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Sade, a Smooth Operator, sings of No Ordinary Love, and Is That A Crime?

Daniel Garrett By

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Often it is people of African descent in America who insist on racial allegiances. People who see themselves as being on the margins of society tend to both fetishize normality—inordinately adore house, family, job and the symbols of security and success—and also have a special regard for outlawry—self-indulgence, sex, violence, excess of various forms: and they understand the acceptance and rejection of social norms but not indifference to them, not genuine independence. The great thing about "white' history and culture is that there are so many examples and counterexamples of virtuous and vile behavior that one is never in doubt that one is dealing with human behavior, whereas "black" behavior has been so circumscribed, especially in the public or popular mind, between the servile and the transgressive that it is easy to think of an act as very black or not black at all. One can imagine a black man who is heroic or weak by white or black standards but not one who is independent of both standards: it may be then impossible to imagine a genuinely free black man, and that is very dangerous and very sad. Is it possible to imagine a free black woman; and is that what the Nigerian/English Sade Adu is?

What is the burden of "race"? It is entering a discussion about music and transforming it into a commentary on politics. It is the confusion of subject, object, and meaning. This is exemplified by the substituting of political meaning for personal or artistic meaning. The burden of race? It is an attempt to achieve or contemplate beauty that is then distracted by thoughts of slavery and social discrimination, by the horrors of history—the destruction of personal impression by a terrible historical imprint.

And, Kwame Anthony Appiah has written: "'Race' disables us because it proposes as a basis for common action the illusion that black (and white and yellow) people are fundamentally allied by nature and, thus, without effort; it leaves us unprepared, therefore, to handle the 'intraracial' conflicts that arise from the very different situations of black (and white and yellow) people in different parts of the world." ( In My Father's House: Africa in the Philosophy of Culture, Oxford Univ. Press, 1992, p. 176)

Yet, the burden of race is often mindlessly accepted. Sade Adu, a singer and writer and woman who has never slavishly served the market nor politics, deserves better, deserves specific consideration.

The Best of Sade (1994, Epic/Sony) has "Your Love Is King," with the lines, "Your love is king. I crown you in my heart," and "Hang On To Your Love," with the lines, "Gotta stick together, hand in glove, hold tight, don't fight, hang on to your love," and "Smooth Operator," the song about an international lover who lives a "diamond life." Also on The Best of Sade : "Jezebel," a moody ballad, with gorgeously serpentine saxophone playing, is about a girl born with few social assets other than physical appeal, who "when she learned how to walk, she learned to bring the house down." She seems to do questionable things for money and new dresses. Adu's line readings of "Jezebel" are careful, incisive, both sympathetic and tough as she mimes the character's dimensions. "The Sweetest Taboo," is a joyous song, light, up-tempo, about love: ..."If I tell you how I feel, will you keep bringing out the best in me?...You give me, you're giving me the sweetest taboo, too good for me...There's a quiet storm, that is you..." and "every day is Christmas, and every night is New Year's Eve." "Is It A Crime?" is a torchy ballad, beautifully written and performed, moving from detail to detail in language and voice as a woman considers her recent lover's new relationship. Adu sings, "Is it a crime that I still want you, and I want you to want me too? My love is wider, wider than Victoria Lake. My love is taller, taller than the Empire State. It dives and it jumps and it ripples like the deepest ocean. I can't give you more than that. Surely you want me back? Is it a crime?"

Good times come and go, and life, "it's like the weather, one day chicken, next day feathers. The rose we remember, the thorns we forget. We love and we leave, we never spend a minute on regret. It's a possibility, the more we know the less we see," sings Adu in "Never As Good As The First Time," a rather brave and witty song for the band's second album. The lyrics of the song capture youthful resilience, which is very different from the singer's crying, "somebody already broke my heart, be careful and be kind."


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