In collaboration with
- Words Notion Staff
- Creative Director Daisy Deane @ DELA.STUDIO
- Director Ayshe Zaifoglu
- Photographer Rashidi Noah
- DOP Toby Leary
- Stylist Carlotta Constant assisted by Mollie French & Annie Gale
- Hair Stylist Shamara Roper assisted by Donica Campbell
- Makeup Artist Maya Man assisted by Tom Easton & Babi Compos
- Set Dresser Piper Samuel
- Producer Elly Craig
- Production Assistants Amy Yates & Olivia Wright
Get to know the boundary breaking rising star as he chats about making people cry with his soulful sound, the eternal impact of D'Angelo and what it means to be chosen as one of Amazon Music Breakthrough UK: Artists To Watch 2024.
Music careers launched by internet moments don’t always hold promise, but in the case of soul vocalist sensation Elmiene, going viral for a cover of ‘Untitled’ by D’Angelo led to triumph after triumph. First came endorsements from music royalty Missy Elliott, Pharrell Williams and Questlove, then recognition from Benji B and the late Virgil Abloh who featured ‘Golden’ – Elmiene’s first release – in the soundtrack of his final Louis Vuitton show.
Three years and two EPs later, the British-Sudanese artist is destined to be soundtracking and poeticising our new year. As well as being nominated for MTVPush, BBC Radio 1 named Elmiene on their ‘Sound of 2024’.
Last year’s EP, Marking My Time, guarantees that Elmiene knows what success will bring him. On the project, the Oxford-raised singer reminds us of who he is deep down, no matter how blinding the spotlights. Discover more about the R&B trailblazing talent featured on Amazon Music Breakthrough UK: Artists To Watch 2024 list, in collaboration with Notion.
Where does your name come from?
Elmiene because we were washing dishes in Bournemouth and we had to make an account. It had to be kind of cool and it was never really an idea for an artist name, it was just going to be like a music account. And I really like to say ‘Do you know what I mean?’ And my second name is Elamin. And then… Elmiene, like chow mein. You know what, it’s mad, but we move. Do you know what I‘m saying? Do you know what I mean?
Where were you born?
I was born in Frankfurt, Germany.
What’s your star sign?
What is my star sign? If I’m born in June, the end of June, what does that mean? No, but the stars, they look cool.
How do you want your music to make people feel?
I want them to cry. Just like, profusely. In both senses of the cry. Do you know what I mean? Like good, bad, in–between. All of it. Outbursts of loads of emotion, I think, is the best thing I can ask for in a fan. But don’t do it at my show, because it’s a bit creepy.
When do you have an outburst of emotion in that way?
I think for me, it’s when I’m writing a melody, or when I’m doing the rambling, if I don’t suddenly get the lump in my throat while I’m doing it… It just depends, because if I was writing, like, ‘21 questions’, I wouldn’t be crying. I’m sure he wasn’t crying during the session. But obviously, my songs are very emotional. A lot of them are. If I don’t get the lump, then it’s not gonna – I’m trying to think of a rhyme – then it won’t hump.
Do you have a pre-show ritual?
We’ve been trying to make one. For some reason there’s never any speakers in the green room, so I think a ritual that I’m going to now say is intentional, is that there’s silence usually. It’s not on purpose, but I‘m gonna say it’s on purpose. I‘m a massive fan of One Piece. I’m a big manga fan, a big nerd, and I always imagine myself like transforming before. When I get up, when I get on stage, I’m in my gear. I’m in fifth gear like, ‘OK, let’s go’. This is my Coliseum. Because like I had that thought, the first time I was going to get on stage, I was down in Streatham. My first kind of show. At 12 o’clock I was really nervous, my show was at 9. And then I had a thought, I was like, ‘Wait, this is like, to a singer, the Coliseum. Like a gladiator, this is it’. And then I felt like my head was above me, and my feet were below me, and I felt like high almost. I was like, ‘This is sick, this is what it means to be human’. So, that – I like to elevate myself beyond myself.
