Monday, 17 June 2013

The Voice of Sade

Sade Adu

I used to have customers I'd never met, but when they picked up the phone and said hello, I immediately knew who it was. Given that this word had already lost some of its fidelity by being forced through an electronic interface, its amazing the unique character their voice gave those two syllables that allowed me to identify the individual.

I know little of the technical nature of sound. It is obvious that there are many aspects, including things like pitch, timbre, tone, harmony and loudness. Add to this the ability of the human mouth to further form the words and phrases that issue from the vocal chords, and we have a substance of great complexity. 

The most amazing musical instrument seems to be the human voice. Expressive as a violin or sax or guitar may be, the human song has more capacity, more character, and speaks to us more, after all it is our voice. 

We take this ability too much for granted. Opera stars of course are given their due as having perfect voices, but I've heard people talk about Dylan or Leonard Cohen or Tom Waits as people who "don't have very good voices", and yet they are great singers. The essential sound of a particular human vocal seems to have a complex but unique quality with the ability to stir up strong emotional reactions within us. How else to account for the amazing devotion given to singers like Caruso, Piaf, Halliday, Evora or Cohen. And the power of some voices outside of song, like orators, actors, healers, poets and story tellers.

A great singer seems to have a unique voice, and then know how to use it in song. Few musical groups that rely on vocals get very far without a superb singer. Someone like Eric Clapton may be the exception, not a particularly unique voice, but he can sing, although he's really there for his guitar playing. I guess anyone can learn reasonably effective singing, but if you don't have a unique voice to start, you don't go far.

Every voice has it's special character, mood, emotion, spell. Sade strikes me as this uniqueness at its most powerful. I almost feel addicted to the sound of it. 

She sings with a husky, languid, smoothness and sensuousness. There's a sense of deep yearning. The level and range is not strong. She avoids emotional displays in her singing. Her music is solidly pop/jazz, in no way innovative, and I've heard one person call it elevator music. It's a genre I usually avoid, but hearing her never fails to move me.

Eighteen years after her first album she is still hugely popular world wide (and now a 53 year old mother). She has sold 25 million albums in the US alone. Her latest tour was seen by 800,000.

The woman is absolutely gorgeous. And she displays a poise and grace, a serenity, that seems to have all her fans convinced she's a person of class and integrity, her subdued, natural sensuality all the more appealing for this. In one video it seems the audience applauds just watching her walk across a stage.

In particular I find her rendering of The Slave Song to have tones and harmonies that almost literally resonate inside me.

It has to be the unique character of her vocal sound that the fuss is all about. Like no other singer I've heard, she makes me believe the human voice can invoke magic.

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