Emeli Sandé is enjoying her wild side 

click to enlarge Cool coiffure: Emeli Sandé donned her hairstyle in the spirit of experimentation after a conservative period studying medicine. - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Cool coiffure: Emeli Sandé donned her hairstyle in the spirit of experimentation after a conservative period studying medicine.

Scottish-bred, Zambian-descended keyboardist Emeli Sandé isn’t easily pigeonholed.

Her upcoming debut recording, “Our Version of Events,” is all over the stylistic map, from the rollicking roadhouse stomp of “Next To You” to a dubstep-symphonic “Heaven” and the skeletal piano exercises “River” and “Breaking the Law.”

The performer also boasts a bachelor’s degree in clinical neuroscience from Glasgow University, the backing of Alicia Keys (who co-penned the cut “Hope” with her) and the biggest blond mohawk since the punk-rock heyday of Bow Wow Wow and The Plasmatics.

The coiffure is easy enough to explain, says Sandé, who will preview “Events” in The City this week.

“I just always wanted to do something cool with my hair, but because I was studying medicine, I had to be quite conservative,” Sandé says. “So when I moved to London and decided I was definitely going to be a musician, I just started experimenting, and this is kind of what came out.”

The degree — which Sandé, 24, will someday upgrade to a doctorate — requires a backstory.

Raised by a father who stressed education, the budding composer — who won a BBC talent competition as a teen — tabled music for college, planning on becoming a psychiatrist or a neurologist.

Her most fascinating classes came the first year: “When you get to see all the cadavers — it was interesting to just see the body for the body, with no ideas, no dreams inside the brains anymore. That made me start thinking philosophically about where it had all gone, and where our creations come from,” she says.  

Sandé delved deeper into the cerebral.
“But I always found it difficult to find anything creative in medicine, or anything scientific in music,” says the artist, who had begun playing piano bars after school.

Then she met her future co-writer Shahid Khan and immediately scored with “Diamond Rings,” a top 10 U.K. smash for rapper Chipmunk (with a cameo from Sandé).

A publishing deal made quitting college inevitable.

“I felt like a door had opened up in the music industry, and you don’t get many chances like that,” she says.
Raised on Bob Dylan and Tracy Chapman, Sandé set lofty goals for herself. She wanted to keep her songs simple, optimistic, apolitical and unabashedly hum-along.

“I really want to change people’s perception of pop music — to make it poetic, so it really means something,” she says.

But if her hairdo gives an audience member a heart attack, she won’t likely respond to a call for a doctor in the house.

“It’s been three years since I studied medicine, so I don’t think I’d be much use,” she says. “But I’ll play them a nice tune! Maybe that will help!”


Emeli Sande

Where: Café Du Nord, 2170 Market St., San Francisco
When: 9:30 p.m. Friday
Tickets: $20
Contact: (415) 861-5016, www.ticketweb.com


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Tom Lanham

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