Surrey Virtual Canada Day – Sade Awele brings her soulful sound

Sade Awele, Nigerian-born Vancouver-based singer-songwriter, shares her blend of neo-soul, afro-soul, alternative and contemporary R&B, all while drawing on her personal and cultural experiences and heritage.

“My dad is from the Yoruba culture, and [with] Yorubas they always say that music is in our blood. So, I found that as I write songs, there are certain cadences to the sounds I would put in because I just love it, because it’s from the Yoruba culture. And then I combine that with my love for hip hop, my love for R&B, my love for pop music,” she says.

Sade Awele will be performing for the Surrey Virtual Canada Day celebrations on July 1, 2020.

Finding her sound

Sade Awele. | Photo by Carol Gandra

Sade Awele comes from a very musically engaged culture and family. Growing up in Nigeria, she recalls her choir member parents playing jazz and gospel records and singing and praying together as a family every morning. Since moving to Canada, she has sung and collaborated with bands throughout the country, but it was her eventual settling into Vancouver that would coincide with settling into her own sound.

“I kind of moved on from the last band into a solo project in 2017, and then started this journey of my solo project,” says Sade Awele. “In all the other cities, it’s always been working with other bands, but then here it’s me independently pushing this thing in Vancouver.”

Sade Awele says her sound depends on the song itself, though generally favouring a direction of afro-soul, R&B or pop, coloured with influences of jazz and gospel. The one constant that is central to her music, however, is her voice, which she uses both as means of personal storytelling, as well as its own featured instrument.

“The process is definitely feeling what I can hear in the sound. And then from there I’m like, how do I make this sound amazing? How do I bring out the very best feature with all the harmonies I can think of, and all the runs and the cadences and words? So, it’s kind of built from there,” says Sade Awele.

The role of an artist

The album Apple Pie.

With the coronavirus postponing most large public gatherings, the City of Surrey’s free Virtual Canada Day online concert presents itself as both a challenge and a boon for Sade Awele. While she is no longer set to perform at most of the summer festival slots for which she had been scheduled, the July 1 concert presents itself as an opportunity to share her music, and hopefully bring people a moment of joy.

And while the performance itself was pre-recorded, Sade Awele feels that music’s positive effect is doubly valuable given the renewed permeation of anger and political tension in the wake of George Floyd’s killing by police in the United States.

“This performance was about showing who I am. That I’m a musician who loves to perform, who wants to bring a smile to people’s faces – especially people of colour – during this time. And I feel like there is a space for that, because there’s just so few of us who are performing. So, it’s an opportunity for other Black people hopefully to see that there’s space for us, that there’s room for us in these places even though it can be challenging,” says Sade Awele.

The question of Sade Awele’s role as an artist has been renewed for her amidst all this. She feels it is important that her music is truly personal, if not explicitly political. These elements manifest in sentimental songs about love like Apple Pie, or in celebrating her heritage and her physical features, such as her ‘kinky curls’ that others have either idolized or derided, on Nigerian Born. Either way, it’s all about speaking truthfully and fully to her personal experience as a Black woman and singer-songwriter in Canada.

“I don’t feel a pressure to be political. I feel a pressure to be an advocate for the things that I believe in and the things that I stand for. And it’s not a negative pressure. It’s more of the things that I want to put in my music based on what I believe is beautiful,” says Sade Awele. “And I definitely believe that Black women and men deserve a spot in the limelight.”

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