Seinabo Sey has continued to break new ground with her second studio album, 'I’m A Dream.' It follows 2015’s 'Pretend,' and pushes the Swedish-Gambian powerhouse vocalist and songwriter further on the upwards trajectory established after her gigantic first single 'Younger' spread a declarative message to listeners around the world in 2013: ‘go on, don’t wait – follow your dreams.’
Sey has done exactly that. After two boundary-blurring EPs, 'Pretend' – her lush debut of soaring and emotive pop – set a higher bar upon its October 2015 release. The album was certified gold in Sweden, and earned her a 2015 Swedish Grammy Award for Best Newcomer (she’d win Best Pop the following year too), nods as both a VEVO Artist to Watch and Spotify Spotlight On artist, a P3 Gold Award for Artist of the Year, and the European Border Breaker Award in 2016.
She’s has racked up more than 400 million global Spotify streams to date, with at least 250 million of them for 'Younger' and its electrifying remix by Kygo. The track’s powerful statement about believing in yourself has gone on to set the tone for the empowering yet intimate music displayed on 'I’m A Dream,' where Sey spans genres while confronting societal norms around self-confidence, body image and the complicated tangle of relationships. As ever, she imbues the crystalline storytelling of pop with elements of 60s soul, bassy R&B as on opener 'I Love You' and 'My Eye' and timeless gospel-like vocal arrangements on 'Hold Me As I Land.'
No subject is too delicate to explore. She grieves her late father – musician Maudo Sey – over clipped 80s drum machines on the heartfelt 'Never Get Used To.' Handclaps, thumping bass and a soaring chorus on upcoming single 'Good In You' capture the dizziness of early infatuation. 'Truth,' one of her favourites, praises understanding your instincts and opens with voice note-like closeness. "I’d rather be honest than make shit up," she says with a dry laugh. “I have no problems with wearing my heart on my sleeve, or telling people about my flaws with my music. I don’t really understand the concept of secrets. This time around it felt really important to make the story that I’m telling directly, and very personal. And every song represents a part of my life from the past year and a bit, more so than with Pretend.”
So Sey opens up, crafting songs that revolve around the issues she’s been vocal about on social media and in her enchanting live performances: womanhood and feminism, identity, body positivity and an adherence to loving yourself. Close collaborator and producer Magnus Lidehäll (Sia, Mapei, Madonna) helped her shape the sound of this new work “to inspire something new. It was also important for me to have the discipline to sit down and ask, ‘what is being myself?’ because with Pretend I didn’t really ‘think’ so much. Now I can look at the art I’ve made and what people liked about it, what it was.” It was a time for a lot of thinking – “maybe too much thinking,” she adds, chuckling.
As well as Lidehäll, she returns to songwriting with previous Pretend collaborators Vincent Pontare and Salem Al Fakir plus her close friend Isak Alverus and songwriter/producer Oskar Linnros. She whittled down about 40 song ideas into the 10 that make up the album. When paired with her resonant voice – which spreads itself thick as a velvet cloak across the album – the production and lyrics create music as thoughtful as her earlier work, amped up with a rumbling bass that almost makes your knees give way, as on this year’s stomping self-empowerment single 'I Owe You Nothing.'
Its visuals, chosen by Pitchfork as one of March 2018’s best, were filmed in Gambia, along with those for the album’s other singles: Jacob Banks-featuring ballad 'Remember' and strings-laced bold anthem 'Breathe.' She wrote 'Breathe' about self-love and self-acceptance poolside while on an impromptu solo trip to Dakar, Senegal in early 2017. Feeling content, she found herself "sitting there, thinking about why I really enjoyed being there. That’s how I started the song – ’I love it here because I don’t have to explain myself to people.’ I realised that as a black woman, so much of our time is spent explaining obvious things about our culture or ourselves” when she would rather just “be.”
Overall, the album is a triumph, after what she describes as a challenging few years. “The last couple of years have been a bit of a tornado emotionally,” she begins. “And so when I have a feeling, I write it down, sing the song, record it, I can get the feeling out of my system. Then, I can almost let the feeling go. Singing that story over and over again becomes therapeutic.” 'I’m A Dream' exemplifies this catharsis, taking the listener on an emotive and rewarding journey that draws you close, as though Sey’s whispering right in your ear.
Her past live performances have already showcased how her expressive, soulful voice can stun audiences into silence at festivals like Way Out West, Glastonbury and Roskilde or on TV performances from Late Night with Conan O’Brien in the US to Later… with Jools Holland in the UK. Next, Sey faces a huge date booked at Stockholm’s 12,000-capacity Globe Arena on Friday 5 October, where this new material and her captivating stage presence will come together. I’m a Dream is her most sincere work to date – come along for the ride while listening to it, and she’ll tell you why.