In Emeli Sandé – The Biography, British music writer David Nolan, tells the life story of the Scottish musician – real name Adele Emeli Gouraguine – from her schoolgirl days, to her gradual climb up to being an established household name in the music industry, leaving no stone unturned in this captivating expose on the rise and rise of Emeli Sandé. The biography begins by exploring Emeli’s parents, in particular her Zambian father Joel, who was granted a sponsorship in Zambia to come and study mechanical engineering in Sunderland and was to return to Zambia when he finished his studies. This plan was to change as he met and fell in love with Emeli’s mother, Diane and remained in Sunderland indefinitely.
According to Nolan, these were the Eighties and the mixed race couple faced hostile treatment from the locals of the area, so they and a very young Emeli moved to Alford in Scotland where in sharp contrast to Sunderland, they were welcomed with open arms – Emeli’s father Joel was even treated to a local newspaper feature. Emeli was very studious from a young age, as both her parents placed a high importance on education. She was a shy little girl in school, but once at home, she would be heard singing or playing one of a few instruments, whether it was the recorder, clarinet, or the piano.
From entertaining herself and her family at home, Emeli would graduate to singing in her secondary school choir and talent shows in the local area and at age 15, as Nolan explains, Emeli entered an urban music talent show that was for the recently launched BBC Three aimed at a younger audience. The show titled The Lowdown was hosted by DJ Trevor Nelson who would meet Emeli again many years later alongside Professor Green and not recognise her from the first meeting he had had with her. Emeli was offered the chance to make a record after coming first place at The Lowdown competition, but declined as her father Joel said the contract did not offer security nor longevity.
As the story goes, Emeli went to Glasgow University in 2006 to study Medicine. At around the same time, Urban Scot was created by a group of DJs, musicians and like-minded individuals who wanted to see more R&B, rap and soul artists brought to the Glasgow music scene, which wasn’t ordinarily known for a thriving urban scene. Renowned DJ David Craig, who had heard Emeli’s voice years earlier, introduced her to the Urban Scot collective and having impressed and captivated the group of musicians, Emeli turned down yet another opportunity, as Urban Scot had offered to give her exposure in London, to focus on completing her studies. This would be a recurring theme throughout her degree as her parents had instilled the importance of education from an early age.
It was around this time that Emeli decided to change her name from Adele Sandé to Emeli Sandé as singer Adele or the ‘London Adele’ as Nolan calls her, was receiving critical acclaim for her albums 19 & 21. She briefly adopted the name “Rio” but this was not successful before settling on her middle name, Emeli. At the end of 2008, she met Naughty Boy, real name Shahid Khan, at a BBC 1Xtra event in Soho and the rest, as they say, is history. According to Nolan, it was their contrast in personality and background that seemed to be what made their music partnership so successful. As this was right in the middle of her degree, Emeli had to balance time in Scotland studying for her degree and the rest of her time in London in the studio with Naughty Boy.
The first song that Emeli and Naughty Boy received success for as a songwriter/producer duo, was Chipmunk’s “Diamond Rings” which charted at #6 in the UK singles chart. The single also won Emeli Sandé a MOBO Award for her guest appearance on the single. The Sandé/Naughty Boy pairing went on to write songs for the likes of Cheryl Cole and Tinie Tempah with Sandé having to fight to keep some songs to herself. The success of “Diamond Rings” meant that Emeli had to make the serious decision to abandon her degree at university in her penultimate year.
She went on to collaborate with Grime artist Wiley on the hit single “Never Be Your Woman” which reached #8 in the charts in March 2010. Shortly after this, she signed to Virgin Records and her image began to evolve into the one we recognize today. Her hair, formerly long brown and curly, was chopped off and bleached, then she was off to work with Alicia Keys, having supported her at the Royal Albert Hall earlier on. Next came the iconic collaboration with British rapper Professor Green on “Read All About It” which Nolan suggests was key to her pre-album build up. This track turned both artists into chart-topping artists in October 2011 and exposed Emeli to an even wider audience.
Her debut album Our Version of Events was finally released in February 2012 including the hugely popular “Heaven”, “My Kind of Love” and “Clown” and went on to become the best-selling album of the year in the UK, selling over 1 million copies. Emeli also performed at the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2012 Olympic Games to an estimate crowd of 80,000 people – it was estimated that 27 million people watched the opening ceremony alone, her version of “Abide By Me” took her into the UK top 40 that very weekend. While her achievements and accolades continue to set her apart from her peers – some of which include her BRITS and BET Awards, performing at The White House and featuring on the Great Gatsby soundtrack album, Emeli Sandé has succeeded in maintaining her own identity and artistic integrity while not seeking to be validated by those who don’t respect her craft.
This biography is incredibly detailed and fans of Emeli Sandé will definitely appreciate the time and effort David Nolan took to research her family history as well as the interviews of the many people that contributed to Emeli’s career from the very beginning. Many quotes from Sandé herself acquired from varied sources do well to provide the biography with her authentic voice and because the quotes are consistent and at every stage of the singer’s life, whether it be her early school days or being nominated for an award, there is never a doubt that Emeli Sande – The Biography captures the true story of Emeli Sandé.
We are able to learn a lot more about Emeli and the light shed on where she comes from, helps the reader to understand and love who she is today. Giving serious commitment and dedication to her studies when most would have abandoned them in their musical pursuits, shows sheer determination, sacrifice and tunnel vision in knowing what she wants and going for it, without leaving room to be swayed or compromised, which I find very admirable. This biography comes highly recommended, especially for aspiring musician as well anyone who need the inspiration to keep pushing forward with their dreams regardless of how long it’ll take to reach those dreams; Emeli shows that if you persevere with your dream and talents, the right opportunities will come along the right time.
Words by Halimat Shode // Edited by Ayo Adepoju