The Barefoot Sade

WHY THIS MATTERS: A glimpse into the life of one of the most honest women in music.

(SOURCE: Blackadelic Pop) The Barefoot Sade by Michael A. Gonzales: With the possible exception of all those D’Angelo devotees standing on the bank of the James River, the millions of Sade fans across the globe have got to be the most patient souls on the planet. Way back when her last album, Lovers Rock, hit stores in November of 2000, Elian Gonzalez had recently been shipped back to Cuba, George W. Bush had just stolen the election from Al Gore, and Almost Famous was flickering on the silver screen.

For the past week, there has been much chatter on the internets about a new Sade album dropping this year. Meanwhile, the YouTube clip of her harrowing song “Mum,” recorded for the 2004 DVD Voices For Darfur, is always in heavy rotation. While hanging out with my homeboys Brook and Molaundo a few days ago, we started sharing anecdotes about shows we had seen (my only experience being the Love Deluxe tour at Radio City Music Hall), our favorite videos and, inevitably, we got down to the real question: when was the queen of royal badness going to bless us with some new music?

Unlike her other admirers, I know personally that there is no rushing Sade. Having turned fifty this past January, this golden lady has always taken her time. “I’m harder on myself than anyone else,” Sade once told me. It was the fall of 1992, a few months before Love Deluxe was set to drop—with classics like “Cherish The Day” and “No Ordinary Love”—and I had been hired to write her bio. “Sometimes it comes easily, other times it’s more difficult,” she explained. “One of the reasons I take a long time cutting tracks is fear, because one can’t change anything once the record has been released.”

In a business where people like to brag about writing songs in ten minutes, hearing somebody talk honestly about the anxiety of creating artful material was quite refreshing. Nevertheless, due to the fact that I had been in love with Sade since her first single 25 years ago, I would’ve believed anything she said anyway.

It was the winter of 1984 when Sade released her laid-back pop debut Diamond Life in the UK. Though the American version wouldn’t drop for another five months, since I worked at Tower Records, where the import played constantly, it was only a matter of time before I fell under the spell of the high-foreheaded, full-lipped femme fatale.

A light-skinned biracial empress born in her dad’s native Nigeria, Sade moved to her mum’s motherland of England at the age of four. “There were no problems with the fact that my mum was white and had these two black children,” she recalled, in a voice that’s deeper than her songs suggest. “No one ever made us feel different. What one might find strange is the fact that there was not much music in the house when I was a child. Unlike my father, who surrounded himself with music, my mum didn’t really care.”

She hooked up with musicians Stewart Matthewman (a.k.a. Cottonbelly), Paul Denman, Andrew Hale, and Paul Cooke in 1982 when their ensemble was still called Pride. The group played small gigs while establishing themselves outside the post-punk/new romanticism realms of the era.

It was during this period, at the age of 24, that the young woman transformed herself from a minor fashion designer named Helen Folasade Adu to a major songbird who went by the adopted name Sade (technically it was also the name of her band). Coming out the same year that found Madonna whorishly wailing about being “Like a Virgin” and Frankie Goes to Hollywood rhythmically demandiing that we “Relax,” the soothing swoon of Sade’s “Smooth Operator” and “Your Love Is King” was enough to set her apart from your average pop tarts.

Soaring over the urbane jungle, Sade’s atmospheric music and understated lyricism created the score for our real life “cinematic” experiences. “It has been said that my songs are like movie soundtracks,” Sade told me. “Except everybody has a different film running through their minds.”

Diamond Life not only constructed the template for Sade’s own melancholy sonic adventures over the past twenty-five years, but also kicked in the door for artists like Maxwell (with whom she sometimes shares band members), Martina Topley-Bird, Portishead and a whole generation of smooth-jazzbos.

And like Barry White before her, the mind boggles when trying to calculate how many love affairs have been set to Sade’s music, which has sold over 17 million albums in the United States alone. “I’ve had a lot of people tell me that my tunes make them think about their past loves,” Sade told me. “Either they love me or they’re thinking, ‘That bitch!’ Often it can be beautiful, but sometimes it can be ugly.”

