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Singer-songwriter Emeli Sande may be little-known on this side of the pond, but it won’t be for long if her UK rise is anything to go by. Her first album, Our Version of Events, came out in mid-February, debuting at number one, pushing Lana Del Rey off her mantle, wowing Simon Cowell (who declared her his “favorite songwriter at the minute”) and selling over 113,000 copies.
One week later Sandé won a “Critics’ Choice” Brit Award, initiating her into an elite club which includes former winners Adele and Florence Welch. “It definitely gives you exposure,” the petite 25-year-old with a bushy faux-hawk tells Spinner. “People pay a lot more attention to you when you’re a Brit winner.”
Apparently, people also pay attention if your name is Adele, even if that’s not the name you use.
Born to a Zambian father and English mother in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, it first must be noted that Sandé’s real name is Adele, a name that she had to forfeit once the “other Adele” started making her mark over three years ago.
“I changed it as soon as Adele came out. I just thought, ‘You’ve kind of taken the [name] now,’ so I went with my middle name Emeli.”
Although the two have never met, Adele has been vocal about praising Sandé, saying simply “How great is she?” The two share a maturity that’s beyond their years and an affinity for ballads.
Though she has the same name as Adele, the singer has been drawing comparisons to the late Whitney Houston in terms of style.
“I’m extremely flattered,” she says of the comparison. “[Houston had] such a distinctive voice, I hope I have that as well.”
Early on, Emeli knew that she was going to have a career in music, often performing for family and friends.
“It started really young, [I played] any piano I could experiment on, because we didn’t have one at home. At 11, we finally got one and that’s when I started formal lessons. I just fell in love with it; it’s such a great instrument to write on,” says Sandé, who also plays the cello and clarinet.
Sandé first rose to acclaim back in 2010 singing with UK rapper Chipmunk on his popular single “Diamond Rings” and soon started songwriting for Simon Cowell’s production company Syco.
“I’ve still never met him, I’ve just heard really nice things he’s said about me,” says Sandé, whose songwriting is a huge part of her skillset. She writes for a number of artists like Susan Boyle, Leona Lewis, Cheryl Cole and Alicia Keys, who Sandé opened up for on the 10th anniversary concert of Songs in a Minor.
“I’ve been inspired by Alicia Keys since she first came out. I just thought she was incredible,” says Sandé.
Keys returned the sentiments, saying, “Hearing [Emeli’s] voice set against a guitar sets you into the mood.”
Other musical idols of Sandé are Nina Simone, Joni Mitchell, Tracey Chapman and Lauryn Hill.
“Either big singers or really strong powerful women that really took charge and were brave with their art,” she says.
Sandé, who will be supporting Coldplay as an opening act starting July through to August, is now a gilded artist of “le moment” thanks to hit songs “Heaven,” a moody, atmospheric dance track akin to Massive Attack’s “Unfinished Symphony,” and her feel-good pop hit, “Next to Me.”
But she seems to have her feet planted on terra firma, eschewing distractions like her forthcoming performance at the London Olympics to instead focus on her art.
“There are lots of people who aren’t in it for the music, which is a real shame, but when you get the right team around you, people that are really passionate about music, it’s a great industry to work in,” she says. “I feel very successful at doing something I love and I can make a living out of it. Not many people can do what they love in life.”