angelo devotees standing on the bank of the James River, the millions of Sade fans across the globe have got to be the most patient souls on the planet. Way back when her last album, Lovers Rock, hit stores in November of 2000, Elian Gonzalez had recently been shipped back to Cuba, George W. Bush had just stolen the election from Al Gore, and Almost Famous was flickering on the silver screen.

For the past week, there has been much chatter on the internets about a new Sade album dropping this year. Meanwhile, the YouTube clip of her harrowing song “Mum,”  recorded for the 2004 DVD Voices For Darfur, is always in heavy rotation. While hanging out with my homeboys Brook and Molaundo a few days ago, we started sharing anecdotes about shows we had seen (my only experience being the Love Deluxe tour at Radio City Music Hall), our favorite videos and, inevitably, we got down to the real question: when was the queen of royal badness going to bless us with some new music?

Unlike her other admirers, I know personally that there is no rushing Sade. Having turned fifty this past January, this golden lady has always taken her time. “I’m harder on myself than anyone else,” Sade once told me. It was the fall of 1992, a few months before Love Deluxewas set to drop—with classics like “Cherish The Day” and “No Ordinary Love”—and I had been hired to write her bio. “Sometimes it comes easily, other times it’s more difficult,” she explained. “One of the reasons I take a long time cutting tracks is fear, because one can’t change anything once the record has been released.”

In a business where people like to brag about writing songs in ten minutes, hearing somebody talk honestly about the anxiety of creating artful material was quite refreshing. Nevertheless, due to the fact that I had been in love with Sade since her first single 25 years ago, I would’ve believed anything she said anyway.

It was the winter of 1984 when Sade released her laid-back pop debut Diamond Life in the UK. Though the American version wouldn’t drop for another five months, since I worked at Tower Records, where the import played constantly, it was only a matter of time before I fell under the spell of the high-foreheaded, full-lipped femme fatale.

A light-skinned biracial empress born in her dad’s native Nigeria, Sade moved to her mum’s motherland of England at the age of four. “There were no problems with the fact that my mum was white and had these two black children,” she recalled, in a voice that’s deeper than her songs suggest. “No one ever made us feel different. What one might find strange is the fact that there was not much music in the house when I was a child. Unlike my father, who surrounded himself with music, my mum didn’t really care.”

She hooked up with musicians Stewart Matthewman (a.k.a. Cottonbelly), Paul Denman, Andrew Hale, and Paul Cooke in 1982 when their ensemble was still called Pride. The group played small gigs while establishing themselves outside the post-punk/new romanticism realms of the era.

It was during this period, at the age of 24, that the young woman transformed herself from a minor fashion designer named Helen Folasade Adu to a major songbird who went by the adopted name Sade (technically it was also the name of her band). Coming out the same year that found Madonna whorishly wailing about being “Like a Virgin” and Frankie Goes to Hollywood rhythmically demandiing that we “Relax,” the soothing swoon of Sade’s “Smooth Operator” and “Your Love Is King” was enough to set her apart from your average pop tarts.

Soaring over the urbane jungle, Sade’s atmospheric music and understated lyricism created the score for our real life “cinematic” experiences. “It has been said that my songs are like movie soundtracks,” Sade told me. “Except everybody has a different film running through their minds.”

Diamond Life not only constructed the template for Sade’s own melancholy sonic adventures over the past twenty-five years, but also kicked in the door for artists like Maxwell (with whom she sometimes shares band members), Martina Topley-Bird, Portishead and a whole generation of smooth-jazzbos.

And like Barry White before her, the mind boggles when trying to calculate how many love affairs have been set to Sade’s music, which has sold over 17 million albums in the United States alone. “I’ve had a lot of people tell me that my tunes make them think about their past loves,” Sade told me. “Either they love me or they’re thinking, ‘That bitch!’ Often it can be beautiful, but sometimes it can be ugly.”

Gazing at Sade’s noirish videos, it becomes obvious that she and her band have kept it unfailingly exquisite where others were often crass. Unlike other ’80s pop artists (see Duran Duran, Culture Club, et al), who struggled to remain stars by any means necessary, Sade seemed to enter the limelight with great reluctance.

Over the years I’ve only read a handful of print interviews with this natural diva, one of the best written by cultural critic Greg Tate in a 2000 issue of VIBE. Of course, having sold over 20 million albums in the United States and 40 million worldwide, Sade’s coy behavior only served to make her and the group that much bigger.

Dripping with style and grace, what really set Sade apart was how far she, and they, were able to overcome class and cultural boundaries without compromising their artistic vision. Indeed, the band connected with everyone from b-boys to jazz fiends, American Songbook elitists to funk fans.

