Masses of R&B junkies flocked to Detroit’s beloved El Club this weekend to see Toronto’s Daniel Caesar. However, if the crowd came for the heavenly vocals, hooky chorus lines and earnest lyricism that Caesar has come to be known for, they were pleasantly surprised by his opener, Snoh Aalegra – the Swedish R&B-soul singer who was discovered by none other than Prince four years ago when she first came to the States to pursue her music career. With Prince as a mentor, Aalegra began to create her unique sound, inspired by Swedish pop sensibility, American R&B legends and Persian poetry.
“I always knew that I had to come here because R&B and soul is rooted in the states and I had to come here and work with the people who do it the best so I can become the best I can be,” saya Aalegra. So, she moved to LA in 2014 and signed with Sony almost right away. It wasn’t long before Aalegra realized the label was pushing her in a direction she didn’t want to go. Luckily, as fate would have it, The Purple One came to the rescue.
“Literally the day after I signed, Prince called Sony and was like, ‘Can I get in touch with this artist?’’’ Snoh reminisces. “I couldn’t believe it because he’s one of the major idols in my life… he was one of the biggest voices telling me to get out of my deal.” Free from the confines of a major label, Aalegra was able to write her music the way she wanted to, infusing the elements that make her unique – her multicultural background and love for classic R&B.
“I speak three languages and each language – Swedish, Farsi, English – has so much beauty and depth to it,” Aalegra explains. “Farsi is very, very deep. There’s certain things you can’t even translate.” Despite her diverse background, Aalegra says she was surrounded by American R&B from an early age. “My mom didn’t play so much Persian music at home,” says Aalegra. “She played Shirley Bassey and a lot of Whitney Houston and soul music, so I discovered that kind of music at home. But then, I got really into Persian poetry and I think that has affected my writing a lot.”
When writing a song, Aalegra pulls on the influence of her idols – she cites Prince, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Stevie Wonder, Mariah Carey, Brandi and Lauryn Hill – along with the emotional depth of her native tongue. Her efforts have paid off -in October, she released her debut full-length, FEELS, the follow-up to her 2016 EP Don’t Explain.
These multicultural muses and the fact that she writes all of her own music are what set Aalegra apart from other R&B divas. Performing on El Club’s modestly sized stage with a four piece band, Aalegra shone in a stripped down set that would otherwise expose the less talented. More traditionalist songs like “Fool For You” and “Nothing Burns Like the Cold” nod to Aalegra’s admitted Stevie Wonder and Whitney Houston obsessions, while “You Got Me” and “Time” serve as a tribute to 90’s R&B. Throughout the show, Aalegra’s sultry voice floated through the decades with ease, creating a timeless sound that won’t soon be forgotten.