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'Not all black women are edgy, we can be vulnerable too'

SOUL SURVIVOR: Corinne Bailey Ra

WHEN IT was announced earlier this year that Corinne Bailey Rae would perform a headline show at London’s Tabernacle in April, tickets sold out in less than 60 minutes. Suffice to say, Rae was flattered.

“I was really buzzing about the Tabernacle show selling out,” she beamed. “After the show, lots of people stayed to talk to me and it was really beautiful to meet them. There were people of all ages and ethnic backgrounds and it was great to speak to them.

“The show itself was really vibrant and energetic and I even surprised myself with how much I was dancing and jumping around on the stage. It was just nice to know that people hadn’t forgotten about me.”

Rae’s new record The Heart Speaks In Whispers comes six years after her last studio album, 2010’s The Sea. While it was a relatively long hiatus in music terms, there was little chance that her fans would have “forgotten” about her, thanks to her impressive previous works.

Her 2006 self-titled debut album established her as a soul songstress to pay attention to. With her soft and sweet vocals, combined with a cute and quirky image, the Leeds-born singer and guitarist scored success with her singles Like A Star and Put Your Records On, and found fame both in the UK and America.

Her widespread appeal was all the more impressive, given her very ‘normal’ persona in an industry where so many artists lean on gimmicks and alter egos to aid their success. On the contrary, Rae just made good music.

“I guess I feel that I’ve always been able to be myself. I haven’t felt pressure to dress a certain way or behave a certain way and I do feel happy about that. I’ve never wanted to play that game of gimmicks and because of that, I’ve been labelled ‘boring’ or ‘safe’ or ‘middle of the road’.

“I wanted to emphasise the fact that black women are varied; we don’t all wear sports wear.”

“But that doesn’t bother me, because it’s important to me to just be myself and to also maintain my privacy. I’d rather have things as they are than have people camping outside my door or seeing if they see my knickers when I step out of a car!”

Maintaining her privacy became all the more important for the soulful songstress in 2008, following the death of her husband Jason Rae. After seven years of marriage, the singer had to cope with the tragic loss of her musician husband, who died of an accidental overdose.

Rae says that after her husband’s passing, she thought “that was the end of my romantic life.” But new love did present itself with her longtime friend, Steve Brown, who she married in 2013.

“It just presented itself in this really beautiful way,” Rae says of her new marriage. “After I lost my husband in 2008, I guess I didn’t think I would have a new relationship. I thought that was the end of my romantic life because that’s how you feel when something like that happens.

“So it’s been a real joyous thing to find this new love and find myself feeling those feelings again. It’s been really nice because Steve and I are really old friends. I guess one day we just saw each other in a different light and it’s amazing when that happens. So yeah, it’s been really good fun; a really great adventure so far. We are really happy and hopefully we’ll stay happy.”

Speaking to the singer, you get the sense that she is happy. Friendly and laid back, she exudes optimism; a trait that, no doubt, stems from her newfound desire to live in the present.

“Sometimes we can be distracted too much by thinking about the future; thinking that you’ll only be happy when you get that job or when you lose weight or when you get that partner. We can come up with all these things in our minds that stop us from enjoying happiness. So I love the idea of being present and enjoying the moment.”

In addition to earning praise for her music, Rae has also racked up a few column inches about her image, with media outlets often commenting on her ever-growing hair. Indeed, her natural curls have grown bigger and bigger throughout her career and Rae says she’s proud to be among the black women who have “normalised” wearing their hair naturally.
“I hope I’ve added to a positive representation of black women and mixed race women,” says the musician, whose mother is English and father is from St. Kitts.

“I hope that it’s made having natural hair more normalised. I think having that visibility of women wearing their hair naturally and not feeling self-conscious about it is a great thing. It’s also great to see the different ways we can wear our hair.

“I did used to feel that when my first record was released and I was wearing cute ballet shoes and skirts and pink tops, a lot of white journalists didn’t really get it. For me, I was putting across what I guess is now called ‘Black Girl Magic’,” Rae says of the social media hashtag that seeks to celebrate black women.

“I wanted to emphasise the fact that black women are varied – we don’t all wear sports wear and we can be vulnerable, despite this notion of the ‘strong black woman’.

She adds: “I wanted to show softness and romance and vulnerability, and be like, ‘and I am also a black woman.’ I wanted to demonstrate that despite being pushed into these categories of ‘edgy’ and ‘urban’, everything is open to us and we can be however we want to be.”

The Heart Speaks In Whispers is out on May 13 on Good Groove / Virgin EMI

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