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Meet Elmiene, the soul singer following a path to greatness

Combining elements of classic sounds with neo-soul, Elmiene is winning rightful praise across the globe.

By Arwa Haider

Elmiene (Picture: Ariel Pedatzur)

Elmiene’s 21st-century soul exudes plenty of classic melodic hooks – and at the same time, it just hits different. This 22-year-old British singer-songwriter (aka Abdala Elamin) mixes smooth, sweetly poetic vocals and raw sentiments in his original material; he draws inspiration from 1990s neo-soul icons such as D’Angelo, while also expressing intensely personal experiences, masculinity and vulnerability.

Over the past couple of years, Elmiene’s talent has aligned with stars from the club scene to couture fashion and beyond; his breakthrough track ‘Golden’ was selected to soundtrack the final show by style visionary Virgil Abloh, and Stormzy also reached out to co-write with him. After a range of acclaimed releases (including the brilliant Marking My Time EP and latest track ‘Lover You Should’ve Come Over’), and packed-out gigs on both sides of the Atlantic, he’s now (rightly) hotly tipped for the spotlight in his own right – and as proved by his onstage charisma and reflective recordings, he’ll be doing it in his own sublimely laid-back style.

You first discovered your passion for classic soul and R&B as a music-mad schoolkid – why did those genres especially resonate with you?

“Growing up, I was a quiet only child; I’d spend all day watching people, just observing mannerisms. I felt like soul and R&B was based on observations, things that aren’t always obvious to the naked eye – like,’90s neo-soul, Donnie Hathaway’s ‘60s and ‘70s records, or Stevie Wonder’s classic records, they all speak about the unspoken and the unseen, in a way that’s tangible and so eloquent. It really captured my imagination as a kid: ‘this is sick, what’s going on?’ Stevie and Donnie taught me how to sing; it’s in my DNA, my blood.

You’ve teamed up with an amazing range of artists – co-writing with Stormzy; working with Sampha, Jamie Woon and James Vincent McMorrow on your own material… what makes you click with a collaborator?

“That sense of introspection is important. All of the artists I’ve really resonated with, like Sampha, they’re all people that have evidently spent a lot of time on themselves, not just their craft, but their character. The conversation in the studio is the best part – whenever you resonate with someone, it’s like: whatever we make, let’s just have a good time. That’s the kind of seed that will make great music, and all of them have that.

“Stormzy kind of reached out to me just off my voice on ‘Golden’, because there wasn’t anything else to go on at that time. It just felt like respect from the person who is the most respected in England right now – I felt like, OK, if I can get the attention of these kinds of people, there’s something to believe in myself.”

As a British soul artist, how did you recently find playing your debut gigs in New York and LA?

“Weirdly, it felt like home, because the music is from there; even certain notes or chords get a different reaction from people, because they’re so familiar with them. When I play a song like “Mad At Fire”, which is very R&B-centric, people are singing all the words as soon as it starts. I like to do a thing between songs, like an R&B quiz, where I sing an obscure old record that I love, and they always know it. The energy is just different.”

Has writing emotionally candid lyrics always come naturally to you?

“I was raised by my mother for most of my life, so it never felt hard to get to that point, though the track ‘Mama’ was a feeling that I really wanted to describe for a long time . My father didn’t get to that level of emotional connection with me until later in his life. I realise that being connected with yourself, and honest with your emotions, is just the easiest way to live – and I’ve seen so many people that don’t do that, and the effects of it. The good part is doing something you love; it always feels like you’re coasting.”

Besides music, you’re a self-professed manga fanboy – how have Japanese comics inspired you?

“Manga means everything to me. Especially [famously long-running pirate fantasy series] One Piece, which really raised me. Whitebeard is my favourite character from that series, because he was like this father figure to characters who didn’t have anything. All of the dreams and themes around One Piece built the character that I am now. When I’m on stage, I’m like [One Piece pirate captain] Luffy, with my crew and armada!”

You’re steadily building an Elmiene songbook – but are we going to hear a debut album in 2024?

“The plan is another EP in early 2024, and then the album. Albums are very important to me, because my biggest goal is to be able to look back at a physical discography. Yeah, there’s nothing like having my records on the shelves alongside all these incredible works; I can’t imagine how amazing it is for D’Angelo to look back and see Black Messiah, Voodoo, Brown Sugar – or Prince: Sign O’ The Times, Purple Rain, 1999… I love the complete project.”