And to think I almost missed my own close encounter with Sade. It all began when her then publicist, the ever glam La’Verne Perry, formerly of Epic Records, called me about writing a bio. “I don’t really have time to write any bios right now,” I apologized.

“It’s for Sade’s new album Love Deluxe,” La’Verne replied and the sound of silence was deafening. For the first time since I learned to speak, I was struck mute. “Just tell me when and where,” I finally stuttered.

A week later, after preparing for our interview as though I was a smooth operator going on a prom date (dapper suit, fresh haircut, just a hint of cologne), I trekked to Sade’s midtown hotel. She was dressed in jeans and a button-down white blouse and she was barefoot.

“Nice to meet you,” she said, extending her hand. After La’Verne and the manager left, Sade sat a few feet away from me on the couch and lit a cigarette. Surprisingly, we both seemed a bit nervous but it wasn’t long before we slipped into a comfort zone as we both smoked and sipped large bottles of water.

Glancing at her pretty feet curled up on the couch, I was reminded of Eddie Murphy’s foot-fetishist character Marcus in Boomerang, which had come out a few months before. One look at Sade’s perfect toes and I finally understood his passion.

“The first song I remember liking was Rod Stewart’s ‘Maggie May’ when I was like 10 or 11,” she said. “As a teenager I fell in love with soul music and often played Gil Scott Heron, Al Green, Curtis Mayfield, and Marvin Gaye. But I really didn’t consider myself much of a singer when I was younger. This all happened by accident.”

Laughing at the memory of one of her first shows, Sade recalled how her heel got stuck in the chipboard stage. “For the first three songs I could not move. In a way it was bad, but in a way it was good, because it made me forget the crowd while I concentrated on singing.”

Always intrigued by other peoples’ writing processes, I asked Sade about how she composed her lyrics. “I keep notebooks and write down ideas,” she replied. “The song ‘Like A Tattoo’ was formed from ideas I had in one of my books. Many years ago I met a drunken Vietnam vet in an Irish bar in New York. When I was interested in writing songs about war, his stories were what I remembered.”

After an hour had flown past, I prepared to wrap my interview. By this point we were lighting each others’ cigarettes and chuckling like old friends.

“One of the biggest misconceptions about me is that people imagine me as this depressed woman crying in an ivory tower,” she said with a laugh. “When you’re a singer it’s impossible to show the diversity of your personality, so often the picture one has of you won’t be completely true.”

Standing up to leave, Sade kissed me on the cheek before we said our final goodbyes. Two weeks later, the postman left a package in front of my door from an address I didn’t recognize. I tore off the wrapping and a small card fell out: “I’ve been reading this book. I thought it might help you. Sincerely, Sade.” I smiled when I realized it was book on how to quit smoking. If it seemed like I smoked a lot that day, it might have had something to do with the beautiful woman perched beside me on the couch.

Not long afterwards, I attended the last show of the Love Deluxe tour at Radio City Music Hall. As I recall, Sade sold out all five nights at the legendary venue and was having an after-party to celebrate. About an hour into the party, I felt a tap on the shoulder. Turning around, I was shocked to see Sade.

“Hello, Michael,” she said. I stood silent for a few beats before I finally replied. “I’m surprised you remember me.” Jesus, I damn near melted when she smiled. “Why wouldn’t I remember you?” Sade answered.

Glancing downwards, I noticed that she had already removed her shoes.


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Sade and Sophie Muller

Sade comments on working with director Sophie Muller

MVW: What is it like working with Sophie Muller on a music video?

Sade: Sophie has immense faith in her judgement at the same time she’s open – she doesn’t have that kind of ego that closes down her vision. She finds things within your music that you have not seen and she capitalises on characteristics within me that I haven’t noticed. She has eagle eyes and she has integrity. I have enough faith in her to let her be pilot and that feels good.

MVW: Are you involved in the creative process when you are working on a video with Sophie?

Sade: Sophie won’t paint a picture from a photograph, if you look at her work you can see that. She involves me from the beginning. She looks for people who have an opinion, who believe in what they do. I don’t think it would be a challenge for her otherwise.

MVW: Do you enjoy making music videos?

Sade: It used to be hell for me because I don’t love the camera. I always saw it as my enemy not my friend and so I have always tended to shut down and hide but Sophie has gradually encouraged me to reveal a bit of myself so it’s not such a painful process for me anymore.

Interview with director Sophie Muller

Sade ‘By Your Side’

MVW: Sade is a very beautiful woman and natural in front of the camera, was there much direction involved with the performance of the video?

