If Sade didn’t exist, no one could have invented her. Over a career spanning six albums and 33 years, the art of the singer, backed by her band, has never been anything less than inimitable. Yet given that her delivery is instantly recognisable and impossible to replicate, it’s something of a marvel that she almost missed out on singing altogether. The daughter of a Nigerian father and English mother, Sade (full name Helen Folasade Adu) was born in her father’s country and raised, after the divorce, by her mother and her family in Essex, where she absorbed much of her grandparents’ Christian socialist beliefs. Moving to London to study fashion, her fledgling career as a designer and model, as well as any nascent literary aspirations, were put on hold after she found work as a backup singer with the soul band Pride. Sade soon became the main attraction at concerts, her voice drawing sold-out crowds; together with three Pride members, she formed a self-titled band and signed with a major label.
Her first album, 1984’s Diamond Life, met with a rapturous reception across continents, going four times platinum in both the United Kingdom and the United States; following up on its success, Promise (1985) and Stronger Than Pride (1988) witnessed the band slowly deepening and refining a sound of its own, eventually drawing from jazz, funk, soul, pop, and rock in shifting but roughly equal measures. Their best album, though, was yet to come. Released 25 years ago today, Love Deluxe is the most consistent display of Sade’s unique mode of R&B: an underwater ambience conjured by keyboards, tastefully unobtrusive piano and drums, and thick, driving bass lines framing the singer’s evocations of love lost, maintained, and fallen into. No one sings about love like Sade. Though still related in tone to the American soul singers she was originally influenced by, the poise in Sade finds few parallels in other artists. Her voice is impeccably cool, yet somehow still conveys great passion and resolve; she seems utterly convinced that to do justice to something is to love it fully, with a wisdom inseparable from responsibility. Love Deluxe was followed, eight years later, by the mellow guitars of Lovers Rock; after a ten-year hiatus to raise her child, there came Soldier of Love. Read more