DETROIT — Sade has been little seen but plenty heard since we last saw her.
In the midst of her first tour since 2001, Sade remains a flagship artist at adult-urban radio and the world of smooth jazz, her CDs always close at hand for fans seeking to stir a romantic mood.
Though she's blessed with one of the most distinctive and familiar voices of the era, the Nigerian-born, London-bred singer has long retained an air of mystery. It's one that goes back to her days as a 25-year-old with the groundbreaking debut album "Diamond Life" in 1984, when she found fruitful ground at the nexus of soul, jazz and world music.
Just five albums followed in the 27 years since — including last year's Grammy-winning "Soldier of Love" — and the press-shy Sade has remained an intensely private figure. But in a rare interview, she was charming and chatty as she prepares to "take people through an emotional landscape" with her longtime band.
Q: What was your emotional state heading back out on the road after so long away, being back on a stage night after night?
A: There are moments when I say, "Why did I make this choice? Why am I doing it?" But then I get past that. If I'd really thought in depth about making the commitment (to tour), then I might not have made it. I was sort of on the edge of the cliff, then just jumped in. I think that's the only way to do things. Otherwise, if you over think stuff, it doesn't happen.
So I'm really glad I had that spontaneous moment, because it's only a moment that makes the change. Once other people have already said yes, then you're committed. When so many people are on board — there are 90 people on the road with us — you can't turn around and go, "You know what? I think I made a mistake." (Laughs)
But no, I'm really, really happy to be out here and glad we made that choice.
Q: The opportunity to talk with you is a pretty rare one. You've largely avoided the press.
A: It wasn't a conscious career choice, in the sense of a pragmatic move or anything like that. It's just that ... You know how sometimes, if you go to a party, and you tell somebody something, you wake up the next day and think, "Why did I expose myself in that way?"
I suppose in the songs, when I'm in the studio, I delve down deep and express myself in a very uncontrolled and guileless way. I just open myself up. And I kind of think that's enough, then, and I don't want to go any farther than that, or show people more of who I am. So I try to avoid it.
The magic and the mystery is in the music itself. Knowing too much about someone can take away your attention from what they really do. Then people become celebrities rather than artists, and it's easy to step over that boundary and let yourself go, because there are so many expectations from the record company and people trying to make decisions for your career. You do get all this pressure. You get to a point where you either go down that road or turn around and take your own.
Q: Do you have a sense of the role your music plays in the lives of your audience? The older records are still staples with your fans.
A: Truthfully, being out on the road makes the closest possibility of getting near that.
You make your music and get it out there, and you may do some promotional stuff, but then you're really quite detached from your audience. But being out on the road, you feel it. It's more of a feeling than a tangible recognition. I see the audience and see their faces and it's really touching. It does stir something in me. And it makes me feel mighty grateful not just for being up on the stage, but thankful I made that kind of effort and commitment.
Q: You've managed to connect on a pretty deep, sensual level.
A: Maybe that is because I haven't gotten in the way. Me, as a personality, hasn't gotten in the way of the music, which is actually owned by the person who takes it into their life. It's their music then. It's not me singing to them. It's their own soundscape, their own soundtrack to their own lives.
Q: Looking back, how do you see the evolution of your music? When the albums are lined up next to each other, there's been a real consistency to your sound all these years.
A: There is. I think the consistency is probably in my voice, even though that's kind of changed and developed over the years. The consistency is more in the story behind the songs, rather than the songs and sound itself, in that the songs come from the heart, and that has kept the chain linked all these years.
But I think if you were to listen to "Diamond Life" and then listen to our last album, sonically we've probably come quite a long way. A little rougher around the edges now. We're braver, in a way, in that we leave stuff in — original takes and stuff. If anything, we're less polished than we were when we were younger, so that has developed the sound.
Q: Is there a certain courage involved, growing into that?
A: I think so. It's about detaching ourselves from that commercial world of music. When you go in the studio, you've got to be really brave and not think about the end result, but just think in the moment, doing something that you feel is right. Actually feeling it rather than thinking about it. And it's either going to work or it's not. If it doesn't, you don't beat yourself up for making the wrong decisions, because you felt it was right in your heart.