SM: It is a tricky one, in that she had not done anything in eight years—there had not even been a photograph taken of her. I think I was being protective the day we did it; I did not want to push her to do something incredibly difficult, but wanted to ease her back in. I proposed the direction as sort of being a journey. To me, it is like a metaphor of life. Because she has been away, yet has this amazing life and has come back to delivered this album. That was meant to be a metaphor, like the flower like she dropped by the roadside saying, ‘Here is my album.’ Then she made like she has gone through this strange journey, which is her life, but it is totally made into a beautiful, mysterious dream. The song was very uplifting in that way.

MVW: The color of the video is very vivid. Also I can’t forget the one shot, the close up portrait shot of her standing with the pale green light on her face.

SM: That is kind of Indian—that over-saturated imagery. The green face definitely was an Indian film reference. We looked at several Chinese films, Japanese masters and beautiful Indian films.

MVW: What was involved in creating that vivid look?

SM: Sade is an interesting artist. She is not a typical R& B or British artist, and I was trying to get her in this world where people think of her as if she is kind of mystical, not as a person you see in the street. I had a lot of discussion with our DP about how to create a world where you can believe that someone is going from point A to point B within it, but it is all fake. I wanted each bit to be different, and wanted to make it like reality, but more beautiful. It was meant to be like a forest, but a bit more peaceful than a real forest would be. The colors are a bit more extreme, and everything was done with the sense that we wanted it to look like reality, but better.

MVW: There is a scene where Sade is walking through the forest. There are rays of sunlight, and she walks through the rays, going from the color to shadow and from shadow to color. That was very stunning, visually.

SM: Sade is very elegant and sensual. I was playing into those strengths rather than dealing with her as I did in the other video, which was more gritty and real. To me this came very naturally to her, and I did not have to direct her as much, because I had set her in an arena where she would be perfect. She is very understated, which is quite unusual in an artist. She does not do very much, but the little things she does say a lot.

MVW: What visual effects were involved to help create the mystical look of the forest?

SM: The forest was pretty much as is. We added a few fire flies, but that was about it. Everything else was actually built to look like that. The only visual effect is the huge field where she is walking; we build a little field and painted it all around her. It’s just old-fashioned painting. There was a little green screen, when she walks towards the city. Otherwise, there are not many special effects in the video.

MVW: The last question is about the end of the video. You mentioned before it was more of a metaphor with her standing in the middle of the forest.

SM: When she was making her album, Sade and I drove down to the studio and saw people standing in the median of the road selling flowers. As I looked at them, I thought it was so sad to be constantly rejected by these cars. No one gave them eye contact, because people did not want to be seen looking at them. We started talking about this idea, about flower sellers, and thought, ‘Well, it’s not such a bad job to be looking at beautiful flowers all day.’ Then had the idea of someone who has been away, and was just standing offering a flower to someone–would they take it if it was free? In the video, she gathers these things that are lifeless–twigs & flowers–and in the end she asks, ‘Does anyone want them?’ Of course, no one wanted to take them. The song has that emotion; I wanted to have emotion, but not someone crying or anything like that.


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A Reluctant Return to the Spotlight

WHEN a man [Tom Joyner] from a radio station asked Sade what she had been doing in the 10 years between albums, she told him, “I’ve been in a cave, and I just rolled the boulder out of it.”

She chuckled as she recounted the exchange, with her feet tucked up on the couch at her Georgian house in the north London neighborhood of Islington.

A January rain pelted the trees outside the window of the second-story drawing room, atop a graciously curving staircase. Sade, a slender figure in black pants and a black V-neck sweater, made things cozy, feeding kindling to a crackling fire in the hearth. An interview about her new album, “Soldier of Love” (Epic) — only her sixth studio album dating back to her 1984 debut, and due for release on Tuesday — stretched into a four-hour conversation.

“I’ve got absolutely no real perception, properly, of time,” said Sade, 51, who was born Helen Folasade Adu in Ibadan, Nigeria. Her father was a Nigerian university teacher of economics; her mother was an English nurse, and raised her in rural England after the couple divorced. Sade’s speaking voice is even lower than the husky alto in her songs, the elegantly subdued ballads that have sold more than 50 million albums worldwide.

Sade’s hits, like “Smooth Operator,” “No Ordinary Love” and “The Sweetest Taboo,” were ubiquitous through the 1980s and 1990s, purring out of radios and lending ambience to countless lounges, restaurants and boutiques. Sade emerged in the music-video era (her debut album, “Diamond Life,” appeared a year after Madonna’s did), when many pop stars believe they need maximum media exposure to sustain a career. Instead Sade has hung back, letting the songs alone define her. It’s a decision that may, in the end, make her more cherished. Fans have not forgotten her; preorder made “Soldier of Love” No. 2 on the Amazon sales chart last week.

