To catch the beginning of this special series by Aberjhani, just click here. You can enjoy part 3 now:
“And now we’re finally finding our voices
Just take a chance and help me sing this.”
––Emeli Sandé from the song Read All About It
In addition to becoming the United Kingdom’s bestselling album of 2012, Our Version of Events broke the record for the number of consecutive weeks that a debut album has remained in the top 10 of the UK’s album charts. The record of 62 weeks was previously held by The Beatles’ 1963 debut release Please Please Me, which logged 62 weeks in the top 10. The UK’s Official Charts Company announced in April that Our Version of Events had entered its 63rd week.
It is worth noting that while mainstream American news media frequently present prime-time reports on such entertainment trivia as Paul McCartney or Ringo Starr sharing photos of the fab four never shared before, or notes how one of them celebrated a birthday, there were no such reports about the 26-year-old Sandé breaking a record that had stood for half a century. Sandé herself shared with fans on Google Plus and Twitter that she considered them responsible for the accomplishment. She also released the following statement to the press:
“It feels quite surreal to even have your name mentioned in the same sentence as The Beatles.”
With featured appearances during the 2012 Olympics, three Brit Awards (among others) to her credit, and even a gig at the White House in honor of Gershwin Prize recipient Carole King, Sandé’s long-term success would seem assured. Such longevity, however, is never guaranteed, regardless of how talented a creative artist may be. For her part, Alicia Keys has stated on several occasions, “We have a really great chemistry and I look forward to us working together numerous times.”
The singers’ musical camaraderie is noteworthy during African-American Music Appreciation Month because they include in their work elements of such archetypal black music genres as jazz, rhythm and blues, and gospel. Keys has also infused contemporary black music with a flair for classical piano phrasings at once reminiscent of the late great Nina Simone and wholly her own.
Sandé is something of a captivating musical exception for several important reasons that will likely unfold with greater clarity as her career develops. But count among those reasons that, like Adele, The Rolling Stones, the late great Dusty Springfield, and numerous others, she is an inheritor of the African-American music traditions transported to the United Kingdom during the 1960s and 1970s.
Whereas lucrative contracts and performance venues for black American musicians at the time were often severely restricted in the United States, UK audiences’ celebration of the artistry and influence of African-American musicians gave birth to Northern Soul. Stir into this cross-cultural mix whatever musical sensibilities the singer-composer may have received directly from her English mother and Zambian father. Then add the fact that these gifts were cultivated in the legend-steeped land of Scotland and you have all the ingredients necessary to experience through Sandé’s Our Version of Events something new and marvelous in the musical universe.
In these words from her MTV Artists bio page, her music may be described as: “richly melodic, classically powerful, retro-futurist soul-pop songs…”
What that means is that listeners can hear in soul-searing ballads like “My Kind of Love” and “Maybe” echoes of classic American R&B. By the same token, listen to “Where I Sleep” or “River” and the lyrical sweetness of a Scottish ballad pours through. The CD’s opening track, “Heaven,” hits with the full-powered drive of European industrial dance music and the mega-hit “Next to Me” confesses romantic dedication with gospel-fueled passion.
What makes each of the 14 tracks on Our Version of Events something much more than simple samples of musical fusion is Sandé’s impeccable craftsmanship as both a songwriter and a singer. She is a master of nuanced vocals that invite listeners to participate in her love affair with music and her unfolding vision of 21st century life. It is precisely what the best of African-American music has done for more than a century and why it continues in 2013 to link cultural legacies across the globe.
co-author of Elemental The Power of Illuminated Love
and Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance
More on Celebrating Legacies of Black Music
- African-American Music Links Cultural Legacies around the Globe Part 1
- African-American Music Links Cultural Legacies around the Globe Part 2
- Alicia Keys on the Biography Channel
- Summer-Song Rhapsody for Michael Jackson Editorial and Poem
- The Consecrated Soul of Whitney Houston
- World-class Musicians Honor Turkey’s Long Relationship with Jazz Part 1
- Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz
- Jazz Legend Nina Simone
- Jazz Legend Abbey Lincoln