Like Fela, King Sunny Ade and other legendary makers of timeless sounds, if you have been nose deep in music of all colours and languages for long enough, you must have run into Sade Adu’s music at some point no matter your age. Her distinctive soulful voice and cross ethnic style are only some of the defining features of her music but they rank highest on the checklist of reasons you should winnow through the internet for any song with her imprints.
But for the sake of newbies to the Sade gospel, the singer, songwriter and lead singer of a self-titled band is more than a just singer. She is the award-winning mother of a musical movement that has spurred over 50 million albums in sales worldwide.
Born Helen Folashade Adu, Sade is a child of British-Nigerian parents, Adebisi Adu and Anne Hayes. Four years after her birth, her British mother separated from Adebisi Adu and relocated with Sade and her brother to Essex in the United Kingdom.
With a grounding in the music of soul mills Curtis Mayfield, Donny Hathaway and Marvin Gaye, Sade went through a series of creative career changes. She tried her hands at drumming, before convincing herself of her ability to write. But instead of pursuing that career wholly, she ended up in art school studying fashion, even though she actually wanted to paint.
Fast forward some years later, she ran into some old school friends who had formed a band without a lead singer. They convinced her to sing for the band until they got a “proper singer”. She left the band to join a Latino-funk band known as Pride. This marked the beginning of her career as a singer who was able to collect all her creative skills into one place; music.
Sade Adu’s artistry has always been a curious fusion of many tangible things and almost nothing at the same time. Not because she wasn’t always able to somehow deliver beautifully constructed songs that fiddled between topics of heartbreak and other core struggles of humanity. But because her music bore no mark, colour, ethnicity or origin, not even when she delivered lyrics in languages outside her native English or more distant Yoruba birth language.
Though her sound was mostly categorised as “soul”, her band’s sound arrangements and experimentations with folk music, Spanish flamenco, funk, jazz amongst others made it difficult for Sade to be boxed into any major genre with socio-political underpinnings. There was simply something genuinely original without being ethnic about her music.
Sade Adu can easily be described as a similarly successful counter coin to Fela’s Afrocentric leanings. This is not to be misconstrued as a reason to discard the need to embrace your origins as an African artiste, but it means music can be accepted for what it is without being affiliated with colours, genres or origin. An artistic feature that should serve as inspiration for Nigerian artistes who are constantly encumbered with the need to satisfy a Nigerian audience with disparate cultures, languages and identities.
Simply put, good music is still good music, regardless of whatever language it was created in. Sade recognised and cashed in on this, we hope Nigerian artistes can follow the cue.