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Scottish star Emeli Sande celebrates renewal and rebirth on new album


EMELI SANDE: (Singing) I, I'm not really from nowhere.


Summer is the best time of the year, according to singer Emeli Sande.


SANDE: (Singing) Yeah. It's always summer every time you come over.

RASCOE: Emeli Sande is one of the U.K.'s most successful living songwriters. With more than 19 million singles sold and albums that have been certified platinum, the Scottish singer is now releasing her fourth album called "Let's Say For Instance." It celebrates resilience and rebirth, something we all need during an ongoing pandemic. Emeli Sande joins us now from London. Welcome to the program.

SANDE: Hey, thank you for having me.

RASCOE: So it's been three years since you released your last album. How did you start your journey toward creating this one?

SANDE: I feel like this album really began with a journey of freedom. It was January 2020, and I'd been waiting to hear if the record company I was with wanted to continue. I found myself, you know, without a major label, without management. I was without a publisher. And then a couple of months after that, the whole world went into lockdown, and the pandemic hit. I made a decision. You know, let's use this as a time where I can be creative, I can embrace the freedom. And that's when I really began making the album.


SANDE: (Singing) I kept myself to myself. I put my heart on the shelf. Didn't know I needed help until you came along.

RASCOE: You've also recently talked about finding true love with your partner. This album coming together - was that a part of it?

SANDE: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, falling in love is the best feeling in the world. I think falling in love came at a point where I was able to calm down and to stop and to reflect on life. And I think that feeling just gives you so much energy. And it definitely fulfilled me. And it makes you able to do things you just thought were impossible.


SANDE: (Singing) You give me strength to be vulnerable. I want the whole world to know.

RASCOE: Recently, you came out officially to the public. When you open yourself up that way, you are letting people also have their thoughts, their - you know, their commentary, whatever, on something that's very personal to you, right?

SANDE: Yeah. I mean, for me, it just - you know, it's been a long process of definitely becoming comfortable with myself. I didn't necessarily feel like I need to make this huge announcement, and it wasn't planned that way. I was just asked, you know, who are you in love with? And for me...


SANDE: ...I want to share who I'm in love with, you know? And I was like, well, Yoana. She's right here.

RASCOE: (Laughter).


SANDE: (Singing) I'm ready to love again. I'm ready to love again. You give me strength...

This is the best thing that's ever happened to me. I feel amazing. Now that I've made this album in such a positive mind frame, it's definitely how I want to continue. And it's made me fall in love with Barry White.


SANDE: He just embraces love, just feel-good music.


BARRY WHITE: Nobody but you and me.

SANDE: Especially in this pandemic, I was like, what can I give to people? Instead of being too introspective about my life, how can I actually offer something which helps and heals?

RASCOE: Barry White is about love and positivity, but he's also very sensual, right? And on this album, you were not afraid to embrace the sensual.


SANDE: (Singing) It would be my pleasure.

RASCOE: People who have heard it so far - like, have you gotten response to you being more open in that way?

SANDE: Yeah. I mean, so far it's been super positive. People have been quite surprised, like, oh, Emeli. I didn't know you did that.

RASCOE: (Laughter) So you making some grown-up music for some grown-up things, right?

SANDE: Exactly, yes (laughter).


SANDE: (Singing) Honestly, you're a dream. Sweetest boy I think that I have ever seen. Can't believe you're here with me. Hold me closer tell me that you'll never leave. See, you came into my life and made it brand new.

You know, intimacy and sensuality isn't necessarily taboo. It's a beautiful thing in the world if it's made and done with love. So, for sure, this album - I feel like people will see new sides to me. But it just feels really liberating just to give a full picture of myself.


SANDE: (Singing) Give you what you need. Give you what you need.


RASCOE: So, I mean, I was really impressed, especially in that song, "Look What You've Done." There's so much texture in that percussion, also a little bit of, like, experimentalism. Like, what's the story behind the creation of a song like that?

SANDE: So with "Look What You've Done" - originally just started as a piano ballad. I wanted to really reflect the London kind of music scene and rave culture here. And so I love drum and bass. I love jungle. So I was trying to capture the energy in the production.


SANDE: (Singing) Look what you've done, done, done. Look what you've done. Look what you've done, done, done. Look what you've done.

I've really fallen in love with production because usually I'll just focus on, OK, singing well, writing the song and the music. But I just started to realize, through production, you can create whole soundscapes and new worlds and new emotions and feelings just through what you put together.


SANDE: (Singing) Not another one, not another gun, not another son. That's a lot of blood. Ain't we proved enough, if you cut us once, we going to bleed the same? Same old losing game, yet you still in doubt.

RASCOE: "Another One" - this seemed to be more of, like, an expression of frustration about, like, the relentless nature of oppression.

SANDE: Yeah. I mean, for - during the summer, I mean, it was such a mad mix of emotions, everything that was going on.

RASCOE: Summer of 2020, like, all of that. Yeah.

SANDE: Yeah. I mean, you know, being a Black woman growing up in rural Scotland, it comes with its challenges. And I've always longed for that belonging in culture. And I was just trying to take that frustration and put it into something beautiful. And that's always what music has been for me.


SANDE: (Singing) No, I can't take another one.

RASCOE: Nina Simone and Lauryn Hill are two of your favorite artists. What do you hope your music adds to the global tradition of Black music?

SANDE: You know, I've always felt, you know, a bit of an outsider where I grew up. And my father's from Zambia. My mom's from England. I grew up in Scotland. So I've always felt like a bit of a mix-match of everything. As Black people, we get pressured to be - you know, well, this is the box you can be in. And this is the only type of music you can make.


SANDE: And I feel so lucky that I've had influences from around the world, and I've always just been able to be a kind of mosaic. So I hope that it opens up different options of what we can do and what's expected of us.

RASCOE: You have a song on the album called "Superhuman," where you sing about saying, you know, don't forget who you are. And the song is, you know, kind of telling the person who you're singing about, you're superhuman.


SANDE: (Singing) Don't forget who you are. You're made up of million kind of stars.

RASCOE: That really resonated with me. That's something I feel like I have to tell myself sometimes - remember who you are.

SANDE: Absolutely. And I think, globally, we've all taken a bit of a confidence hit.


SANDE: (Singing) I know it's hard, baby, keeping it real when everybody seems to be faking. I know it's hard...

You know, I was so lucky to be able to make the album around my family during lockdown. Being around children - I have a 3-year-old nephew, and I love seeing how confident children are. They know exactly who they are.

RASCOE: Oh, yes.

SANDE: They know exactly what they want. They don't care about offending anybody.


SANDE: They're just like, this is who I am. Deal with it or don't deal with it. And, you know, I protect his confidence so much. Like, I think we're all - you know, we are all inner children and we all need to return to that sense of, OK, remember who you are - like, just returning to your soul and reminding yourself that, you know, being human is amazing.


SANDE: (Singing) Don't forget that you're a superhuman.

RASCOE: Emeli Sande talking about her new album "Let's Say For Instance." Thank you so very much.

SANDE: Thank you.


SANDE: (Singing) Raw emotion, raised endorphins, heart keeps thumping. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
Andrew Craig
Andrew Craig is a journalist from Denver, Colorado. He loves to learn about the world, and tell stories that raise critical questions and inspire empathy. A graduate of Yale University (BA '14) and The University of Texas at Austin (MA '18), he began working for NPR in 2019. His hobbies include reading, people watching, and exploring new places.