As far as the music business was concerned, Sade might as well have been in some cave after 2002, when she and her band finished touring for their 2000 album, “Lovers Rock.” She vanished from stages, magazine covers, gossip columns and other celebrity-promotion zones, though she did contribute a song to a 2005 benefit DVD, “Voices for Darfur.”

“With most artists they’re more of a big person in their public persona than they are in their private persona, and I’d say with Sade it’s almost the other way around,” said Sophie Muller, a friend she met while attending Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design who became her video director and, for “Soldier of Love,” the album-cover photographer. “Her whole self is not for public consumption.”

Ms. Muller added, “Somehow the idea of being a singer and making music has been confused with being an international personality. She’s bravely decided she doesn’t have to do the other thing. It’s not something she’s thought about, deciding, ‘Let’s make it more mysterious.’ It’s just her own way.”

Sade had scheduled a meeting with her manager after our conversation, knowing he was going to try to talk her into more promotional efforts. Perhaps she was procrastinating.

“I love writing songs,” she said. “But then, going beyond that, I find it a little bit difficult, the sort of opening myself up to everything that’s attached to it in the music business generally, the expectations and pressures that are put onto you. Some people love all of the trimmings and everything that comes with that. But I happen to not be one of those people.”

Even as she was working on “Soldier of Love,” she said, “I ventured in with a little trepidation. I wasn’t eager to get back out there and be recognized again.”

Though she said that her life has been “a rugged roller-coaster ride” for the last few years, she is “actually quite happy now.” The album is, in part, “a purging of all the things that have gone on,” she said. “There’s quite a lot of my history in the album, one way or another. It’s not all about me, but there’s bits of me in there.”

In conversation Sade has an easy laugh and a casual sense of humor. But she worries about being “too candid” with the press; she guards the privacy of the people she’s close to, past and present.

For Sade, reticence is a matter of both temperament and songwriting strategy. “That’s the trick in a way, like conjuring,” she said. “You’ve got to allow so much to go in there. But it isn’t just your own, because then it’s T.M.I.” — too much information — “and when you listen to the song you’re thinking of the person rather than your own emotions.”

“If it’s too attached to the performer,” she added, “it pushes you away, it’s a bit repulsive. Because that’s theirs — it’s not yours.”

The new album doesn’t radically change the sound of Sade, which is also the name of the band she has led since 1983 with Stuart Matthewman on guitar and saxophone, Andrew Hale on keyboards and Paul Denham on bass. “Soldier of Love” is another collection of slow, pensive songs, mostly in minor keys, often pondering lost love and uncertain journeys. The band takes pride in being proficient but not flashy, and even the album’s most elaborately multitracked and programmed arrangements come across as modest.

The first single, “Soldier of Love,” is as close as Sade gets to current R&B with its martial percussion, subterranean bass throb, sudden zaps of samples and somber strings. The rest of the album is gentler, resuming and subtly updating Sade’s understated R&B-reggae-jazz-pop fusion.

Yet in their own quiet way, many of the songs on “Soldier of Love” hold a new desolation. Sade’s music began as a British take on the suave 1970s American soul of Donny Hathaway and Curtis Mayfield, often projecting a serene reserve that reassured listeners and drew them in. Now some of that reserve has vanished. On the new album Sade’s voice shows more ache and vulnerability, moving closer than ever to the blues.

Song after song testifies to pain, loneliness and a longing for refuge.

“The ground is full of broken stones/The last leaf has fallen/I have nowhere to turn now,” Sade sings in “Bring Me Home,” a elegiac tune over a hip-hop beat. In the album’s closing song, “The Safest Place,” she offers her own affection as a sanctuary: “My heart has been a lonely warrior before,/So you can be sure.”

For the last five years Sade has had what she calls a “partner,” Ian Watts. They live together in rural Gloucestershire, England’s west country, where they are raising Sade’s 13-year-old daughter, Ila, and Mr. Watts’s 18-year-old son, Jack. Sade is considering marriage. “There’s lots of regrets about time wasted and all those mistakes in the past,” said Sade, who was divorced from the Spanish filmmaker Carlos Pliego in 1995. “But there’s something lovely about knowing that when it’s right, you really know it’s right because you’ve already been through all the wrong.”

Sade spends most of her time in the west country, only occasionally driving her Volvo into London. At her Islington house there were sheets over some furniture, and old cassette tapes on the shelves along with books of art and photography. For Sade the past decade was filled largely with domestic matters: gardening, parenthood, building a house (now nearly finished) in Gloucestershire, tending to someone terminally ill she declined to identify. “If you’ve got a sick friend, or someone you love is dying, to say, ‘See you later, I’m going into the studio’ — I just can’t do it,” she said. “It doesn’t matter to me enough at that moment.”

