Black History Month - Album Retrospective: Late 2000s + 2010s Women
For the third week of our #blackhistorymonth series, we'll be looking at the incredible Black British women that dominated the late 2000's and 2010's, by fusing elements of jazz, soul and R&B, creating award winning music in the process.
Laura Mvula ‘Sing To The Moon’ 2013
If you take a look back seven years ago and head to the city of Birmingham, you’d be very much welcomed by a renaissance of musical culture. A wealth of young talent spanning genres of indie, folk and hip hop to name a few, this rich mix of communities provide a breeding ground for the next big artists – with Laura Mvula being amongst the crowd. Laura’s critically acclaimed EP ‘She’ came the year prior, picking up a Brits Critics Choice award along the way, leaving expectations high for her debut album ‘Sing To The Moon’.
Typically graduates from the esteemed Birmingham Conservatoire often veer towards the realm of classical, opera and jazz genres. In the case of Laura Mvula, you can certainly hear this training in the track composition and vocal performances, particularly on tracks like album opener ‘Like The Morning Dew’. It’s certainly a confident grounding, but Mvula has cited a whole host of diverse influences from Louis Armstrong to Thrice to Eric Whitacre. This absorption of varying sounds in turn gives ‘Sing To The Moon’ many layers of audio to enjoy, whether that be from the R&B laden ballad ‘Diamonds’ or the 60s soul throwback of ‘Make Me Lovely’, littered with sharp bursts of drums and double bass. However you choose to listen, there’s the one constant of a powerful vocal performance from Mvula herself. It may come from a classically trained background, but the gravelly nature of her voice is unique enough to put a dusky spin on the vocal tracks, often compared to the likes of female powerhouses before her including Adele and the late Amy Winehouse. Her performance on the track ‘She’ really demonstrates her raw talent, as her vocals are beautifully carried by a wonderful arrangement of strings.
Debuting inside the Top Ten in the UK Album Chart on release, the album was well received by critics for its effortless blend of neo soul, jazz, R&B and orchestral pop. Sing To The Moon was re-recorded a year later providing an orchestral version of the album, utilising the talents of the Metropole Orchestra to deliver each track on an entirely new level. No matter what genre you’re into or how much depth you want to analyse Sing To The Moon in, there’s a level of enjoyment here for everyone.
Emeli Sandé ‘Our Version of Events’ 2012
Raised in Scotland by her Zamibian father and English mother, Emeli Sandé grew up as part of the only mixed-race family in their village; the experience inspired her music, giving her an aspiration for resonating with people who feel different. Education changed her father’s life, so debut album ‘Our Version of Events’ remained on the horizon until she’d completed her studies in clinical neuroscience, ensuring she had an education to fall back on. Manager Adrian Sykes patiently waited since Sandé was sixteen to release an album with her – this alone speaks volumes for her tremendous talent. Sandé wrote every song on Our Version of Events, an album bursting with honesty, raw emotion and flawless moments, spanning pop, R&B, gospel and soul.
Sandé writes music that people really connect with, placing huge importance on poetical lyrics, citing Nina Simone and Joni Mitchell amongst her biggest inspirations. Our Version of Events navigates politics, religion and world peace through pop giants and intimate stripped back tracks. Although she does not follow a religion, debut single ‘Heaven’ explores Sandé’s idea of heaven – being surrounded by music in a serene environment. The massive dubstep-pop ballad utilises house and trip-hop beats and sweeping string sections, mixing with elements of horn sections whilst encompassing an urban vibe. Designed for those club moments which have you dancing with your hands in the air, Sandé’s stunning vocals on the track have been compared with that of Whitney Houston, Leona Lewis and Beyoncé, cementing Heaven as a front-runner in displaying her enormous talent. Follow-up R&B single ‘Daddy’ – not in any way related to her father – has been compared with Seal’s early 1990s dance sound. A collaboration with Naughty Boy, the song narrates her struggle with entering the music industry, as well as touching on themes surrounding superfluous concerns with money, fame, religion and drugs. Sandé wanted listeners to see every side of her as both an artist and songwriter, whilst simultaneously giving people a different way of thinking about things.
Not only was Our Version of Events the UK’s best-selling album of 2012, overtaking Adele’s ‘21’, it was the fastest selling album by a British recording artist since Susan Boyle’s 2009 ‘I Dreamed A Dream’. Drawing on an array of musical eras and genres experienced since the 1950s, Sandé encompassed the historicity of these sounds into something which is completely and uniquely her own.