What Sade Taught Me...5 Years After Her Last Live Show
Love is an amazing phenomenon. One of the world's oldest, most universal themes, yet we never fully understand what love is, or why we love in the first place.
We just do.
But just as much as we desire love we fear it too, aware that we're sharing something with someone that's different from anything we've experienced before. That we're allowing a person to see us in ways that not many people get the opportunity to.
And that can be just as liberating as it is terrifying. A true first love is everything: beautiful, chaotic, complicated, frustrating, joyful, miserable, raw. You've been warned what love is capable of, but nothing can truly prepare you for what happens when you're thrust into it, hoping that the partnership that's been built is everlasting.
I experienced my first true heartbreak during the last days of January 2015. The conversation turned tumultuous quickly — then, over. People handle breakups differently: I found solitude in my sadness, hiding from everyone, the sunlight creeping through my bedroom window shades beckoning me each day to finally take a step outside.
Then came along Sade.
For so many of us, Helen Folasade Adu, commonly known as the lead singer of Sade, is the musical embodiment of love. Through Sade's six albums are tales of love: fiery beginnings; troublesome middles; bittersweet or desolate endings. Sade's backing band shapes the soundscapes of her experiences, smooth jazz, soul and R&B complimenting the richness of Sade's contralto vocal delivery.
She tells it like it is — her cool, poignant vulnerability conveys the wisdom of someone that's had their heart broken but still champions the privilege of giving and receiving love.
Therein lies the beauty of Sade: to speak of the intricacies of love in a way that never undermines her confidence and poise.
"If I tell you / If I tell you now / Will you keep on / Will you keep on loving me?" Sade sung on one of her most known hits, "The Sweetest Taboo."
As Stuart Matthewman's lush guitar and Dave Early's percussive pulse provide vibrant and warm sonic textures, Sade sings of vulnerability with sincerity. "Sometimes I think you're just too good for me" she admits. But she doesn't loathe herself in her admittance, but rather embraces her honesty. There's power in her confession: a transparency that feels fearless.
How Sade's outlook on love was shaped is a mystery. She's infamous for her apprehensiveness towards interviews, so much so that finding archival print and video interviews online can sometimes be tedious. Those that are available rarely, if ever, skim the surface of Sade's personal experiences with love, the singer remaining silent or shifting the question towards her music.
Becoming obsessed with Sade in the Internet age is interesting, because she's not a product of this generation. We live in a world of immediacy where we can engage with our favorite artists at all times, to the point to where we feel like we know them. We want more and they give us more through curated photos and videos, as well as their music.
The idea of absence in regards to our artists seems unfathomable, because it's another moment in which they could be sharing something with us — giving something to us. When they don't give, we demand: Frank Ocean's Endless/Blond(e) rollout was a commentary on our entitlement, just as much as it was a multimedia masterpiece, with the singer reminding us that these projects don't come out of nowhere — they take fucking time.
The latter half of Sade's career surely tested the patience of her fans: between Love Deluxe (1992) and Lovers Rock (2000) the band began an eight year hiatus, while Soldier Of Love came 10 years later (2010). During that first hiatus Sade experienced extreme media scrutiny, with rumors of depression and addiction circulating (Sade was actually preparing to give birth to her first child, Mickailia).
Sade never came out to dismiss those rumors, which sounds impossible to do today. When asked why she never spoke out against the accusations during an interview on E!'s Extreme Close-Up, the singer said:
"I think you get too angry. I think the more you defend yourself, the more frustrated you get. So if you try and sort of dissolve yourself from the situation — well, you know who you are, and then you can carry on."
Sade has always worked on her own accord. Where other members of the band continue their output through other projects and collaborations, Sade seems satisfied in her reclusiveness, returning every so often when she feels compelled to.
With obsession you can find yourself wanting more from someone. Maybe it's the interconnected world we live in now, but during that breakup I found myself wishing Sade was active online, in hopes of reaching out to her and getting a message of solidarity. "Hey, heartbreak is difficult. But you're going to be alright," is what I imagined she would write.
It's insane and unfair to want that, but I did. But Sade is always at her best through her music, and with a little searching I came to find the song that became my therapy.
"Love Is Stronger Than Pride" is really the culmination of love: of being beating by it, only to emerge stronger than before. The track, taken from the 1988 album of the same name, slowly builds to a powerful climax, mallets providing a steady rhythmic pulse as acoustic guitar strings ring triumphantly.
"Sitting here wasting my time / Would be like waiting for the sun to rise / It's all too clear things come and go / Sitting here waiting for you / Would be like waiting for winter / It's gonna be cold / There may even be snow."
It's this part of the song that always stick with me most: the resolution that comes after acknowledgement. That forgiving this former lover wasn't easy and it's taken time, and although she still loves him she has to continue living her life.
It's a statement expressed so beautifully and clearly — almost conversational. I had found my answer.
On September 7th, 2011 I had the opportunity to see Sade live in Austin, Texas. As her first tour in 10 years the Sade Live tour seemed like a comeback, but in actuality felt more like a testament to the band's legacy. They went through the hits and lesser known songs, the onstage visuals and Sade's wardrobe changes telling a story of a woman on a quest for love. Sade seemed so happy, smiling at times during songs that left members of the audience in a silent melancholy. The concert she gave a few days later, on September 12th, 2011--five years ago today--was the last live appearance she's given stateside to date.
In that same E! interview there's one moment in which I would say Sade's cool vulnerability wavered and we saw her for what we admire most about her: an unabashed lover of love.
"Never give up on love," She offered with a smile. "I'll never give up on it."