Her daughter traveled with Sade’s 2002 tour, but Sade would put her to bed before going onstage. “She never saw me sing,” Sade said. “She’s just a little tiny thing, standing there, with her mum out on the stage in front of all those people? I thought it would be too weird for her.” A few years ago, Ila asked her, “Mum, are you famous?” Sade recalled. “Now she’s completely sure and aware what the situation is.” (Ila Adu sings backup, along with Mr. Matthewman’s son, Clay, on the song “Babyfather.”)

Sade hesitated to plunge back into songwriting. “That feeling of revelation, of exposing myself emotionally,” she said, “That was maybe something that held me back, subconsciously, from going into it again. But it isn’t all about me, and it’s not only me, and the only way I can forget about it is by doing it.”

She started cautiously. The band members had scattered in the ’80s and ’90s — Mr. Matthewman in New York, Mr. Denman in Los Angeles, Mr. Hale in London — and Sade thought that having them fly in to work would signal too much of a commitment at first. Around 2005 Sade began working on songs with Juan Janes, an Argentine guitarist living in London, in her basement studio at the Islington house.

They wrote “Mum,” about atrocities in Darfur, for the benefit album, and early versions of “Babyfather” and “Long Hard Road” from the new album. With her move to Gloucestershire, that collaboration petered out, but eventually her band, her friends and her family nudged her toward music again. One factor was that Mr. Watts could now look after her daughter while she was holed up in the recording studio.

“I wasn’t pressured by the years going by, really,” Sade said. “Only through the band’s desire to make a record.” Band members had been hinting, and waiting. “I’ll always drop everything to work with her,” Mr. Matthewman said from his recording studio in New York. The members reconvened in 2008, the first time they had all been together since the tour.

Since its second album Sade has created songs in a way that is now a bygone luxury for most bands: writing together in a fully equipped studio, spontaneously, rather than bringing in finished songs to polish up. For a week or two at a time, and then for longer stretches, the band members lived at Peter Gabriel’s residential Real World Studios in Wiltshire. Mr. Matthewman recalled Sade instructing, “Don’t tell the record company.”

“I have to escape the mundane realities of everyday life in order to go there and dig down within myself,” she said, adding that at Real World, “you can’t just say, ‘Oh, I can’t work, I’ve got to go and cook a meal.’ You have no choice but to address the demons.”

When Sade talks about songwriting she turns mystical. It’s “alchemical,” an “out of body experience,” an attempt to preserve insights from the “etheric moment” between wakefulness and dreams. And with the band working together where they can record at all times, “we are able to capture that in the studio, to capture it technically in the right frame so it sounds good,” Sade said. “It is almost like a church, because you’re going to that room, you know your purpose, you know what you’re going to do in there, and you don’t have to take anything in with you that you don’t want to take in there.”

The band did not rush. “If you’re only making an album every 10 years, it better be good,” Sade said. Eventually Sony Music executives did learn that Sade was working again, and wanted the album released before Christmas of 2009. That deadline passed; Sade said she’s happier to re-emerge in a new year, and a new decade. The band finished the last mix of “Skin” — a song about a reluctant breakup, with acoustic guitars and Sade’s close-harmony vocals in the foreground as eerie electronics and percussion ping in the distance — around 5 a.m. on the day another band had booked Real World.

An album meant a cover photograph, and Sade was reluctant at first to appear on it. “Everybody around me said, ‘You’re mad,’ ” she recalled. The compromise was a photo with her back turned, gazing out over Zapotec ruins. “You’re not looking at me,” she said hopefully. “You’re surveying the journey ahead and the history as well.”

Through a quarter-century of recording, Sade has heard regularly about how her songs’ mixture of mourning and consolation have brought her fans comfort. “If it’s like a lighthouse to guide someone past the rocks, that’s a great thing,” she said.

The next round for Sade is a handful of television performances of the song “Soldier of Love,” adding the drummer Pete Lewinson as the band did on its 2002 tour. Eventually Sade intends to gear up for a tour.

“I do want to get on the stage and sing the songs,” she said. “But then I just want to disappear again.”

(Source: The New York Times)

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On tour, Sade relishes the connection with her fans

By Brian McCollum 
Detroit Free Press (MCT)

DETROIT — Sade has been little seen but plenty heard since we last saw her.

In the midst of her first tour since 2001, Sade remains a flagship artist at adult-urban radio and the world of smooth jazz, her CDs always close at hand for fans seeking to stir a romantic mood.