What’s your main source of inspiration?
Right now, it’s one specific D’Angelo song that has been on loop for the past six months. Before I go to sleep, I always listen to it, because I just want to one day make that song: ‘Prayer’ by D’Angelo on Black Messiah. That one song is basically driving my music single–handedly. It’s just nuts. The lyrics, the production, the grunginess of it, the riff is like the nastiest riff you’ll hear in your life. It’s the best. What inspires me? My manga, my comics: it basically raised me. It’s like my friend once said, “If you want to get to know Abdala (which is my real name), read One Piece and Street Fighter.”
What’s on your rider?
Nothing. I’ve been doing shows for like two years, and I haven’t edited it once. So I just kind of walk in and it’s the most like Waitrose, Tesco value. It’s like grapes and crackers and boring shit. It’s peak, because apparently when you’re a singer, you can’t eat chocolate or cheese, and these are the things I would want before a show. You can’t have the things I want on my rider. Obviously you can afterwards, but what’s the point, I just want to go home at that point and I can get what I wanted anyway. The sick part of it is before the show, so I actually have no idea. You know what, iced tea. Lipton iced tea. No, Freeway iced tea from Lidl. Best iced tea round.
Which artist past or present would you choose for a collaboration?
Past would just be the Soulquarians: D’Angelo, Badu, Common, Questlove. Just to be at Electric Lady at that time, that’s the dream collaboration, if I was there then. Now, it’s almost like I don’t want to do it anymore, because it always feels like you’re dragging too much in the place where you kind of drew inspiration from. It’s like you’re stepping on yourself a little bit. But if I was there when it was fresh… Then now, this guy Leon Thomas I think is sick. He’s mad. ‘Crash & Burn’, ‘Breaking Point’. He’s on it. He’s on some madness. And he did the SZA stuff. He’s the one I want to work with the most now who I’ve not worked with already.
How did you discover these artists?
I think my discovery of them was basically just on your phone: you have the maddest record shop in the world at your fingertips at all times. Because my cousin had introduced me to modern R&B at the time in like 2006/7 – the Ushers, the T-Pains, all of them – I was making a playlist, and then on recommended suddenly it shuffled and it was ‘Lady’ by D’Angelo. I was like, ‘This is mad’. It basically went from me being like ‘I like music’, like everyone else likes music, to ‘I’m a freak’. I went down the hole – to Dee, Stevie, H-Town, Mint Condition, Donnie, Prince – and to this day I’m still falling. I only just started listening to OutKast. I feel like everything needs its time and place in my life and OutKast has finally landed. I listened to ‘Pink & Blue’, and I was like, ‘This is mad’.
Do you have a message for your fans? What can they expect from you?
I want to say ‘keep being students of soul’. There’s so much love to give in this genre beyond all that we see today. I think the biggest thing that I’m thankful for in my life is the fact that I found that. And that’s the thing I want to share with everyone the most. So I would say fall down the hole.
Tell us a bit about the impact of your Sudanese upbringing?
A big thing about Sudanese culture is being very giving and accepting: that’s one of our things. Back home, when you go to Sudan and you’re in the neighbourhood, if you hear the thump of a party, that’s your invite. You don’t need to know someone. As long as you can hear the bass, get in.
How would you describe your sound?
I’m still trying to figure it out. But I think, if I had to describe it… My goal when I’m in the studio is to perfectly reflect the message that I’m trying to invoke or the emotion that I’m trying to present. The Elmiene sound is just presenting that to the best of my ability. That’s the sound. This is what I’m feeling here. ‘Would you mourn a sinner, mama?’ What is that as a sound? The song [‘Mama’], hopefully. That’s the sound. It’s whatever the message is of that song. That’s why there’s so much flipping and flopping between all the songs and the EPs. Because it’s always just like, ‘I don’t care what genre people say I am, I am whatever this song wants me to be’.