Gazing at Sade’s noirish videos, it becomes obvious that she and her band have kept it unfailingly exquisite where others were often crass. Unlike other ’80s pop artists (see Duran Duran, Culture Club, et al), who struggled to remain stars by any means necessary, Sade seemed to enter the limelight with great reluctance.

Over the years I’ve only read a handful of print interviews with this natural diva, one of the best written by cultural critic Greg Tate in a 2000 issue of VIBE. Of course, having sold over 20 million albums in the United States and 40 million worldwide, Sade’s coy behavior only served to make her and the group that much bigger.

Dripping with style and grace, what really set Sade apart was how far she, and they, were able to overcome class and cultural boundaries without compromising their artistic vision. Indeed, the band connected with everyone from b-boys to jazz fiends, American Songbook elitists to funk fans.

And to think I almost missed my own close encounter with Sade. It all began when her then publicist, the ever glam La’Verne Perry, formerly of Epic Records, called me about writing a bio. “I don’t really have time to write any bios right now,” I apologized.

“It’s for Sade’s new album Love Deluxe,” La’Verne replied and the sound of silence was deafening. For the first time since I learned to speak, I was struck mute. “Just tell me when and where,” I finally stuttered.

A week later, after preparing for our interview as though I was a smooth operator going on a prom date (dapper suit, fresh haircut, just a hint of cologne), I trekked to Sade’s midtown hotel. She was dressed in jeans and a button-down white blouse and she was barefoot.

“Nice to meet you,” she said, extending her hand. After La’Verne and the manager left, Sade sat a few feet away from me on the couch and lit a cigarette. Surprisingly, we both seemed a bit nervous but it wasn’t long before we slipped into a comfort zone as we both smoked and sipped large bottles of water.

Glancing at her pretty feet curled up on the couch, I was reminded of Eddie Murphy’s foot-fetishist character Marcus in Boomerang, which had come out a few months before. One look at Sade’s perfect toes and I finally understood his passion.

“The first song I remember liking was Rod Stewart’s ‘Maggie May’ when I was like 10 or 11,” she said. “As a teenager I fell in love with soul music and often played Gil Scott Heron, Al Green, Curtis Mayfield, and Marvin Gaye. But I really didn’t consider myself much of a singer when I was younger. This all happened by accident.”

Laughing at the memory of one of her first shows, Sade recalled how her heel got stuck in the chipboard stage. “For the first three songs I could not move. In a way it was bad, but in a way it was good, because it made me forget the crowd while I concentrated on singing.”

Always intrigued by other peoples’ writing processes, I asked Sade about how she composed her lyrics. “I keep notebooks and write down ideas,” she replied. “The song ‘Like A Tattoo’ was formed from ideas I had in one of my books. Many years ago I met a drunken Vietnam vet in an Irish bar in New York. When I was interested in writing songs about war, his stories were what I remembered.”

After an hour had flown past, I prepared to wrap my interview. By this point we were lighting each others’ cigarettes and chuckling like old friends.

“One of the biggest misconceptions about me is that people imagine me as this depressed woman crying in an ivory tower,” she said with a laugh. “When you’re a singer it’s impossible to show the diversity of your personality, so often the picture one has of you won’t be completely true.”

Standing up to leave, Sade kissed me on the cheek before we said our final goodbyes. Two weeks later, the postman left a package in front of my door from an address I didn’t recognize. I tore off the wrapping and a small card fell out: “I’ve been reading this book. I thought it might help you. Sincerely, Sade.” I smiled when I realized it was book on how to quit smoking. If it seemed like I smoked a lot that day, it might have had something to do with the beautiful woman perched beside me on the couch.

Not long afterwards, I attended the last show of the Love Deluxe tour at Radio City Music Hall. As I recall, Sade sold out all five nights at the legendary venue and was having an after-party to celebrate. About an hour into the party, I felt a tap on the shoulder. Turning around, I was shocked to see Sade.

“Hello, Michael,” she said. I stood silent for a few beats before I finally replied. “I’m surprised you remember me.” Jesus, I damn near melted when she smiled. “Why wouldn’t I remember you?” Sade answered.

Glancing downwards, I noticed that she had already removed her shoes. (source)