Though she’s blessed with one of the most distinctive and familiar voices of the era, the Nigerian-born, London-bred singer has long retained an air of mystery. It’s one that goes back to her days as a 25-year-old with the groundbreaking debut album “Diamond Life” in 1984, when she found fruitful ground at the nexus of soul, jazz and world music.

Just five albums followed in the 27 years since — including last year’s Grammy-winning “Soldier of Love” — and the press-shy Sade has remained an intensely private figure. But in a rare interview, she was charming and chatty as she prepares to “take people through an emotional landscape” with her longtime band.

Q: What was your emotional state heading back out on the road after so long away, being back on a stage night after night?

A: There are moments when I say, “Why did I make this choice? Why am I doing it?” But then I get past that. If I’d really thought in depth about making the commitment (to tour), then I might not have made it. I was sort of on the edge of the cliff, then just jumped in. I think that’s the only way to do things. Otherwise, if you over think stuff, it doesn’t happen.

So I’m really glad I had that spontaneous moment, because it’s only a moment that makes the change. Once other people have already said yes, then you’re committed. When so many people are on board — there are 90 people on the road with us — you can’t turn around and go, “You know what? I think I made a mistake.” (Laughs)

But no, I’m really, really happy to be out here and glad we made that choice.

Q: The opportunity to talk with you is a pretty rare one. You’ve largely avoided the press.

A: It wasn’t a conscious career choice, in the sense of a pragmatic move or anything like that. It’s just that … You know how sometimes, if you go to a party, and you tell somebody something, you wake up the next day and think, “Why did I expose myself in that way?”

I suppose in the songs, when I’m in the studio, I delve down deep and express myself in a very uncontrolled and guileless way. I just open myself up. And I kind of think that’s enough, then, and I don’t want to go any farther than that, or show people more of who I am. So I try to avoid it.

The magic and the mystery is in the music itself. Knowing too much about someone can take away your attention from what they really do. Then people become celebrities rather than artists, and it’s easy to step over that boundary and let yourself go, because there are so many expectations from the record company and people trying to make decisions for your career. You do get all this pressure. You get to a point where you either go down that road or turn around and take your own.

Q: Do you have a sense of the role your music plays in the lives of your audience? The older records are still staples with your fans.

A: Truthfully, being out on the road makes the closest possibility of getting near that.

You make your music and get it out there, and you may do some promotional stuff, but then you’re really quite detached from your audience. But being out on the road, you feel it. It’s more of a feeling than a tangible recognition. I see the audience and see their faces and it’s really touching. It does stir something in me. And it makes me feel mighty grateful not just for being up on the stage, but thankful I made that kind of effort and commitment.

Q: You’ve managed to connect on a pretty deep, sensual level.

A: Maybe that is because I haven’t gotten in the way. Me, as a personality, hasn’t gotten in the way of the music, which is actually owned by the person who takes it into their life. It’s their music then. It’s not me singing to them. It’s their own soundscape, their own soundtrack to their own lives.

Q: Looking back, how do you see the evolution of your music? When the albums are lined up next to each other, there’s been a real consistency to your sound all these years.

A: There is. I think the consistency is probably in my voice, even though that’s kind of changed and developed over the years. The consistency is more in the story behind the songs, rather than the songs and sound itself, in that the songs come from the heart, and that has kept the chain linked all these years.

But I think if you were to listen to “Diamond Life” and then listen to our last album, sonically we’ve probably come quite a long way. A little rougher around the edges now. We’re braver, in a way, in that we leave stuff in — original takes and stuff. If anything, we’re less polished than we were when we were younger, so that has developed the sound.

Q: Is there a certain courage involved, growing into that?

A: I think so. It’s about detaching ourselves from that commercial world of music. When you go in the studio, you’ve got to be really brave and not think about the end result, but just think in the moment, doing something that you feel is right. Actually feeling it rather than thinking about it. And it’s either going to work or it’s not. If it doesn’t, you don’t beat yourself up for making the wrong decisions, because you felt it was right in your heart.


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From an unseen hallway, Sade’s mournful voice floats into the TV studio like a ghost passing through a wall. She’s singing these words, “I’m the king of sorrow…” The vocalist is backstage at HBO’s comedy-interview program the Chris Rock Show. She’s just wrapped up rehearsals for her appearance on the program to promote Lovers Rock (Epic), her first CD of new music in eight years. That’s a lifetime in pop: time enough for the Seattle rock scene to have exploded like a supernova and to have collapsed like a white dwarf, time enough for Britney Spears to have gone from an innocent grade schooler to a stripteasing teen queen, time enough for the rap-rock genre to have bulked up its market muscle like a steroid-popping Bulgarian weight lifter. Time has passed, but it hasn’t passed Sade by. Even when she’s singing sad songs, even when she’s just stretching her voice, she sounds as alluring as ever: “I’m crying everyone’s tears…”

A few moments later, Sade slips into a small dressing room. She politely asks the reporter who is with her for permission to light a cigarette and then proceeds to chain-smoke for the duration of the interview. She smiles readily and laughs often, but something soft and vulnerable in her seems to clench reflexively—like a baby’s fist around an adult’s finger—when personal questions are raised. She exhales anxious gray smoke. She’s not the interview type.

