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Sey What? Seinabo Sey Is Soul's Millennial Voice

Seinabo Sey
Triple Rock Social Club, Minneapolis
Thursday, January 29, 2015

The world is about to fall in love with Seinabo Sey. Sey's impressively soulful vocal chops have reminded many of Adele, while the electropop she crafts has been likened to that of fellow Swede Tove Lo. Neither of those comparisons were off-base Thursday night, but it was hard not to think of a whole pantheon of R&B greats with voices that just wouldn't quit.

The 24-year-old is in the middle of a five-city, cross-country promotional jaunt for debut EP For Madeleine, which was re-released in the U.S. this week. She performed all five songs from the EP, with "Younger" and "Hard Time" receiving plenty of cheers of recognition late in the set.

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Born in Stockholm to a Swedish mom and Gambian dad, Seinabo Sey (pronounced "Say-nah-bo Sea") spent part of her childhood in her father's homeland before returning to the town of Halmstad in western Sweden, where she says she felt left out because of the color of her skin. Her father was the late Gambian music legend Mawdo Sey, while For Madeleine is named after and dedicated to her mother.

Sey opened her set with Madeleine's "Pistols at Dawn," a slow-burner that built and built until she was belting out the high notes. That EP track was followed by three as-yet-unreleased songs, the last of which Sey dedicated to a lover who spurned her after she professed her love to him. She explained that "Poetic" takes on a new meaning since things didn't work out.

"I'm very grateful that I can at least feel emotions and that I told him," she said before the song. After singing the "Poetic" chorus of "I lose my breath for you and I don't want it back," several times, however, she came to a less diplomatic realization: "He was an asshole."

Cathartic as it may be for its singer, "Poetic" was the lone misstep of the night. Sey was accompanied only by Mikaela Hansson's piano (the other seven songs were filled out with drums and bass) on the tune, which sported a pretty melody but whose lyrics weren't quite capable of carrying the rest of the weight.

Sey picked things up again on the next song, the full-band "River," a dark-but-dancey number characterized by its propulsive drums, rollicking bassline and haunting keyboards. It's the final track on her EP, and for good reason. "River" could've closed out the night with a bang, if not for "Younger," the song that could help Sey make a name for herself stateside in 2015.

"Younger" instructs its listeners to be ambitious and take advantage of youth. It was a bonafide hit across Scandinavia last year, with its Kygo remix hitting number one in Norway's equivalent of Billboard. The two versions' music videos, in fact, have over three million YouTube views combined.

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"If you take anything away from tonight, if you're one of those lucky people who know what you want to do in life, please try," Sey urged while introducing the last song of the night, trying on her motivational speaker hat and echoing the track's sentiment. "I'm from a little town in Sweden and you're here listening to me tonight!"

The audience at the Triple Rock was treated to a lively version of the breakout hit, which starts out slow but eventually builds into a swirl of synths and a hopelessly catchy chorus that repeatedly asks, "You ain't getting any younger, are you?" Responding to the intimacy of the small room, Sey ditched her microphone for the harmonies that close out the song.

Sey was smiling, laughing, and engaging with the crowd throughout her whole 40-minute set, so it must have pained her to literally have nothing left to give once "Younger" was over. A minute or so after leaving the stage at the conclusion of the finale, Sey returned to a round of cheers.

"Thank you so much," she exclaimed. "I don't have any more songs, but I'm going to come back when I finish my album."

The crowd's applause made it clear that should be sooner rather than later. No one's getting any younger, after all.

Critic's Bias: Sey's music had evaded me until earlier this week. I'll be well aware who she is when she winds up on all the festival lineups in 2016.

Random Notebook Dump: Opener Gavin James, a Dublin singer-songwriter highly-touted by big British radio station XFM, made use of the Triple Rock's natural acoustics for the final song of his act. He covered Ray Charles' "You Don't Know Me" in the middle of the floor and, save for a couple of guys at the bar, everyone remained quiet for this intimate moment. That is, until the huge round of applause James received as he made his way backstage.

The Setlist:
Pistols at Dawn
Words
Orchid
Poetic
River
Hard Time
You
Younger


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