Emeli Sandé: Her Version of Events

“You have to go through those perceived failures to really appreciate it on a deeper level.“

The beginning of November and winter is coming. It’s a brisk but blue-skied afternoon in North London. Sun rays are skimming over the greenery as we stray 8-deep through the pathway of Clissold Park. Emeli leads the way, scouting backdrops to fit her bright Paris-green and white jacket. Almost two years to the day since the release of her last studio album ‘Real Life’, Emeli Sandé debuted her new single, Family. It marks the beginning of a new era, sound and rebirth for the acclaimed singer-songwriter. Created in her own space, at her own time, fortuitously, during what has been two of the most trying and terrifying years the world has had in recent eras. It’s the first from a new project by Emeli, an opportunity for self-reflection, resilience and empowerment. It’s her guide to the freedom we’ve all been seeking.

“I feel very blessed to have had music in my life over these past two years especially…”, Emeli begins, reflecting over the lockdown periods. “…Something to focus on, something to channel energy into. I’m just looking at life with a whole new frame of gratitude.” By the time lockdown had come around, the reset had already begun for Emeli. Having left the label she had been at for over ten years, started working with a new management team and publishing company, the global phenomenon award-winning multi-platinum superstar we know as Emeli Sandé became just Emeli, herself and felt a sense of ‘relief’ in her own words. “I was in a rush. In this chronic panic without knowing it. You think you’re doing a great job, getting things done, ticking things off, but really you’re just not quite letting things sink in. I feel quite changed now. A lot calmer. I feel like I have a lot more self-awareness in certain ways.

Though things may have been somewhat calm in the Aberdeenshire village she grew up in, they certainly weren’t by the time her debut album Our Version of Events hit stores in early 2012, sprawling with classics from Heaven and Daddy to Clown and the choir-backed smash single Next To Me. The album, which received critical acclaim went on to debut at Number 1 and sell multiple-millions of copies worldwide. The journey there however? A far cry from that attention and success. During her medical degree, Emeli spent a year in Madrid working at a hospital placement. She flew back to London to perform at an ILUVLIVE show, one which seemingly went more to plan than she may have thought, as she recounted… “For me it was a disaster. Nobody was listening. It was around the same time Chipmunk was coming out so it was mainly more like a rap crowd, then I got on stage singing a Nina Simone song acapella…” laughingly, “…really not reading the room at all. Nobody’s listening, I just felt so disheartened. You have to go through those perceived failures to really appreciate it on a deeper level.” 

“That’s part of it. Even though sometimes those nights can be heartbreaking you have to go through it…But it will get to a point where you will be respected by an audience and you can grow one.” 

Despite countless of those empty-London venue nights, her wait was worth the struggle as it would just so happen on that fateful night at ILUVLIVE, Shah Khan, more commonly known as Naughty Boy was in the crowd… “He approached me and said ‘that was amazing’..he was like ‘come to my car and we’ll just play you what I’m doing’. He was just about to release Black Boys (Bashy) so it was an amazing time. It was me and my sister in the back of his car, Natty was there too, and we were just listening to music.” The pair struck chemistry instantly and began working together. Before long, Emeli received a beat whilst she was in Glasgow. It was the beat for Diamond Rings which she sent back down to Naughty Boy before he then sent it over to Chip. The rest as they say… “It hit the charts… and that’s how I got my first publishing deal, that was really the moment where I felt ok finally I’ve got my foot in the door. And that’s his [Naughty Boy’s] special talent, he really does know how to spot talent when everyone else is kind of blind to it, he really sees people and sees their potential.”

From then onwards, Emeli’s impact on music and culture was felt far and wide. Her work as a performer and songwriter was recognised beyond the realms of her village life in Scotland and saw her grace some of the biggest stages across the globe from the 2012 Olympic Games Closing Ceremony to the White House for Obama. In November 2016, she released her second studio album Long Live The Angels which was again met with critical acclaim. Moreover, from that breakout track with Chip, her connection to the UK rap scene is one she continued to develop, collaborating with Bugzy Malone, Giggs, Professor Green and as of late, Jaykae. “It’s always been a part of my journey…” she explained. “Especially since I moved to London. From the support that 1Xtra showed me even when I just had piano demos, I always felt embraced. Even though I am a bit of an outsider, I’ve always felt embraced, encouraged and really supported by the UK rap scene.

However, multiple BRIT Awards, Ivor Novellos and countless other recognitions later, the polarity of her worlds was discerned. “It was quite weird to go from this shy girl who had a couple friends to suddenly, everybody knows your name and also with the quiff and everything, I looked very different to how I naturally do. So I always felt like to be Emeli Sandé…I had to be different to who I actually was. Whereas now I feel like I can be myself and hopefully people will still enjoy the music.” 

Thus we arrive in 2021, and though initially unintentional, we’re awaiting a new body of work, a new expression and a new space in which Emeli’s listeners can rid of the anxieties the past couple of years have brought us. It begins with Family, the long-time collaborator Henri Davies produced track, a spiritually energising sanguinity in which Emeli leads the way, exposing, or perhaps, embracing the inner shine in somewhat of a more earthly, humanistic manner. The second and most recent single to then emerge is Look What You’ve Done, as Emeli depicted how it came together. “Naughty Boy was working with Jaykae on his album, and we were working on a song on his album called Friend Like Me, so they came to the house so I could record my hook. Jaykae is so cool, he’s the coolest guy ever. I was just playing some new music and on Look What You’ve Done, there was this gap that was just the piano middle 8 part. He was like, who’s on that…” 

The track, embodied by a (late) Luke Biggins directed video was one which Emeli remains grateful for. “I’m so happy that we all had that energy together because it was such a natural day. There was a warmth and passion.” It was also the first piece of music Emeli had produced that was released, harboured in a nostalgic garage vibe. “That song started on piano, in Switzerland. In my room I just had this amazing view of the mountains and was playing this riff over and over. I’ve always wanted to produce and say this is who I am. Often sometimes in the studio, especially as a woman if you say you want to produce then people don’t give you the room to do it as yourself. Henri always gave me that extra boost to have that reassurance. Then Darren Jones added additional production to it. It feels nice, this is what I wanted to sound and feel like. 

So what can we expect from the forthcoming fourth studio album of Emeli Sandé? Certainly the work of a more free-spirited, meditative artist. This is her own territory, whereby she has complete artistic control. The ability to further connect and embrace an audience with a space, a stage, for them to do the same. Connect, as she so eloquently put during our parting words, passing those gems onto the next generation… “It would be a shame to lose the connection to who you are actually singing to. I would recommend going on stage and facing the audience. It can be really daunting. It sharpens your sword a bit. It brings it back to what you’re actually doing and it gives you more of a unique expression. Be who you are, express and be what it is, keep pushing through because eventually it will be acknowledged.

Watch the full AAA Pass interview with Emeli Sandé below or listen to the podcast