It’s fashionable to be a press-shy celebrity—to bemoan the loss of one’s privacy while simultaneously courting the cameras at movie premieres and fashion shows. But Sade comes by her press shyness honestly. On the Chris Rock Show, she just sings her song and never says a word. Like a comet making its celestial rounds, she appears in the star-studded celebrity heavens infrequently and almost only when she has new songs to perform.

This time around, Sade, 41, has other things on her mind besides music. In her songs and videos—hits like Smooth Operator, Your Love Is King and Kiss of Life—she evokes a world of romance and longing, of continent hopping and heart breaking. Her lyrics mirror her life. Since the release of her last CD, the elegant Love Deluxe (1992), Sade has divorced Spanish filmmaker Carlos Scola, taken up with Jamaican record producer Bob Morgan and, with Morgan, had her first child, Ila, now 4. Says Sade: “My happiest moment was definitely when I was in the hospital holding Ila. I just looked at her, and I wanted the moment to go on forever.”

Sade has also encountered drama outside her romantic life. In 1998 a judge in Kingston, Jamaica, ordered an arrest warrant for Sade after she failed to appear at a hearing on reckless-driving charges. “It wasn’t really a traffic incident, to be honest,” says Sade, who claims that a Jamaican policeman tried to pressure her into giving him a bribe. “It got blown into some incredible farcical event.” In order to avoid arrest, Sade says she plans never to return to the island.

The singer (who released a greatest-hits album in 1994) says she waited for calm to settle over her life before getting back together with her band and beginning work on Lovers Rock. “I’ve just really been living my life and waiting for a peaceful moment where I could go into the studio and concentrate again,” she says. “When I go in, I like everything in my life to be very peaceful because I can’t split myself up. I have to be able to just focus on that one issue and then put myself in 100%.”

Motherhood also prompted a shift in her priorities. “It changes the way you work. I used to just go into a studio and just stay there until the album was done. I could be completely selfish and immerse myself,” she says. “[Being a mother] made me stronger as a person. To be a mother you must be strong. Even if you don’t feel it, you have to pretend.”

She doesn’t have to pretend to be resolute. Born Helen Folasade Adu in Ibadan, Nigeria, the daughter of a white English nurse and a Nigerian teacher, she’s been overcoming obstacles—cultural and artistic—virtually her entire life. Sade says she has always felt “accepted,” but when she was 11 and living in England, she recalls being surrounded by white schoolboys and assailed with taunts such as, “Go black home, you’ll be all white in the morning.”

"I was perfectly happy about being black and didn’t consider it an insult," she says. "So I just singled one of them out—he had really lank, greasy hair and acne—and I said to him, ‘What about the way you look? You should look in the mirror. I know who I am.’ Once they were afraid of being singled out and humiliated, they left me alone."

Lovers Rock draws deeply on Sade’s past. It’s a solemn album, and although not religious, its soulful vocals and reggae-inflected grooves have the quiet power of prayer. In the meditative song Immigrant, Sade revisits the discrimination her father faced when he came to England. “He didn’t know what it was to be black,” she sings, “‘Til they gave him his change but didn’t want to touch his hand.” On Slave Song, she draws inspiration from the suffering of her African ancestors: “Teach my beloved children who’ve been enslaved/ to reach for the light continually.” But just as prayers are ultimately about love, Sade’s CD is suffused with that emotion as well. Not groping adolescent love but reflective, mature love in various forms. The Sweetest Gift explores love between a mother and a daughter (Sade wrote it for Ila); King of Sorrow is a pessimistic take on breakups; and By Your Side is a tribute to friendship.

Critics sometimes dismiss Sade’s music as being too soft, too bland, too lovelorn. Sade says her critics should adjust the volume on their stereos, that her music sounds better when it’s “played loudly.” She lets tiny fluctuations in her music carry emotional weight, and she wants listeners to hear the particulars. After all, isn’t love best measured in miniature?—a look across a breakfast table, a forgotten anniversary, a hug that lingers past hello.

