Monday, April 16, 2018

A Tribute to Sade: A Musical Journey on the Path to Radical Love

By Ayisha  Karim
Author, Ayisha, w/flower crown at Eid
Fashion designer Nzinga Knight 

I remember the magic like it was yesterday: Spring 1993. I stood in my mother’s bedroom, which was a retreat in our small home in East Atlanta. Sade’s latest cd had come out—a long-anticipated one, nearly five years after the previous one. Its name: Love Deluxe. The song that played over the radio speakers that moment was as dreamy, as romantic, as perfectly melodic as her earlier classics.

Too, I think there was something about that age. I was 14 years old, a freshman in high school. I was becoming the hopeless romantic that I am today. Sade’s music cultivated the seeds of radical love growing inside me:

There must have been an angel by my side
Something heavenly led me to you
Look at the sky
It’s the color of love

When I was led to you
I knew you were the one for me
I swear the whole world could feel my heartbeat
When I lay eyes on you
You wrapped me up in
The color of love

“Kiss of Life”

You might be wondering where this never-ending, deep love for Sade’s music began. Well, it wasn’t just her music that drew me to her. Helen Folasade Adu, aka Sade, was Nigerian-born to a Nigerian father, Adebisi, and British mother, Anne. Her name Folasade means “honor confers a crown.”

In addition to our shared roots traced back to the African Motherland, people began to tell me in my teenage years that she, yes Sade, was my celebrity look-alike. Actually, many Black women and girls found a physical resemblance to Sade uplifting and noteworthy, as did fellow hijabi and fashion designer Nzinga Knight (seen in cover collage above). For me, I’m sure it was the large forehead mainly, and the slender nose. And the reason that I even knew who they were speaking of was that my dad introduced me to her in the home. I recall spotting one of her cassette tapes in the den, a part of my father’s collection in the mid to late 80s.

Although I can’t recall if it was her debut album, Diamond Life, with the popular hit “Smooth Operator,” or the ’85 Promise album with the favorite “Sweetest Taboo,” my dad was the parent who introduced us to the groundbreaking, conscious music of that time: Sade, Tracy Chapman, Eric B. & Rakim, and others. But, if you want to get a good feel for the beginning of Sade’s career, and see her modestly seductive, sweet dance moves, check out the lyrics and video of her classic, “Sweetest Taboo”:

You’ve got the biggest heart
Sometimes I think you’re just too good for me
Everyday is Christmas, and every night is New Year’s Eve
Will you keep on loving me
Will you keep on, will you keep on
Bringing out the best in me

(For Muslims, it’s satisfying to substitute Christmas with ‘Eidul-Fitr’ and New Year’s Eve with ‘Lailatul Qadr.' Smile)

Quite simply, Sade’s music, and what it represented, had this way of making me feel beautiful, romantic, cultured, confident, and powerfully feminine. Once, my high school English teacher laughed at my poetry, saying it was more like a “short story.” It was the influence of Sade’s music that allowed me to claim my poetic brilliance in spite of the academic criticism.

In college, I found myself in a serious relationship. While hoping to make the hours go by faster at my summer office job, I was inspired to express my gratitude for this burgeoning love affair. Brace yourself for the creative, brilliant, steamy (yet corny) title and winning line from the poem. It was entitled, “It,” and one of the culminating lines was, “It…is KING.” Brilliant, get it?! “It is...Your love!” Some of you know that this line was a play on the words in the title of one of Sade’s classics, shared below.

Then, there were those bonding moments when I realized that others in my small African American Muslim community also listened to Sade’s music and had been introduced to it in similar ways. One such moment stands out vividly in my mind. During the days of walk-mans and weekend trips to festivals on MARTA (subway system), my friend Amber stood on the train in front of me, listening to Sade’s Diamond Life on cassette tape. From her mouth, the words came out humorously distorted, somewhat obnoxious, but beautiful and hopeful, nonetheless. Song: “Your Love is King.” OMG! My heart opens ever so widely every time I hear this song, no matter how repeatedly broken, how guarded, how distrusting. My broken heart opens to the lyrics, the melody, the points of emphasis, all accompanied by Sade’s sultry voice:

Your love is king
Crown you with my heart
Your love is king
Never need to part
Your kisses ring
Round and round and round my head
Touching the very part of me
It’s making my soul sing
Tearing the very heart of me
I’m crying out for more

You’re making me dance

As my friend Amber held on to the train car handles, swaying from side to side, I recognized the effect that Sade’s music has on the average person: It’s as if you’re put in a trance. You get in touch with the radical lover inside yourself, inside all of us.

Ultimately, this song could be taken as a love song for God’s healing, rejuvenating, life-producing Love: “This is no blind faith – This is no sad or sorry dream – This is no blind faith – Your love, your love is REAL!” Is there any love more real, more certain, more electrifying, more permanent than God’s?

Indeed, Sade’s musical lyrics point me back towards God, as in the title song of her 2000 album, “Lover’s Rock”: “When I need to be rescued – And I need a place to swim – I have a rock to cling to in the storm – When no one can hear me calling – I have you I can sing to – And in all this – And in all my life – You are the lovers rock – The rock that I cling to.”

If you didn’t know any better, you might be thinking that Sade’s music only reflects romantic love. NOT! I eerily realized this for myself when reacquainted with Sade’s earliest music during my earth-shattering separation (which led to divorce and a custody battle). The title of this 1985 song, “War of the Hearts,” confirms, again, why I have such a strong, personal connection to Sade’s music.

I could aim, but I could not fire
Who's calling the shots
One of us must make the peace
To have or to have not
The fire has got to cease
I'm loaded
Don't know where to point this thing
It's a sin
How we hit where it hurts

One of us (one of us) must end this masquerade
To have or to have not
Let's heal the wounds that we've made
It's a war of the hearts

As I move on lovingly, faithfully, reclaiming my heart, I still depend on Sade’s music to reveal powerful lessons on the path to radical love – “Love Is Stronger than Pride,” “Soldier of Love,” “Hang On to Your Love,” to name a few. I am hopeful in love and better equipped to take on its challenges.

A favorite photo of artist from the 80s

Sade Concert, '11 at Philips Arena in Atlanta, GA, w/childhood friends Qadara Abdur-Rahman and Fatima El-Amin

It’s not surprising that Sade released her fifth album in 2000 to mark a new era: Lover’s Rock. And coincidentally, today we celebrate the 13th wedding anniversary of my sister Jamillah, HagarLives co-author. Of course, I was thrilled thirteen years ago when they chose a Sade song for their first dance, “By Your Side”:

When you're lost
You're alone and you can't get back again
I'll find you, darling, and I'll bring you home
And if you want to cry
I am here to dry your eyes
And in no time, you'll be fine
You think I'd leave your side, baby
You know me better than that
Think I'd leave you down when you're down on your knees
I wouldn't do that
I'll tell you you're right when you're wrong
And if only you could see into me
Oh, when you're cold
I'll be there, hold you tight to me
Oh, when you're low
I'll be there by your side, baby

Jamillah Karim w/husband Hud Williams
First wedding dance

Thank you, Sade.

He [God] built a bridge to your heart
All the way
How many tons of love inside
I can't say

Hagar sings.

*Featured female artist: Nzinga Knight, Fashion designer and creator of Brooklyn Brewed Sorrel Mocktail. Visit: