Elmiene’s voice is undeniable. Born Abdala Elamin and raised in Oxford since the age of 5, the now 21-year-old has been called on for his sweetly soulful croons, since his living room concert days, singing Young Money’s ‘Bedrock’ with his cousins, or going micro-viral at secondary school for his cover of Michael Jackson’s ‘Man in the Mirror’ in music class. And yet, despite his love of performance and a knack for poetry and writing, it wasn’t until he was discovered via his effortlessly silken cover videos on social media that he realised he could merge the worlds of his words and melodies and shape a future for himself. The next chapter of unearthing who he was as an artist was another fairly speedy one. Within the span of a week, he’d experimented with incorporating spoken word alongside singing on a track, then just spoken word over an instrumental. And then it hit him: “I realised that marrying the two doesn’t have to mean them being separate things, like water and oil in a song. It could be the same thing. And the first song after that was ‘Golden.’”
As debuts go, his was quite a monumental one. After a chance encounter with Louis Vuitton’s musical director and DJ Benji B, the track struck a chord and went on to form the soundtrack of Virgil Abloh’s final show for the brand, taking on an entirely new cultural gravitas. Since then, Elmiene has graced Lil Silva’s critically-acclaimed Yesterday Is Heavy project, Stormzy’s This Is What I Mean and the majority of his own debut EP EL-MEAN was produced by cult British folk-soul artist Jamie Woon. His sophomore EP Marking My Time sees his impressive pool expand further, with collaborations from Sampha, Jim-E Stack, BADBADNOTGOOD, Syd, DJ Dahi, James Vincent McMorrow, Courage and a return from both Silva and Woon too. And if his debut EP EL-MEAN was the scribblings in the first few empty pages of a diary – as he described it in his COLORS debut interview – figuring out how to transform all these stories into art, Marking My Time (Polydor/Def Jam Recordings) feels like getting into the rhythm of things and growing used to a new way of communicating with and grounding himself. “The general theme of this project is trying to mark my time not in terms of history but just for me personally, so I don’t get lost. Almost making a checkpoint to anchor myself. Even sonically it’s like I’m marking my stamp that I put on things,” he says.
“Soul has shaped basically the whole structure of my artistic being, I was just steeped in it for my whole teenage years,” he says. His music world opened up after discovering Craig David’s ‘Seven Days’ and the years that followed saw him track back through the likes of Usher, T Pain and Blue to find Boyz II Men, Jodeci, Dru Hill and Tank, who led him further back to Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and Donny Hathaway. Today, he follows that same thread to indulge in artists such as Brent Faiyaz and Cleo Sol. And aside from the velvet fluidity of his vocals, the imprint of those greats can be felt instantly too in the poetically heart-on-sleeve approach of his songwriting. Lead single, ‘Mad At Fire’, Elmiene calls on the forces of nature as the justification for an enduring love, comparing his deep feelings to the universal truths of fire burning and water flowing in impossibly soft falsetto. “Those romantic aspects of life and nature feel so ethereal, it feels above the common ground…beyond our comprehension.”
Those philosophical leanings also seep into Elmiene’s framing of his Muslim faith and this new creative life he finds himself in. ‘Mama’ is a meditation on trying to maintain a sense of balance – grappling with these two rivalling forces of Elmiene and Abdala Elamin and treading a path untrodden. Over silvery drums and a chorus of tender pleas, he outpours ‘tell my Lord I’ve tried, held my faith inside.’ ‘Diane’ sees him try to suspend that reality altogether for a moment, as he sings in muted echoes over mournful strings. “It’s about a girl that I like and it’s me trying to come to terms with the fact that because of my way of life, it’d never work. But for the duration of the song, I kind of build this world where it would.” His sound resurrects the theatrics and vocal chops of old-school R&B loverboys with the timeless musings of our soul titans and filters it through a refreshingly modern production prism of jagged synths, metallic chords and soaring strings to create something entirely new and compelling. And his mission with it is a simple one: “I just want to show you what I am. And then you take it, however you want.”