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Emeli Sandé on Music, Tattoos and Alicia Keys

Emeli Sande, EMI

Emeli Sandé, EMI

In April, I headed abroad for the Tobago Jazz Festival which boasted Barrington Levy, David Rudder, Angie Stone, Janelle Monae and Emeli Sandé as performers. As a music head, I was most excited about Barrington — come on, I live in Brooklyn where he practically has a residency at Prospect Park — and Emeli, who’d I’d never seen perform live before but had heard great things from Shannon, who caught her show at New York City’s Box earlier this year. Rocking the largely local Bagonian audience who was unfamiliar with her songs, Emeli was like a kind stranger, gently introducing her debut album Our Version of Events and delivering her heart through emotional songs like “Suitcase,” where she doesn’t understand why her lover is leaving. The Zambian and British singer even gave the audience a new song called “Wonder,” which she described in her soft Scottish accent as being about “the lighter side of life.”

Parlour chatted with international singer-songwriter Emeli Sandé about bad relationships, adoring Virginia Woolf and working with Alicia Keys.

What was performing at the Tobago Jazz Festival like compared to London?

This is the first time I’ve ever been to or performed in the Caribbean. I’m introducing new music and a lot of people don’t know the songs so I’m trying to get that connection and doing it outside in a hot climate is very different from back home [in the UK]. Hopefully [the audience here in Tobago] will keep my songs and melodies. I love the energy and vibrancy of Soca so hopefully I can bring that into my music.

Your lyrics are very emotional, what is your song writing process?

I’ve always used music as my expression, I was really shy as a kid. The one place I released all of my emotions was through music and I’ve continued that. I never sit down to specifically write anything, it just comes out. I play piano and it always has to be past 11 o’clock at night — I’ve never written anything good before 11 p.m. I really want to put hope into every situation, “My Kind of Love” for example was inspired by patients I met when I was studying medicine. I saw real honest love there, that’s the only love we really have.

After listening to “Suitcase” … are your relationships really that terrible?

I just write what I’m feeling emotionally, so songs like “Suitcase” and “Maybe,” those situations happened. The only way to make an awful situation any better is to at least make a song about it.

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