Scottish-born songstress Emeli Sande looking like a cross between Ella Fitzgerald and Robyn, Emeli Sandé has the poise, passion and musical potential to appeal to fans of both classic soul and modern R&B. Her recent resume includes credits on a string of songs by major U.K. artists, collaborations with Alicia Keys, an opening slot on Coldplay’s upcoming U.S. arena tour, a Brit Critics Choice Award (previously won by Adele, Florence + the Machine), and a debut album.
Yet, before plunging into music full time, the 24-year-old singer studied neuroscience for more than three years at Glasgow University in her native Scotland. Her passion for music was never discouraged, but college was never not an option. All the way through my childhood Emeli loved school, and her dad underlined the importance of education,” Sande says. “I wanted to be a musician, but I also wanted a degree to give me more stability and power in my life.”
As it turned out, spending six hours a day studying the brain’s inner workings underneath a microscope was a chore, she says. But working in hospitals and treating patients proved inspiring.
“But I would love someday to pursue a career where I can merge music with medicine, and its therapeutic effects on people.” Music worked its own therapy on the young Emeli.
By the time she was 11, she was writing songs on piano, and drawing inspiration from her father’s record collection, which included Nina Simone, Joni Mitchell, and lots of African music and jazz. Her father later took 16-year-old Emeli and her younger sister to see an Alicia Keys concert in Glasgow, and Sande came away with a lasting image of what she wanted to be.
One of her songs, "Heaven" was an interesting choice of her to record. Emeli Sande' during a late-night discussion in the studio with Naughty Boy about religion, and what it means to be a “good” person in a world full of distractions and temptations. “At one point, he said, ‘I guess you just have to keep your heart clean,’ and that line triggered something in my head,” she says. “After that, it was a flow of consciousness. We had a piano loop going around with the chords, and once I had the concept for the lyric, the song came easily.”
Another key track on the debut, “Hope,” she cowrote with Alicia Keys. Sande met her idol after Keys invited her to open a show in London. “She reached out asking if I wanted to write with her,” Sande says. “We’ve been working a lot since then, and we have a great relationship. She’s taught me a lot.”The biggest lessons she received from Keys? “She reminded me to enjoy the moment, to take time to celebrate the successes, because everything moves so fast. We’re always trying to get to the next thing, so it’s important to embrace the things we’ve gained.”
“With music, Alicia Keys told me to strive to be different, don’t try to fit in. Make the music that I feel, that I want to hear, and don’t worry about what anyone else thinks.”