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Music’s the new medicine

HAPPY: Emeli Sandé says she is happy she followed her dream into music

EMELI Sandé pretty much epitomises the term soul rebel. She turned her back on a promising career in medicine; left her Scottish hometown – a small village just outside Aberdeen – and upped sticks to London to pursue a music career; and ditched her more ‘conservative’ image, opting instead for a host of tattoos and a peroxide blonde hairdo.
It has all the makings of young rebellion. But for 24-year-old Sandé, it wasn’t a decision she took lightly.

“I went to university to study medicine, as I planned to be a doctor,” says Sandé. “But I then decided to graduate with a Bachelor of Science instead so I could pursue music. I was really interested in psychiatry and the brain; I loved neurology. So I would’ve loved to have specialised in that.

“Pursuing my music career was a big risk but I’m really happy I made that decision because I know I never would have been completely happy if I hadn’t tried to pursue it.”
Well, the risk has been worth it so far. Having initially risen to prominence lending her vocals to UK MC Chipmunk’s 2009 hit Diamond Rings, and MC Wiley’s 2010 track, Never Be Your Woman, Sandé’s vocal skills have already found their place in the UK charts.

In addition, the gifted songwriter has penned hits for a host of artists including Tinie Tempah, Tinchy Stryder and Cheryl Cole. So why now to step out as a solo artist in her own right?

“That was always the plan from the very beginning, but now the timing really feels right. I’ve got a lot of experience now based on everything I’ve done up until this point, and I feel I’ve also got the right single to get going with. The timing just felt right.”

Her recently released debut single Heaven, has already found favour with music-lovers and industry professionals alike, setting the songstress and musician (she plays the piano and is currently learning the cello) up for what looks set to be a solid and lengthy career.

But while she enjoyed music from an early age, Sandé, who was born to a Zambian father and English mother, admits that growing up in a quiet village in Scotland didn’t provide
any obvious routes to get pursue her passion as a career.

“There wasn’t really much of a music scene where I grew up, but that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. I lived in a really small village just outside Aberdeen and we were the only
non-white family in the village,” she laughs.

“So I was quite different and sometimes it was hard being completely different to everybody else, in terms of knowing where you fit in. But I never experienced anything negative.

“My dad is really integrated in the community because he’s a teacher. So growing up, I had a good time. And musically, there wasn’t a scene I had to fit into, so I had complete
freedom to do what I wanted.”

And that she has. Writing for a diverse range of artists, it’s no wonder that her own music fuses a variety of styles. Debut single Heaven – a drum & bass/ jungle-esque track, laced
with Sandé’s strong, soulful vocals – is a solid introduction to the singer, who certainly takes her art seriously.

Just a quick glance at some of the comments the track has spawned on YouTube, shows that many listeners view Heaven as a track that represents true artistry – unlike much of the pop drivel that finds its way into the UK charts. One commenter wrote of Sandé’s single: “This type of music comes too few and far between. In the midst we get s*** like [former X Factor contestant Cher Lloyd’s single] Swagger Jagger. Music industry is f****d.”

Interestingly, several comments mirror this view, arguing that Lloyd is an undeserving pop star, who gets attention and success that artists like Sandé deserve. Is Lloyd – who has received a wealth of criticism since her stint on X Factor last year – Sandé’s cup of tea?

“There’s something about Cher Lloyd, because I have worked with her and written with her, and I really liked her,” Sandé says. “There’s something about her that’s very, kind of
unapologetic; she is what she is. Whether or not I like her music, I can respect that she is what she is.

“There are other pop acts that make me think, ‘how can you write something like that and how is that even popular?’ But I don’t think music like that will be remembered. My aim is to be remembered for my lyrics. It might take a while and it might be hard work but I’m up for the challenge.”

She continues: “I actually feel very hopeful about the music. With artists like [British singer] Ed Sheeran coming through, representing real artistry and real lyrics, I think that’s a great thing. And this isn’t record companies pushing this, it’s fans wanting to hear more real music. As an artist, there’s nothing more you can give than great music. It will last so much longer than any gimmick.”

With strong music, undeniable vocal talent and solid musicianship, Sandé has all the necessary elements to make her a star. And with all that aside, the aforementioned hairdo
will also play it’s part in getting her noticed.

“I always wanted to do it,” Sandé laughs of her decision to cut off her one-time curly locks in favour of a bleached blonde quiff.

“When I was studying medicine, I had to be a lot more conservative; I couldn’t have crazy hair or tattoos. But when I made the decision to get into music, I just came to London and did it – the hair and the tattoos. Maybe it was rebellion, I don’t know! I’ve got five [tattoos] now, so I’ve put a ban on getting anymore for at least a year!”

Heaven is out now on Virgin Records. Emeli Sandé will headline a UK tour this November. For details, visit

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