Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Why Nigeria's Sade Adu Is Bigger In The US Than Adele - Guardian UK

A British artist whose staggering sales have pushed Adele down the ranking to merely the second biggest-selling British musician in the 2012 US money list is no other than our homegirl. Sade Adu.

Source - The No 1 British act in America is in fact, Sade, the Your Love Is King and The Sweetest Taboo crooner. In the US, her 2010 comeback, which led to a new album, a greatest hits album and a huge tour, was a much bigger deal than it was in the UK. Perhaps it makes sense that Sade's music would find a healthy audience in America, where many original fans were unaware, given her mixed race looks and her soulful style, that she was British not American.

Her grown-up brand of pop music – understated, fatalistic, with that sultry voice and her astonishing almond-shaped eye – gave her a sophisticated appeal. But not much of a public persona. Indeed, I was surprised to discover that she is now happily installed in a modest cottage in the Cotswolds with her boyfriend and teenage daughter. (Most of us didn't even know she had one.) In her home country, Sade is something of a comfortable heritage act; her lifestyle is hardly
tabloid fodder.
Yet in America, she is a star. Brad Wavra, senior vice-president of touring at Live Nation, the world's biggest show promoter, declared Sade to be a "rare jewel. It feels like I'm working with Miles Davis, Elvis Presley and the Beatles all rolled into one." Rolling Stone described her new studio album, Soldier of Love, as "unimpeachably excellent" while Billboard said: "It's been 10 years since Sade released an album, but be forewarned – the giant has awoken." People magazine succinctly summed up Sade's enduring appeal as "the voice of comfort to the wounded heart". All of which led to her — or rather, the four-piece band that bears her name — earning $16.4m from combined album and ticket sales last year.

Of course, Adele had to cancel her American tour because of throat surgery, which means her takings were unexpectedly diminished, but even so the average British music fan probably wouldn't have expected to see Sade on the list anywhere at all. She comes in sixth, after Taylor Swift, U2, Kenny Chesney, Lady Gaga and Lil Wayne — a fairly broad church of country, rock, rap and pop. They are followed by Bon Jovi, Celine Dion and Jason Aldean (no, us neither), and then, at No 10, Adele.

Given that Sade is one of the least public British popstars we've ever had, does her longevity put paid to the idea that with success comes a pact with the devil of celebrity? The big promo campaigns; the paparazzi; letting the gossipmongers feed on your public romances and your private pain – none of this really sounds like her.

Sade's songs do speak of pain; if not battle cries, they are cries from somebody who has battled. But they are gentle, smooth, not seemingly designed to conquer the world or fill a stadium. The music industry still talks in hallowed tones about "cracking America", something Adele has done with huge impact, but when Sade did it, she wasn't so obviously British. She didn't court the chatshow circuit with a gobby accent in the way that Adele does, so her speaking voice went largely unheard.

In fact, she has given a couple of interviews in recent years. She told Spin magazine her mother struggled a lot, having married in Nigeria "and then come home to England with two brown children and a suitcase in the early 60s". Sade's father, a lecturer, remained in Nigeria, where Sade lived until the age of 11. "I am fairly classless because it is very difficult to class someone who comes from a mixed marriage. There isn't a class structure in Nigeria, there's a tribal structure and prestige as far as money is concerned." She told Ebony magazine that her partner, Ian, "was a Royal Marine, then a fireman, then a Cambridge graduate in chemistry. I always said that if I could just find a guy who could chop wood and had a nice smile it didn't bother me if he was an aristocrat or a thug as long as he was a good guy. I've ended up with an educated thug."

It seems she quite enjoys being able to live the quiet life in England, while enjoying fame overseas. Says Paul Simper, a journalist who worked with her extensively in the 1980s: "None of the other British solo women from Sade's time, such as Alison Moyet or Carmel, made any impact in the US at all. Sade was unique in that respect. But her Englishness was never a selling point. CBS just wanted to sign her and build her up to be somebody like Whitney, get her a professional studio band, but she resolutely stuck to her guns and stayed with the band from London she'd always had. And she still has – she's always done it on her terms. Being successful in America didn't involve any compromise or sounding any more American; her sound was always the same throughout."

And that sound has stood the test of time. Songs like Smooth Operator, No Ordinary Love and Love Is Stronger Than Pride do now feel like classics. The way she sings is the way her career has turned out – in no hurry, not about to change for anybody. Her songs are in it for the long game, and so is she.

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