As a music aficionado, I can say there’s no better feeling than discovering an artist for the first time. Sometimes it’s a deliberate effort. Other times we just stumble across them at what always seems to be the right moment. It’s like making a new friend; you and the music become inseparable as you develop an emotional connection with each composition. It’s almost as if the artist is speaking directly to you, like they know exactly where you’ve been and what you need to hear in that moment of your life.
Years ago, I found a friend in Sade’s music. I would spend hours clinging to my trusty portable CD player, alongside a stack of every album of hers I could get my hands on at the time. Nestled in the newness of it all, I was moved by the music. “The Sweetest Taboo” felt like a soul cleanse. “Cherish the Day” felt like freedom. “Is It a Crime” made me want to sing the blues. But the lyrics hit me the hardest. And while I’ve always known Sade, the band, and Sade Adu, herself, it took me a while to dive into the deep cuts. At sweet 16, I took solace in songs like “Keep Looking” and felt a sense of hope when hearing words in other Sade classics like “In another time, girl / Your tears won’t leave a trace.” I looked forward to this sonic escape. To this day, the music and I remain deeply acquainted.
Sade’s exclusivity makes her feel worlds away, but she’s given us pieces of herself over the years that we can always keep close. Next month, the 64-year-old icon will be inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and she is reportedly gearing up for another comeback.
Very few artists can go on a decade-long hiatus without falling by the wayside. But when Sade is out of sight, she’s never out of mind. She makes a splash with every comeback, and the release of her sixth studio album, Soldier of Love, in 2010 is proof, as it debuted at number 1 on the Billboard 200 chart and sold over half a million copies in its first week. She’s won four Grammys, packed arenas and sold millions of albums worldwide. Plus, her mysterious persona and rare interviews serve as a blueprint for other artists to let their music speak for itself. She’s unequivocally one of the most beloved and cherished artists of all time, and her exclusivity makes us appreciate her that much more.
Before we knew her by her mononym, she was Helen Folasade Adu. She was born in Nigeria and raised in England, and her affinity to American soul music began with artists like Aretha Franklin, Bill Withers and Gil Scott-Heron, to name a few. But she’s never been enamored by the glitz and glamour of show business — not even as a teenager watching the Jackson 5 perform at the Rainbow Theatre in London’s Finsbury Park. “I was more fascinated by the audience than by anything that was going on on the stage,” she said, according to her website. “They’d attracted kids, mothers with children, old people, white, Black. I was really moved. That’s the audience I’ve always aimed for.”
Still, a singing career wasn’t her goal— yet. Studying fashion at St. Martin’s School of Art, she worked briefly as a clothing designer and model, and “accidentally” fell into the music scene when two old friends persuaded her to sing in their band. She eventually joined a Latin funk band called Pride before branching off to form a quartet with fellow band members Andrew Hale (keyboardist), Paul Spencer Denman (bassist) and Stuart Matthewman (saxophonist) — collectively known as Sade.
Emerging in the early ’80s, when synth-pop, punk and new wave music were flooding the charts, Sade was something of an industry pariah. But what she had to offer was a break from pop-rock mania and the gift of authenticity. Her debut single, “Your Love Is King,” would set the tone for her sound for the next four decades. Her deep, soothing voice and messages of love and longing, packed into a sonic blend of bass and saxophone, helped shape the “quiet storm” genre, or what some of us like to call “grown folk music.” But the romantic ballads left plenty of room for moments of pain, sorrow and truth.
As I spew my sentiments here, I’m transported back to the 16-year-old girl I once was. Sade’s music served as the soundtrack of my most pivotal years. And because her impact on me was so profound, I ask myself if I’ve said enough. But how can you really articulate a connection that deep?
Sade’s exclusivity makes her feel worlds away, but she’s given us pieces of herself over the years that we can always keep close. Next month, the 64-year-old icon will be inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and she is reportedly gearing up for another comeback. (I’m adding a world tour to my personal wish list.) If the rumors are true, I can’t help but wonder what’s on her mind. After all, she’s known for making records only when she has something to say. But whatever’s cooking, I’m sure it’ll be worth the wait. It always is.