The evening may be drawing in but the day’s oppressive 28 degree heat still lingers. “It’s never like this!” a 23-year-old Seinabo Sey casually remarks, as we look out across one of the many shimmering bodies of water that tie Stockholm’s clustered islands together. It is pretty stifling, I have to admit, but I know she’s not just referring to the heat.
On our journey from Jamrock – a Caribbean restaurant in the city’s “trendy” Södermalm district – to the water front we’d lost two of Seinabo’s friends to the studio. Leslie Tay – a young rapper from Malmö – and one of Seinabo’s best friends Isak Alverus are writing for a lot of artists at the moment. “He’s not really my best friend anymore,” Seinabo jokes at one point, “Leslie stole him. They’re in the studio every night. Whenever I call him to hang out he’s like, ‘We’re going to the studio!’”
Our view turns from the Royal Palace back towards the Lydmar Hotel and the languid beats emanating therein, their exact location obscured by the fluttering white canvases of the Patio Bar. Having asked me over dinner to join them for the evening, Simon Yemane (another friend of Seinabo’s, and an artist in his own right), leads the way through the gathering crowds towards the bar itself, where a small stage soon becomes visible.
It’s about eight thirty, those responsible for the music are called Sango and Waldo I’m told. They’re from Michigan and “are actually pretty good” I hear someone say over the bustling sounds of glasses and laughter. I don’t disagree but it’s not long before Waldo takes a back seat and Sango takes to the decks and breaks out all the hits a good DJ should. The place is positively buzzing, the ratio of those dancing to those gently swaying soon inverts and by nine thirty there aren’t many left quietly chatting in their seats.
Propping up the bar for the duration, there are at least 10 people who walk past and are greeted with Seinabo’s infectious grin and a hug. The Swedish/Gambian singer, it seems, is pretty recognisable in her home town. There are at least another 10 who Seinabo points out to me: “she is a really great dancer” … “she’s an incredible singer” … “that guy, dancing over there down the front, he’s like a really famous Swedish poet” … “that’s the guy who helped put on tonight’s show, I’ll introduce you later.” She introduces me to many people I can’t really keep up. Zedd collaborator and Gothenburg born singer Miriam Byrant comes over to say hello and when Seinabo’s not looking turns to me and says “she is so great.”
It may be the sunshine induced good will or the enthusiasm often brought about by a third glass of wine, but it’s impossible not to feel like there is something really happening here. To have stumbled unknowingly into a crowd so creative in nature, so vibrant, so individual; it’s also impossible not to feel a little overwhelmed. It’s quite surreal. Sweden’s track record for producing incredible music is no secret but the reasons behind its success are a little more mysterious – the free music schools or the cliché that ‘there must be something in the water’ are the usual suspects. Everyone I meet this evening seems to know everyone else, everyone is collaborating with someone else here. If this is an accurate representation of Stockholm as a city, the reasons behind its creative successes suddenly become obvious. “It is never like this,” Seinabo says once more.
The sun sets around 10 just as the bar closes and the crowd disperses. Some head home (it’s a school night after all) and some move the party upstairs: we follow through the decadent lobby of the Lydmar up the grand, winding staircase to the wonderfully intimate confines of the Terrace Bar (which in case you were wondering, does have its own fountain!) Apparently Justin Bieber stays in the place next door when he visits. Simon talks about the writing retreat to Gotland he’s planning, he needs to get bored and whilst Seinabo talks to Nina Nestlander (her manager), he mentions to me that Seinabo is the only person he knows that sings backwards. She overhears him and glances over as if to say ‘what are you talking about?’ I’m not sure myself so am glad of the repetition. “I was just telling her how you’re the only person I know who sings backwards,” he says, as she smiles. I’m still clearly at a loss but as the two sing “you’re getting so much older, older, older aren’t you?” in unison across the table it all clicks.
Simon is, of course, referring to the very song that lead to me joining them here in the first place; Seinabo’s debut single “Younger.” A soulful, quietly addictive number that surfaced online late last year, “Younger” was, for a debut solo effort, an incredible undertaking: built upon lingering organ notes and Seinabo’s powerhouse vocals, it starts off in life as a straight-up soul pop ballad but ends things in the throws of euphoric, trance like sonics - ushered in by the steady hand of producer Magnus Lidehäll. “You’ll meet ‘The Producer’ tomorrow” Seinabo had said at dinner earlier that evening, while Simon did everything he could to make Magnus sound like an intimidating character. “Don’t look him directly in the eye, and definitely don’t touch his head…” he laughed, before I interrupted with a suggestion of my own “only speak when spoken to?” I had to assume they were all joking, but as we parted company for the evening I wasn’t entirely sure.