Pop star Emeli Sande says her new album was inspired by a “life-changing” trip to Zambia after her marriage ended.
The star, who grew up in Aberdeenshire, visited her father’s homeland in 2015, traveling to her grandmother’s village “deep, deep into the outback”.
“There’s no electricity, no running water,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Front Row. “But they’d light the fire and everyone would sing.”
“We took a lot of voice memos, and they’re sampled on the album.”
“There’s one track featuring my dad and my cousins, called Tenderly, and there’s a prayer for my auntie. “I feel like that [visiting Zambia] was such a big spiritual turning point for me.”
Sande returned from a four-year hiatus last week with a sweeping, cinematic new single, Hurts.
She said the lyrics were an emotional outburst, marking the first time she acknowledged the pain of divorcing her childhood sweetheart Adam Gouraguine in 2013.
“I mean, this was the only relationship I’d ever experienced,” she told the BBC, “so to finally be without him and without the relationship in my life, it took a lot of adjusting.
“Even just a small thing like learning how to handle myself in the real world. It was like a crash course in life.
“The shock of it all made me forget about the emotion for a while – put it off, put it off, put it off.
“[A] close friends I’ve had since primary school, she told me later on, ‘It was just really weird, you were acting as if you were fine for so long, and not addressing anything. I was really freaked out when I saw you because you said, “oh yeah, I’m fine, I’m cool.”‘”
“So Hurts came when I felt a bit more stable and ready to face it. This was the first time I addressed it within myself.”
Sande added that the end of her marriage had been partly responsible for her long break from music.
“I had to get myself to a state of full confidence, full energy before coming back.” she said. “This life, and the choice to be an artist, does take sacrifice. It affects everything. Your relationships, your mentality, your spirit.
“Everything is affected by your choice in career.”
‘Is that the same girl?’
Sande’s debut album Our Version of Events earned two Brit Awards and an invitation to sing for President Obama at the White House.
But her relatives in Zambia were unaware of her career success until her father brought a portable generator to his village and played a DVD of her show at the Royal Albert Hall.
“All my cousins were sitting there watching the show, and clapping when the audience were clapping,” she said. “And then they all started turning around looking at me like, ‘wait a minute, is that the same girl?'”
“It was almost too much for me to take in. ”