Sade’s work over the years has become increasingly thoughtful and textured, and the songs on Lovers Rock are adorned with many lovely, epiphanic touches: the mumbled vocal sample that haunts Every Word: the way Sade almost whispers her vocals on It’s Only Love That Gets You Through, commanding close attention and conjuring a sense of intimacy. Other maturing pop stars shed their skin like snakes, looking to adapt to prevailing trends. Sade’s musical evolution has come slowly, subtly. The power of her music is rooted in gentle grooves and meticulous vocal phrasing. It’s a popular saying that the devil is in the details; it’s also been said that God is there as well. In her details, Sade finds something else, something uniquely human: soul.

(Source: TIME)

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Voices for Darfur (UNHCR) - interview with Sade

As part of her involvement with the voices for Darfur dvd, Sade gave an interview recently to the unhcr (the united nations refugee agency). The transcript of the interview is below:

Sade, how did you become involved with unhcr and the situation in Darfur?

Robin Millar, who organised the benefit concert at the royal Albert Hall, asked me to become involved in the project. we made our first 2 albums with him, he produced them, and we’ve remained friends and he’s quite persuasive and although we couldn’t be directly involved at the time i said that if in the future there was anything i could do to help in any way, maybe write a piece of music to accompany footage that is going on the dvd, if it does materialise, then i’ll do that.

What was it that robin said to you that drew you into the situation in darfur?

He committed me by telling me a really harrowing story about a young girl in a camp struggling to put up a tent and she was with her little brother who was the only remaining member of her family. just the two of them alone. she had seen her father and brother being beheaded and her mother raped in front of her and then they cut the mother’s throat. she bled to death in front of her.

To finish they took her hands off. after i heard that story i was morally unable to escape involvement, I couldn’t just walk away, I had to do something.

Did that make you want to investigate the situation more closely?

yeah, I think it is trying to understand how anyone can hate that much. try and make some sense of it - which I haven’t really, although i understand a little more about the history and background that has led to the situation in darfur, i still don’t really understand – it is sort of a tsunami times a million. that one human being can inflict that kind of pain upon another is really beyond my comprehension.

Was there anything memorable about the writing and recording of the song?

It was probably the hardest song i have ever written. it is always much harder when you come to write, harder than you imagine or than you remember. There are great moments when things succeed, when the moment is good, where you have this great rush of joy. but writing this song was really quite painful.

It made me wonder if I was any good. it was a hard song to write, obviously. trying not to be too sentimental because then it goes over people’s heads and hasn’t the integrity and substance that it should have, but you can’t be too specific when you are writing about such horrible things because nobody would listen to the song more than one time, it was hard to mix the recipe and yeah there were times when I thought I am just going to give up but something told me that I can’t, that I have this responsibility, a challenge to me in the end, a moral challenge, you have to just not give up when it matters.

You seem to have distilled the situation into a very intimate one – by calling the song ‘mum’ and by singing about that woman…

the song is about the experience of the mother because I imagined the actual circumstances that she was in and it was in a way more from the perspective of the mum because i imagined what it must have been like for her to know that she was dying. I do think that the moment that you die you do accept it, but to see her child watching her die - that is really what the song is about.

The limited amount of material that was given to the guys to edit shows individuals and that is what it is in life - each lonely person in their personal experience of the world. that is what crisis is like, that is what life is like.

I felt it really expressed that and evoked that feeling of each person struggling with their own little elements in their small world. when you look at it humanity there just seems so fragile, everything seems fragile - the people, the buildings, the landscape, so inhospitable and bleak.

It is such a bleak, inhospitable place and they are faced with this huge challenge and then on top of everything the fear, constant fear, the fear of another human’s aggression. there is nothing more horrific.

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(the photo was taken for Lavender Trust at Breast Cancer Care to bring awareness to breast cancer)

Sade’s interview for Easy Living magazine about the photo

How do you feel about your body ?

When I was younger, I had a tendency to be underweight which bothered me, but mostly now, I don’t think too much about my body. 

How was the experience of being photographed naked ?

It’s weird being naked when everyone else has clothes on. And there in the cold North sea, I just kept reminding myself why I was doing it.

What message do you hope Carolyn’s project convey ?

That underneath our clothes we are all flesh and blood and vulnerable to the same unknown fate. There’s an element of solidarity for those women who’ve suffered what we all secretly fear. 

Who will you let see you naked ? 

Anyone who asks nicely  

How do you feel about your body getting older ?

At this point, I’ve reached the age where Iam grateful to be healthy and alive. There are times when I can be critical of my physique but mostly I’m sympathetic to my flaws. Strange as it sounds, I quite admire some of my various scars. They are like my own personal tattoos - proof of what I’ve made it through.

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