AFTER about 10 years break from recording, Nigeria-born-Grammy Award-winning artiste, Sade Adu is set for a come back with her latest work, Soldier of Love. Billed for release on February 8, the new work is Sade’s first official studio album since the multi-platinum release of Lovers Rock in 2000.
Soldier of Love is based entirely around a single staggering groove, a wounded stride anchored by a regular kick drum and delayed snare. Of course, at its centre is Sade’s incomparable voice, which sounds as passionate as the 1984’s Diamond Life. Though she’s turning 51 this month, Sade still looks as beautiful as she did in the ‘80s.
Born Helen Folasade Adu in 1959 in Ibadan, Nigeria, Sade is the daughter of Adebisi Adu (an economics professor) and Anne Hayes (an English nurse) — both met in London and later moved to Nigeria. When the marriage ran into difficulties, Anne returned to Clacton-on-Sea, Essex, England, taking four-month old Sade and the older brother Banji, to live with her parents; where Sade and her friends found solace from their dismal surroundings in dance clubs. In her teens, she had developed passion for jazz, funk, and soul music.
At 17, she left for London to study Fashion and Design at St. Martin’s College of Art in the City’s West End. On graduating, she and a friend launched their own business, designing men’s clothing. The design business never became very profitable, and Sade supplemented her income by taking modeling jobs, which she did not especially enjoy. Meanwhile, she continued to spend as much time as possible in dance clubs, where she felt most at home.
ALONG the line, a popular London funk group, Pride, was looking for a backup singer. Her lack of experience as a vocalist notwithstanding, their manager chose Sade for her stunning looks. She later auditioned for the spot and was rejected, but when nobody better showed up over a period, she was then given the job. But she continued designing clothes for a living with music being her main evening hobby.
As a backup singer, Sade quickly developed a following of her own, and at the suggestion of Pride’s manager, she and few others from the band worked up a set of songs to perform during Pride’s between-set breaks, with Sade taking centre stage. She teamed up with Pride’s saxophonist Stuart Mathewman, to write several catchy songs for the splinter group and before long, Sade was overshadowing Pride.
As a band, Sade created a stir almost immediately. Its first break came in 1983, when they were engaged to play at a concert at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, sponsored by the glossy British music and fashion magazine, The Face. Sade, who was backed only by Mathewman and a small rhythm section, captivated the artsy crowd. By October of that year, the band, which now included bassist Paul Denman, keyboardist Andrew Hale, and drummer Paul Cooke (later replaced by Dave Early), signed with Epic Records.
SADE’S first single, Your Love Is King, was released the following February while The Diamond Life album came out just five months later. The group quickly became a favourite among trendy artistic types, and Diamond Life soared to the top of the British charts. Fearing that the work will not go well among American listeners, Epic did not release the album in the United States until early 1985, but on the strength of Smooth Operator, it became a huge hit.
Diamond Life sold six million copies worldwide by the end of 1985, becoming the best selling album ever by a Nigerian female singer. It also won the British Phonographic Institute’s Best Album prize, and the Grammy for Best New Artiste.
Sade spent much of 1985 touring, to promote Diamond Life and recording the follow-up album, which was released later in the year. Like its predecessor, Promise carved a quick path up the charts in both Britain and the US, fueled by its Top 5 single Sweetest Taboo. As the tour wound down, she was surrounded by rumors of being depressed about a busted love affair, hooked on drugs, having a nervous breakdown, or beset by some combination of the three. Her usual aversion to public scrutiny only gave the rumourmongers more room to perpetuate themselves.
Exhausted from the tour and put off by the unwanted attention, she withdrew from the limelight for a while before returning with a new album, Stronger Than Pride in 1988. After a world tour that included stops in Japan and Australia, and full-blown stadium concerts in the US, Sade dropped out of sight again; this time, for an even longer period. She moved to Spain and suffered through an unhappy one-year marriage to documentary filmmaker, Carlos Scola.
After the breakup, Sade moved back to London, where she bought an old house, gutted it almost entirely, and built a fully- equipped recording studio in the basement. She then reassembled her band and began work on their next album, Love Deluxe, released in 1992. In spite of her long absence from the public, Sade’s fans had not forgotten her. The album sold well, remaining on the Billboard charts for 90 weeks and spawning another international tour of sold out concerts in the United States, Europe, and Japan. The featured single, No Ordinary Love, earned the Grammy for Best R&B Duo or Group Performance and was featured prominently in the hit film Indecent Proposal.
IN 1995, Sade took another career break, this time to have a baby with partner Bob Morgan, a record producer. While she concentrated on parenthood at home in Montego Bay, Jamaica, the rest of the band, working under the name Sweetback, released a self-titled album the following year. Meanwhile, Sade concentrated her energies on repackaging her decade’s worth of material into new forms. She released two such products in 1996: a recording called The Best of Sade and Sade Interactive, a multimedia CD-ROM that includes songs, videos, photographs, band biographies, and other information.
Although the gaps between Sade’s new projects seem to be widening, her voice — both as a singer and songwriter — remains a distinctive one in the music industry. Until a new star emerges, who can out-cool Sade; her latest work stands the chance of being greeted with enthusiasm by her numerous fans.