‘THE MYSTERY OF SADE’
BY DIRIYE OSMAN
Many things have been written about Sade. The fact that her reclusive nature makes Kate Bush, Alice Munro and D’Angelo look like a congregation of grablicious attention-seekers. Much has been made of her sparse output (her and her band, which also goes by the same name, have put out two albums in eighteen years). Shocked by the fact that she stills looks and dresses like she did in 1984, some have even gone so far as to suggest that Sade has the fountain of youth stashed in her backyard.
When it emerged that Sade was one of the highest earning performers of 2011, the British press scratched their heads as to how this ‘heritage act’ had managed to accomplish this feat in an age when Rihanna, Katy Perry, et al were babbling on about every garish facet of their personal lives in order to rack up record sales and endorsement deals.
Say what you will about Sade but sista soul has her business on lock. When the band were originally signed by Columbia Records in the eighties, Sade declined an advance and hired herself a hard-as-nails lawyer to negotiate for a sizeable chunk of future royalties. This was a risky move for an adult contemporary act at a time when rock bands ruled the airwaves. Nevertheless she became widely popular even though critics in the UK often dismissed her work as elevator muzak. In the States, however, she is regarded as R&B royalty, embraced by everyone from Drake to Jay Z to Beyonce.
It would be easy to dismiss Sade’s music as background/ dinner party mess if the music itself wasn’t intriguing and slightly odd. Take the song, ‘Flow’ from 2000’s Lovers Rock. The song begins with the sound of fingers plucking at acoustic guitars. This gradually gives way to the echo of electric guitar accents and a bottom-heavy bass. As Sade sings in a hushed tone, the musical arrangements create an immediate sense of intimacy. The joyousness of the atmosphere is offset by the melancholic undertone in Sade’s voice and the overall effect feels weirdly dissonant but completely plausible. In Sade’s hands, pleasure can easily give way to pain and the two emotional states often co-exist perfectly on the same song.
This nebulous quality can be heard on every Sade track. It’s a seductive vibe that pulls the listener in with the promise of intimacy without indulging in too many specifics. It’s music that’s self-restrained but not hermetically sealed. Sade once remarked that she didn’t like to put her personality into her music so that the listener could project whatever they wanted onto each song. In the Facebook/ Twitter era, where performers want to share their every thought, Sade’s refusal to disclose the particulars of her personal life, even in song, creates an aura of mystery that’s impossible to manufacture.
Even after you’ve listened to her songs repeatedly, made love to her ‘choons, broke down to the sound of her blues, in the end all that remains is a hazy feeling: a beguiling sense of comfort that lingers for a while, before quietly disappearing into the ether.