30 under 30: Emeli Sandé

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Emeli Sandé, 30, born in Sunderland, grew up in Alford, lives in London

Trying to summarize Emeli Sandé on just one page is a no mean feat. Like seriously we gave it our best shot, but we could write a thesis on her, and still be nowhere near! Maybe it would have taken us a Lifetime to go over Every Little Single Piece and all the Highs & Lows, and This Much Is True, Babe (sorry not even sorry!).

If you haven’t heard of her, which we doubt is even possible considering that her debut album “Our Version of Events” broke a chart record set by the Beatles and was UK’s highest selling album of 2012, BUT just on the off chance you haven’t, quickly go to YouTube, Spotify, Amazing Music, iTunes or wherever you get your tunes from, and prepare to be mesmerised by her stunning vocals and beautiful lyrics.

Emeli turned 30 this year, but we think you’ll forgive us for including her on this list. She was born in Sunderland to a Zambian father and English mother, but the family moved to Alford in Aberdeenshire when she was 4. She wrote her first song, “Tomorrow Starts Again”, when she was just 11. She turned down her first record deal at 16 to study Medicine at the University of Glasgow, but she left after obtaining a degree in Neuroscience to purse her dream of becoming a singer and songwriter. Fast forward to 2010 when she was signed with Virgin Records/EMI, and the rest is history.

Emeli told Fader how proud she is of her heritage and how privileged she feels be able to use her voice to empower others.

“To be a black woman in this position, and have a voice — that’s even more special. I want to speak for a lot of people. Especially [after] my trip to Zambia, especially people I’ve met on the journey, and everything you see in the news at the moment.”

But she also recognises barriers that women in the music industry still need to overcome, and she discussed these in her interview with Annie Lennox for TimeOut (it’s fine we’re not jealous, not even a wee tiny bit).

“My dad is from Zambia and he always made me and my sister feel very capable, and that you should be able to do anything regardless of where you come from or what sex you are. But I did study medicine, and there was a distinct view that women should be GPs and guys should become surgeons, because women are going to have a family to look after. In the music industry I’ve found there’s rarely a woman who has her own music studio, or a room of her own. I’m a big fan of Virginia Woolf’s essays about how important it is to have a real space of your own. I’d like to see more women behind the scenes in publishing and management.”

Emeli was so inspired by Virginia Woolf’s writings that she even has “Un Cuarto Propio” tattooed on her arm – a Spanish translation of “A Room of One’s Own”, Woolf’s feminist essay. She also has a tattoo of a self-portrait of artist Frida Kahlo. She explained her admiration of Kahlo to the Hackney Gazette.

“It was the first time I had seen a woman being completely open and raw in her art, especially because they were self-portraits. She wasn’t glossing over the blemishes and you see what she went through as a woman and how strong she had to be. She gave me strength as a woman; and how she made ugly parts of herself really beautiful and very strong, that’s what inspired me.”

We couldn’t get in touch with Emeli to chat with her in person, probably because she’s busy touring with her new album “Long Live the Angels”, but we will leave you with her amazing words from the fittingly named song “Read all About It (Pt. III)” :

You’ve got a heart as loud as lightning
So why let your voice be tamed?
Maybe we’re a little different
There’s no need to be ashamed
You’ve got the light to fight the shadows
So stop hiding it away

You can keep up with Emeli by following her Twitter @emelisande and Instagram and YouTube

Pictures by Simon Emmett, ADW/GoffPhotos, and from ITV Perspectives Under My Skin: Emeli Sandé In Search of Frida Kahlo

You can see the full list of our amazing 30 Under 30 2017 finalists here, and keep a look out on the blog as we feature a different finalist every day throughout November.

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