Superstar Seal on Soul, Obama and the Power of Music

CANNES ~ For Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Seal, the great thing about music is its power to affect and move people, especially in times of change such as these.

“It’s so strange that you can be listening to a song 1,000 times and then you hear it one time and it means something completely different,” 45-year-old Seal said during the world’s biggest music industry trade fair, MIDEM, held in this Riviera town this week.

“That is the power of music, it can affect you in such a profound way, and this is what happened to me,” said Seal, whose recent album Soul has sold 1.5 million copies worldwide.

Seal was referring to the impact he felt on re-listening to Sam Cooke’s 1963 R&B single A Change is Gonna Come. The song came to embody the 60s US civil rights movement and last year inspired him to record his own version in light of the wind of change sweeping the globe as Barack Obama clinched the presidency.

“I heard it many, many times,” he said. “But I heard it recently and it had a different effect on me because of the political situation in America.”

But for the British singer, born to a Nigerian father and Brazilian mother, change is more about the individual than civil rights.

Soul singles such as Cooke’s “don’t necessarily have civil rights connotations for me,” he said. “When I hear them it refers to the personal change inside the individual.”

Likewise, talking about Obama, Seal said “I think the biggest change that he’s going to make is that he’s going show the people that they are the change, that he can do nothing; he can only remind them of their power and their ability to make the change.

“The change is not gonna come from the top down; it’s gonna come from the bottom up. And I think the change is happening already.”

The fact the new US president had a white American mother and Kenyan father had extra meaning for him, said Seal, who is married to supermodel Heidi Klum.

“It’s how I was raised. I was raised in a country that taught me to believe in equality, to not see colour.

“I feel proud because my children are mixed,” he added. “It’s an example to show them and say, ‘You’re special. I always told you you were special.'”

But the singer said that in his view there was no such thing as “black music” or “white music.” Some of the greatest soul singers were white, such as Bob Dylan, whose hit Blowin’ in the Wind was a civil rights song about black people.

“It is music and it can go into everyone and be made by everyone,” Seal said.

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