Etta James, the woman who inspired 2011’s music phenomenon, passed away in January. She was one of the great voices of soul, but the genre is more alive now than than ever.

British singer-songwriter Adele is this year’s sensation. Her album “21” was the best-selling album of 2011 and of this century. In the middle of a musical moment commanded by dance and hip hop, Adele’s ballads have conquered everyone’s heart. We have Gaga’s and Perry’s but singers like Bruno Mars, Beyoncé, Alicia Keys or Cee Lo Green are amongst the top-selling artists as well. There is a lot of unnecessary labelling around music genres; you can call it soul, neo soul or R&B but one thing is sure: soul is living a new golden age.

Soul music has survived through the many genres it has influenced…

Religious black music (gospel) was baptised as “Soul” when it began to talk about profane topics in the 50s and 60s. It was the way black people defended their rights and illusions. Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, Ray Charles, James Brown, Aretha Franklin and Marvin Gaye were some of the pioneers and Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson marked the turning point to neo soul in the 90’s. Soul music has survived through the many genres it has influenced: contemporary R&B, funk, hip hop, neo soul and rock. It is interesting though, that such an American music style has reborn and reached its highest success via a series of British female singers led by the late Amy Winehouse. She was named ‘Queen of Soul’ just a few years ago, but soon after, Welsh singer Duffy menaced with dethroning her.

Some artists before Amy (Joss Stone, Corinne Bailey Rae, Mary J. Blige) started the process, but she made soul mainstream. Most purists complain that this is nothing but good commercial pop, but the truth is Adele sounds closer to Etta James than to Rihanna. While the result can’t be classified as genuine soul (it is a mix of pop and soul), this new wave of artists clearly reflects a special interest not only in classical soul music, but also in the 60s style.

…[Amy Winehouse] demonstrated that a different music genre, far from the pop/dance general trend, could be on the charts.

Six years ago, with “Back to Black”, Amy Winehouse became the first British woman to win five Grammy’s and obtained the most wins by a female artist in a single night. There is no doubt she opened many doors to soul music and to the new female singers in general. She demonstrated that a different music genre, far from the pop/dance general trend, could be on the charts. She turned soul into a fashion and her retro style was quickly copied by designers, publicists, celebrities and singers. Everybody wanted to be Amy.

Adele’s “21” is the story of a lost love, much like Amy’s “Back to Black”. Amy dressed as the lioness she pretended to be, but was weak as a doll. She had a strong, untamed voice that sounds fierce and beautiful in her albums, but she collapsed in live performances and often offered shameful shows. Adele does bright, passionate performances instead and has the maturity and the presence of a diva. She looks older for her age, both physically and psychologically and seems to sing with the experience of a lifetime although she is only 23. You can feel the pain through her powerful and disciplined voice, full of shades and admirably modulated. Amy Winehouse and her heiress share a voice that, as Dylan would say, aches like a woman but breaks just like a little girl. Adele, far from Amy’s bad habits, can last as a big artist. So now the Queen is dead, long live the Queen.

 

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