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Emeli Sandé returns and proves that sometimes a break is all you need

11 Oct 2016

Last Thursday night saw Emeli Sandé make her first performance since taking a three-year hiatus from the limelight. Establishing herself as a songwriter for artists such as Tinie Tempah, Cheryl Cole, Alesha Dixon, Professor Green and Devlin, it was the 2009 Chipmunk track Diamonds featuring Sandé herself that shot her to fame, and that infamous platinum quiff became recognisable across magazine covers and screens in the UK.

With spirituality cited by Sandé as part of the process of making sense of her quick rise to fame, Church of St John-at-Hackney seemed a fitting venue for this return. A faithful audience gathered beneath the stage, incense scent wafts and white candles flicker beneath high weathered white marble ceilings. Gold detailing and psalm blocks on either side of the stage formed the perfect set for Sandé’s new music. The influence of the “cleansing harmonies” heard in Zambia, during a trip where she met her dad’s family for the first time, are one of many sounds running a thread through the new album, especially on the track “Tenderly”, which features voice memos of her father and cousins singing.

Never an artist who shied from vulnerability, she opened with an acapella intro: “Sometimes you have to leave so love continues, sometimes we’re all gonna need an intermission”, perhaps referring to both her recent divorce and the time she took to build on herself. Sandé reconnected with her fanbase by thanking her audience for staying loyal while she lay low, explaining that their continued interaction via social media, asking when she’d be releasing new music helped her fall in love with music again, and spurred her on to finish her latest album.

The feeling of it all becoming too much and wanting to disappear is expressed in “Give Me Something”, the second song she performs and the first of the new album, that she introduces as a prayer for “something to live for” and admitting it “doesn’t feel like heaven at all”, referencing her sudden rise to fame.

Despite a new, more emotionally raw approach, what remains a constant since her debut album, Our Version on Events, is that Sandé is a master at delivering tracks that communicate experience and the residual feelings about said experiences honestly. She had always made music from a personal place, even when writing for others, but there is something more open, and therefore more relatable now. Striking the balance between honest artistry and privacy is clearly something Sandé refined during her time spent between albums.

Sandé’s voice seemed stronger, as she performed hits from her debut such as “Heaven”, with a new sense of urgency. Her lyrics communicate her renewed energy and conviction to tell stories and connect through her music with her audience.

A move away from her pop ballad signature style influenced by artists she looks to as inspirations, such as Nina Simone and Tracy Chapman, is clear in her latest single “Hurts”, which is her most dancey track to date, demonstrating an ability to seamlessly transition between styles. It is clear she is comfortable taking her time, ensuring that quality is prioritised. Having graduated with a neuroscience degree before fully embarking on a career in music, it’s fair to say that this level of success in the music industry was somewhat unintended despite her talent and graft.

As lights from the street outside, cast through tall paned windows beside an altar, caught against Sandé’s nearly-black purple velvet jacket and gold earrings, as she thanks her audience in a soft Glaswegian speaking voice. A steady, relaxed and gratified tone prove that sometimes time off to reflect and recharge is necessary to maintain your voice.