How Nigerian-born British singer Sade became a global figure in popular culture for decades

Michael Eli Dokosi Jun 4, 2020 at 01:00pm

June 04, 2020 at 01:00 pm | Faces of Black Excellence, History, Success Story

Michael Eli Dokosi

Michael Eli Dokosi | Staff Writer

June 04, 2020 at 01:00 pm | Faces of Black Excellence, History, Success Story

Sade. Photo: USA Today

Nigerian-born British singer Helen Folasade Adu known as Sade in entertainment circles was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 2002 and promoted to Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 2018 for her musical exploits as one of the most successful female British artists.

The songwriter, who also dabbled in acting, was born in Ibadan, Nigeria but was raised in Essex, England. She is the child of Nigerian economics professor Adebisi Adu and Anne Hayes, an English nurse. The pair met in London, married in 1955, and moved to Nigeria but when Sade turned four, the couple separated, marking a return to Essex, England with mother and younger brother.

Sade took a fashion course at Central St. Martin’s College of Art and Design in London and afterward worked as a model and menswear designer.

Curiously enough, music, for which she would be globally acclaimed, took on a cursory start when she filled in temporarily as lead singer for Arriva, a funk band that had been put together by her friends. Soon, she began singing with another funk band, Pride, in the early 1980s before breaking away with fellow members Stuart Matthewman, Andrew Hale, and Paul Spencer Denman to form the band that would eventually bear her own name.

The band, with Sade as a lead singer, secured a recording contract with Epic Records in 1983, then released the album Diamond Life a year later, which became one of the best-selling albums of the era, and the best-selling debut ever by a British female vocalist.

In late 1985, the band released Promise, which was also a success, topping the UK Albums Chart and becoming “the band’s first album to debut atop the Billboard 200.” Earning the group the Grammy Award for Best New Artist in 1986, the song also earned quadruple platinum certification in the U.S. and reached platinum across Europe.

Their next releases, 1988’s Stronger Than Pride and 1992’s Love Deluxe, were also “critically and commercially successful,” however, the band went on a break after the birth of Sade’s child, while reports said, “the singer experienced widespread media coverage during the period for unsubstantiated claims of mental health and addiction issues.”

Sade later appeared in the film Absolute Beginners (1986), having left fans famished for an album for eight years. Eventually, Lovers Rock was released in 2000 earning the group the Grammy Award for Best Pop Vocal Album. The band then went on another hiatus, not producing music for another ten years until the release of Soldier of Love, which won the group the Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals.”

The band has since released two new songs; 2018’s “Flower of the Universe” for the soundtrack of Disney’s “A Wrinkle in Time” and “The Big Unknown”, part of the soundtrack for Steve McQueen’s film “Widows”.

Sade, known widely today for her singles Your Love Is King and Smooth Operator, enjoyed critical acclaim and popularity in the 1980s and early ’90s for her blend of soul, funk, jazz, and Afro-Cuban rhythms.

Her hit song “The Sweetest Taboo,” stayed on the American pop charts for six good months. On why it takes so long, sometimes a decade to release an album, Sade, key in the group’s songwriting effort, noted “I only make records when I feel I have something to say. I’m not interested in releasing music just for the sake of selling something. Sade is not a brand”.

As a child, Sade was influenced by American soul music from artists such as Curtis Mayfield, Donny Hathaway, and Bill Withers. While a teenager, she was dazzled by the Jackson 5 at the Rainbow Theatre in Finsbury Park, London where she worked behind the bar at weekends.

Sade has toured extensively noting “If you just do TV or video then you become a tool of the record industry. All you’re doing is selling a product. It’s when I get on stage with the band and we play that I know that people love the music. I can feel it. Sometimes I yearn to be on the road. The feeling overwhelms me.”

The singer fiercely guards her private life stemming from past sour experiences. She rarely gives interviews. For over 30 years, however, Sade has let the music do the talking for her pretty loudly.

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