Emeli Sande is currently riding the wave of British singers taking America by storm. Her debut album “Our Version of Events” debuted on number five on Billboard's R&B chart, and her video “Next to Me” has over 15 million views, and counting.
Raised by a Scottish mom and Zambian dad, Emeli says she's been lucky enough to get the best of both worlds. She spoke with AfriPOP! about her Zambian background, her music, and finally making that trip back to Africa to meet her family.
Growing up in Scotland, was your dad's Zambian culture really expressed in the house?
It was definitely a part of my life: the music my dad would play, the stories he would tell and definitely the emphasis on education. I was definitely aware that it came from Zambia and the experiences my dad had there. He studied in the U.K coming form one of the best school in Zambia. So that, the whole education part of my life and expectation I felt was Africa and I felt very connected in that way. I have a lot of cousins that I would write to when i was younger and they are all musically. So I definitely felt like this gene within me that I was so connected with was from Zambia.
Are you in touch with your cousins back home now?
We're no longer writing letters because now there are emails and we text and stuff but I miss writing to them because their letters came in a special across seas envelope.
Think you might want to go back?
I’d love to. I’m trying to.
Why is it important for you you to go back now?
It’s important now because I guess I feel grown as a women and I feel it is a big part of me. I feel like meeting my family, properly meeting my grandparents, meeting my cousins would really kind of answer a lot of questions I have. I think I would get to know my father a lot more. I’ve known him within a British context.
And you know he fits into society and brings so much into the society we lived in but I would love to see the other side of him.
Do you think your music is influenced a little by your Africanness at all?
Maybe, maybe without noticing. I mean I know the rhythms work a specific way and the simplicity of the music may be reflected in it. I’m not sure. I love the positivity when you hear Zambian music. You can almost hear the sun shine, you know. And my family is quite religious so I guess the gospel music has definitely been a big part.
What do you love about being a part of these two beautiful cultures?
I love having access to both. When I was young I found I difficult to balance both and to be different, but the older I got the more I embraced being different and it became…it was liberating. I didn’t have to fit in one box. There was no way I was ever going to fit in anywhere so it gave me this freedom to just be like, “You know what? I can be who I want to be and there are no rules.” So I guess that's why I love them. I’ve been lucky though. My family has always been really supportive. Even though I felt different because I looked very different from my White family in the North of England, I’ve always been embraced by them and they always supported my music and my education. And my family in Zambia are just so excited that I’m kind of waiving the flag for them so I’ve always had just so much support and love from them.
Love your last name, Sande.
Yeah, that’s my dad. I don’t know where it’s from but it’s my dad’s name yeah. I think it may have originated from Mpande, I feel like maybe 100 years ago it was that. I don’t know how it changed.
Check out Emeli's latest video, “Next to Me.”