EMELI SANDE opening for COLDPLAY and MARINA & THE DIAMONDS at Air Canada Centre (40 Bay), Monday and Tuesday (July 23 and 24), 7 pm. $49.50-$115. LN, TM. See listing.
Songwriters, the geniuses behind million-dollar hooks, are no longer content to stay incognito. One of the best-known contemporary examples of a songwriter-turned-pop-star is The-Dream, who wrote Rihanna's Umbrella. Others include Ester Dean, L.P. and the UK's Emeli Sandé, who's currently spending her second summer opening for stadium rock behemoths Coldplay.
We caught up back in March, when Sandé played two nights at the Drake Underground in support of the North American release of her debut album, Our Version Of Events (Virgin). It's a glossy and intimate R&B record with traces of quintessentially British trip-hop and D&B. While Sandé was in Toronto, practically unknown, the album was number one in the UK.
"I'm starting again over here - doing small shows and things I did in the UK - so it reminds me that there's still work to be done," Sandé muses an hour before ripping the Drake with a powerful voice clearly meant to reach more people and fill bigger spaces. "It keeps you grounded, I guess."
At 16, Sandé chose medical school over a record deal, a decision spurred partly by her Zambian father's immigrant work ethic, she says, laughing.
"Growing up, I looked at the [music] industry and I didn't see myself there. So it was really about making my own path. It took me a long while as a songwriter; I had to find the right people to respect what I do instead of producers just saying, ‘Okay, write that and do this.'?"
Top-tier British pop stars Tinie Tempah, Leona Lewis and Cheryl Cole have recorded Sandé's songs, as well as Britain's Got Talent breakout Susan Boyle.
"A good melody and a simple lyric resonate with people. I think people underestimate melody," says Sandé, citing Tracy Chapman, Nina Simone and Whitney Houston as favourites.
"At first, [writing] was about me and how I was going to express myself. I was quiet growing up and needed a way to communicate. But slowly I realized great stories [can come out of] listening to people around you and simplifying your lyrics to reflect that."