After years out of the spotlight, last month (March 2018), Sade, one of the most loved and respected singer-songwriter’s in music, returned with her song Flower of the Universe especially for Ava DuVernay’s blockbuster film, A Wrinkle in Time.

Around 80 miles North East of Lagos, Nigeria in the city of Ibadan, Helen Folasade Adu OBE, better known as Sade, was born in 1959. Since her musical heyday in the 80s, 90s and 00s, the British-Nigerian musician remains an inspirational icon to this day.

As part of our Because of them we can… series, we put the spotlight on Sade and her continuing legacy in the notoriously difficult industry.

Sade, the daughter of a Nigerian father and an English mother, returned with her mother to London where she grew up in North London and found a love for singing while she was in her teens. Growing up, she listened to the likes of Ray Charles, Nina Simone, Al Green, Aretha Franklin, and Billie Holiday, all of which influenced her music. She also went on to study fashion design at St. Martin’s School of Art while modelling on the side but later admitted she never loved fashion.

Around 1980, Sade started singing harmony with a Latin funk group, Arriva and the next year she joined the eight-piece funk band Pride as a background singer. Her breakthrough came with the Billboard Hot 100 Top Ten single, Smooth Operator which made way for her debut album, Diamond Life to the same spot on the Billboard 200 chart in 1985. According to Spotify, “the band fast came to epitomize soulful, adult-oriented, sophisti-pop.”

Navigating the music scene through her different identities, Sade’s music was constantly evolving and never conforming to a certain genre. She set trends instead of following them and paved the way for young women musicians, gaining recognition from the Queen’s New Year’s Honours List in 2002 for her services to the music industry.

Sade Adu
Sade Adu

With fame and success comes pressure, uncertainty and spite from the media – something which Sade makes no secret of struggling to come to terms with. Her dealing with celebrity and the grips of fame is inspirational and reminds us of her grounding as she sets a down-to-Earth example. Knowing when enough was enough for her and knowing when to take time back for herself to raise her child, gained the respect of all of her fans while she built her legacy away from the spotlight.

Many women looked up to Sade during her musical era as well as beyond and her comeback, after seven years, for Ava DuVernay’s most recent film means she will continue to inspire younger generations with her delicate twist on soulful ballads. Her identity will forever be her deep husky vocals, her tendency to perform bare foot and her straying away from what was “in fashion” to create her own path.

Because of them we can .. Yara Shahidi and Sade
Because of them we can .. Still making an impact. Last year, actress Yara Shahidi paid homage to Sade on her 58th birthday / Credit Yara Shahidi instagram

Perhaps Sade’s most important lesson is her realization that being yourself is the best, most authentic and default position you can be. Because of her, we feel inspired to succeed as ourselves without having to change into somebody we’re not.

In an interview with FADER, she says: “After you make a record, your life changes. Beforehand I was living my little anonymous life. But that whole machine that starts going when you make a record… it was all about how that change was going to affect my life, and my new life as a mother.” Eventually though she came to a realization that felt so simple and clear that the apparent conflict between her private and public lives simply dissolved away.

How could Sade, the mother/friend/singer/star cease to be any of these things when each of them, after all, is Sade herself? “I just want to be who I am in the end, that’s all you are anyway. It doesn’t matter what anybody says about you, you are who you are in the end. Because in the end I breathe and sleep and laugh and cry, and all the things that everybody does. And that is me.”

 

Cover Image Courtesy of VEIN Magazine

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