Seinabo Sey released her debut album, Pretend, in late 2015.

Seinabo Sey released her debut album, Pretend, in late 2015.

Courtesy of the artist

Almost since the release of her first single, “Younger,” at the ripe age of 23 in 2013, Gambian-Swedish singer Seinabo Sey has been hailed as a pop sensation. She went on to win the Swedish Grammy for Best Newcomer in 2014 and, after the release of her debut LP, Pretend, last year, for Best Pop Song in February. Her performance at the Grammys, compared in the European press to Beyonce’s SuperBowl show, involved bringing 200 black women on stage to stare silently at the audience while she sang.

Sey’s powerful, soulful delivery betrays the complicated uncertainty that lies beneath the surface of her music. Sey came to the OPB studio to perform and to speak with State of Wonder’s Aaron Scott. Listen to Aaron’s full interview with Sey, download audio from her performance, and read highlights from their conversation are below.

On her song “Pretend”:
“I feel sometimes that I know what I should think. I know reasonably how things should be, but it’s hard to feel it and to really believe it. So, the song is about if the world would end tomorrow, you’d be alright with it and it wouldn’t feel like a catastrophe. I feel like I’m always preparing for a catastrophe in my music, but I don’t know if that’s a good thing. I’m trying to teach myself how to take it easy, calm down and take each moment as it comes.”

On what drew her to music and soul in particular:
“I grew up listening to reggae a lot. I feel like Luciano or Beres Hammond are definitely soul singers. Those were the first voices I heard when I was a kid. Then I learned to listen to soul through Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu and Destiny’s Child. A lot of people think I listen to really old music. I haven’t listened to an entire Nina Simone record ever, but I feel like I’ve received those influences through a Lauryn or an Erykah. I’ve listened to a lot of voices and I feel like soul is not a genre. It’s more an expression or a timbre in your voice and telling the truth.”

On her growth and experience as a live performer:
“It’s all an energy. If you’re centered yourself and if you’re clear with what energy you’re sending out, then people listen most of the time. When you’re distracted you notice it because people feel that too, you know? I was really scared of performing. I didn’t get up on a stage for real until I was 17. I realized that it’s really up to me and how centered and focused I am to get the attention of people. I’ve been in front of so many different audiences, so I always try to find the common denominator. To be honest, I think I’m 100% more confident on the stage than in real life because it’s kind of like walking into your own video game because you’re in control and you’re the only one that can speak. I love to sing in front of people and see them reacting to it.”

On her performance of “Hard Times” at the Swedish Grammys:
“I started googling magazine covers of Swedish magazines, and I realized that no one was black on the cover for a year. I got really pissed off one night on Instagram and started posting about that, because a lot of our business is about being nice to magazines because you want the press to cover you. I just flipped out and started calling them out.

“I felt the main argument in Sweden is ‘we don’t know who to put on the cover’ or ‘where are the black people?’ I put 100 black women on the stage to show that we do exist and this is a fragment of us here. Take a [screen shot] and put it on your magazine.”

On the similarity between her Grammy performance and Beyonce’s Super Bowl show:
“I’ve been obsessed with Beyonce since I was 10 years old. Whatever Beyonce tells me to do, I will do. I did come up with the whole performance thing before she did it, but I don’t care, because I feel like for her to take those steps and to be brave enough to do those things that I, as a teeny weeny artist from Sweden — for me it’s not very brave, but for her and the whole machinery of her to do those things, I think is crazy. I’m totally looking forward to her new album and I hope she just flips the f—k out, so that everyone else can do that.”

On plans for the future:
“I’m working on surviving a tour, then I’m taking a month vacation. I’m going to try to get myself a little bit of a life or something that resembles a normal life for a second. Then I’m going back into the studio and I’m going to start writing my next album. I’m very excited for that. I don’t always feel like writing, but I feel like it now. It’s going to be interesting to see what perspectives it’s going to fall along and to see the people I’ll get to work with. I’m really looking forward to it.”