Emeli Sande is Not a Soul Singer
Are All Black Singers Soul Singers?
Emeli Sande possesses a 'snuggle up in a thick duvet with a cup of hot chocolate and listen to the rain fall hard against the window,' kind of voice. Each note wraps itself around me and easily persuades a calmness to rise up from deep within.
Perhaps that's why on a Monday morning commute to work I'm the only one looking peaceful.
I consider sharing my Emeli joy with my fellow commuters, but only for a second, I really want to keep her gifts all to myself, for the time being anyway.
I guess you could say that Emeli and I are having a moment.
She Doesn't Hold Back
Emeli lays her heart on the table and asks me to be gentle with it.
Her songs are an echo of vulnerability, pain, confusion, love, longing and gentle triumph.
Her voice too, is all of these things and yes, she moves my soul, but she is not a soul singer.
Unless you ask the UK Media.
'Emeli Sande; Soul Singer;' they write as if that's her full name.
Are journalists purposely limiting black artists to one genre of music?
Can't they capture the true essence of her artistry without resorting to lazy stereotyping, or do they just not know any better?
Better Tell Ira and George
UK media consistently designate all black singers, male and female, as soul artists.
Whenever I perform beautiful jazz tunes such as 'They Can't Take That Away From Me' or 'Embraceable You,' the local press call me a soul singer.
This is news to me as I didn't know that the Gershwin Brothers wrote R&B. I bet they didn't know this either!
I conclude that the lazy press corp have decided my genre based on a stereotypical idea of my ethnic background, rather than actually listen to the well know and obviously jazz rythyms I'm actually singing.
You miss out on a lot in life, if you insist on wearing blinkers.
Colours, sounds, scents, atmosphere, wonders and surprises. All of them reduced to white noise because you didn't pay attention. What a loss.
George and Ira Gershwin
What Would Emeli Say?
I don't know how Emeli categorises herself but from listening to her wonderful catalogue I bet she would call it neither soul nor R&B.
Soul is recognisable from the very first notes of the piano or the guitar, the horn or the trumpet. It's announced in the first few beats of the drum.
It's a tempo, a rhythm, an acoustic definition that signals and prepares you for what's ahead.
Soul music is lead by instrumentation and none of Emeli Sande's wonderful orchestration sounds like soul to me. It simply sounds like......song
The Truth Test
Here's the litmus test; if you took away the voice and heard only an instrumental version would you still think of these songs as soul music?
- Heard it Through the Grapevine
- You Know How to Love Me
- I'm Every Woman
- Ball of Confusion
- My Guy
- One Nation Under a Groove
- I'll Take You There
- If Only You Knew
Probably and the reason is because the voice follows the music, not the other way around.
Soul for the 21st Century
Today's soul singers (and I use the term very loosely); Beyonce, Keri Hilson and Rihanna to name a few, have a totally different sound. It's pop and it's a bit of rock.It's ballad and a bit of hip hop. It's eclectic for sure.
It's aso an expression of the great singers that many consider them to be but it's not the sound of soul.
Music magazines call it urban, but 'Urban' was a term invited by record industry executives to enable white artists who sound black to build a larger audience and by audience, I mean, black audience.
This had the effect of watering down true Soul SInging from black artists and effectively edged them towards the edge of the market, in the UK, seeming to push them out altogether.
Queen of Soul
Ladies of Soul?
Unadulterated, and unapologetic female soul in its purest form is (in no particular order and definitely not limited to...)
- Roberta Flack
- Aretha Franklin
- Mavis Staples
- Gladys Knight
- Patti Labelle
- Ashford of Ashford and Simpson
- Angela Bofill
- Angela Winbush
- Phyllis Hyman
- Betty Wright
Just writing these names brings back memories of great, enduring music from astoundingly talented professionals.
Thank you ladies, for following your dreams and thereby enabling many others to follow theirs.
The New Kids
and from more recent times;
- Toni Braxton
- Mary J Blige
- SWV, (remember them?)
- 702 (remember them, too?)
- En Vogue
who took the Baton of Soul passed on by the previous generation and ran with it.
Mad About the Boy
Obviously these are but a few and You can probably add your own to the list.
Mica Paris for example and Eternal.
But please, don't include Tina Turner's rock years or Ella Fitzgerald or Dinah Washington or Ciara, or J-Lo or Tracey Chapman..
These ladies are the cream of the crop and have produced unequalled work in many cases. So yes, It's all good, some of it even exquisite but it's not soul.
Word to the Wise
And to the UK press.....
Stop putting Emeli Sande in a box.
She's only just begun many years of making great music, let it be just that.... 'music.'
When and if she's ever ready to be labelled I'm sure she'll tell us. And, she'll choose her own title.