Seinabo Sey Is More Confident Than Ever on "I Owe You Nothing"

Back for the first time in more than two years, she returns to Gambia for a video celebrating her West African heritage.
March 16, 2018, 11:14am

Two years can feel like a long time in #NewMusicFriday terms. When musicians don’t consistently pump out new songs to tease EPs to tease albums to tease tours, there’s the sense that they’ll be easily forgotten and swept into the general ‘yeah, they did a thing didn’t they, anyway have you heard this new Chainsmokers’ pile. Catch me sounding like someone born in the 40s but it’s a bit wild, isn’t it, how the internet thrusts so much music into our open and waiting arms each day??

From an artist’s perspective, then, taking a few years out and falling off the whizzing treadmill of new material surely feels like a gamble. But it’s beautiful when it pays off. Take the case of Swedish-Gambian musician Seinabo Sey, who hopped back into our lives this morning with a new video for bassy, designed-for-a-shoulder-shimmy single “I Owe You Nothing.” The song practically fluffs its hair in the mirror before heading out to swerve every naysayer in its path, thumping with a message of self-belief and not compromising on who you are. When she sings “I owe you nothing / I be myself and I ain’t frontin’ / nah nah naaaaah,” she does so with her chest. You can feel that she’s had to come on a journey to be able to stand this tall today.

If you’re a pop fan, you may remember Sey from her 2015 pop-soul debut album Pretend. It was a more reserved offering than this, cloaked in a first-release gentleness and naivety. After all, Sey had decided to pursue music full-time relatively late in life, writing Pretend single “Younger” about what it feels like when you know that if you let a clear ambition morph into a dream, you'll miss the opportunity to turn it into a reality. As that song’s lightly distorted vocal hook goes, “you ain’t getting any younger, are ya?” But “I Owe You Nothing” now sees Sey embrace both her confidence and the black African elements of her mixed heritage more than ever before. Her late father was well-known Gambian musician Maudo Sey, and she returns to his birthplace (where she also briefly lived as a child) to film a video that practically lets off the sticky heat of the buildings in which it was shot.

“I figured it's time I stand up for myself and this is my best way of doing that,” Sey said of the video, in a statement. And so she stands up for herself by singing in the rich depths of her voice, staring the camera lens down and simply showcasing a part of her identity that her audience may not have fully seen before. Sure, it's been a couple of years. But sometimes that's how much time it takes to uncover and then share a new side to yourself.

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