The Royal Love
Sade's Smooth and Worldly Mode
"Your Love Is King"
There are many things you can be in this life. Some of these things are hard to be, others are easy. If, for example, you want to be a member of Britain's upper crust, you need to attend the most exclusive schools, learn difficult sports like cricket and squash, and master the rhythms, patterns, and vocabulary of a highly mannered type of English. All of this, as you can immediately see, requires way too much time, money, and mental resource. You only live once. So the idea is to become something that's cool but not that taxing. This is where pop musicians step in. They make it easy to be something you want to be.
To be like Prince, for example, does not require years of education and loads of cash; it requires just a few weeks with his music and some devotion to his music videos. What is Prince like? He is dandyish and effeminate, and loves frilly/diaphanous ornaments. He also is sexually ambiguous: "If I was your girlfriend..." You can learn to be these things in just one album. The same is true with the beautiful Sade. What is her mode? She is royal-like, which is why one of the first two tunes to launch her three-decade-long career is "Your Love Is King." This, of course, means that her love is queen. And she looks, moves, moods like a person whose blood is royal. But to be like Sade, you need not own a castle. You need only to buy her records and memorize lovely lines like "crown you in my heart."
"The Sweetest Taboo"
Sade is beautiful because she is mixed. Everyone knows that mixed-race children tend to be gorgeous. Sade is the queen of all gorgeous racial mixing—Obama is the king. Half of Sade is Nigerian. The other half of Sade is British. Her mother, a white woman, married her father, a black man, in the 1950s. This was before the civil rights movement in the United States gained its full momentum. And it wasn't until 1967 that antimiscegenation laws in our country were considered unconstitutional. And it wasn't until very recently, even in England, that interracial sex was not considered a cultural taboo. The interracial sex that conceived Sade in the late '50s turned out to be the sweetest taboo: "There's a quiet storm, and it never felt like this before..."
"No Ordinary Love" (Part One)
The video is too beautiful for words. Sade is a wonderful sea creature. She is a mermaid. She sits on a glittering rock—half human, half fish; half woman, half amazing. The bubbles, the water-distorted light, the colorful sea plants—sea grapes, seaweeds, sea grass. In one moment, the mermaid reads a fashion magazine. In another, she knits. In another, she smooches a drowning sailor. In another, she rises to the surface of the sea. On the land, she meets ordinary humans in a dive bar and orders water and salt. She is already bored. She is too dazzling for this mundane, superficial world.
"No Ordinary Love" (Part Two)
The tune—which is from the album Love Deluxe, which initiates her love series (Lovers Rock, Soldier of Love)—was released in November 1992. A month later, I was on a road that cut across the Kalahari Desert. I was traveling with my family in a sleek black Benz—my parents also owned a white Benz (when it came to executive cars, they were all about equal opportunity). Then the magic happened: "No Ordinary Love" flowed from the speakers, the Benz glided down the long stretch of road with a slow, almost dreamy rising and falling, and millions of white butterflies appeared from the north, flying south. Some of the butterflies hit our windshield. Their pretty wings gathered on the wipers and jets of soapy water removed their silky gore. Sade sang so smoothly ("I gave you all the love I got/I gave you more than I could give/I gave you love"), the road rolled smoothly, the butterflies fluttered in the air, a mirage of heat rose from the desert floor, and the young, modern, and air-conditioned African family was invincible. We lived in that moment for an eternity.
Sade always leaves a little room for a political tune. Yes, sexual love comes first, and all of her hits concern some state, some situation, some essence of romantic bliss. But she is also aware that, to use the words of Bob Marley, "there is so much trouble in the world." This recognition of the suffering caused by social injustice has existed since the first album, Diamond Life—her cover of Timmy Thomas's "Why Can't We Live Together" ("No more war, no more war, no more war/Just a little peace/No more war, no more war/All we want is some peace in this world"). And what do these political songs reveal to us, her fans? That she does not spend the whole day in front of a mirror. For a person who looks like me, this would be a ridiculous thing to do; but for a person who looks like her, this is totally reasonable. Why look at others when you can enjoy looking at yourself? For this reason, many of us can't help but see her politics, which are genuine, as a kind of sacrifice. It represents time taken away from the mirror, mirror, on the wall.
"Slave Song," from Lovers Rock (2000), is Sade's best protest/political tune. Usually, Sade pleads for generalities like peace and unity; she wants the human race to live as one and love life more deeply. With this tune, however, she goes deeper and darker—it's a Rasta prayer for those whose lives have been destroyed by the economics of racism.
Sade's best protest/political song is also her most dubby. The source of this dub is her right-hand man Stuart Matthewman (Cottonbelly), whose love of reggae is fully expressed in his remix of Gregory Isaacs's classic "Night Nurse." (Also check out Mad Professor's reggae remix of "Love Is Stronger Than Pride"; it's better than the original, and that is no small achievement.) Beneath the smooth surfaces of Sade's soul, there are Matthewman's rough and Rasta "riddims."
"Bring Me Home"
Sade always dabbles in a little dub and also a little hiphop, such as her cinematic and almost RZA-ish "Bring Me Home" (it's on her latest album, Soldier of Love), but she never changes her mode, which is and will always be royal smoothness.