The Healing Power Of Cleo Sol ✨

Words: Yemi Abiade

I didn’t attend either of Cleo Sol’s sold-out shows at London’s Royal Albert Hall in May 2023. Getting tickets was an obstacle course thanks to just how in-demand the shows were and, ultimately, I didn’t stand a chance. Luckily, social media had my back in relaying the pure vibrations that were on display, allowing me to picture the scene. Because as Cleo descended the steps and through the crowd to kick off the show, handing her microphone to superfans to recite the lyrics of “Know That You Are Loved” back at her, the crowd watched in awe as they witnessed one of 2023’s essential live sets—one that would leave revellers feeling that they had witnessed something deeply spiritual.

Packed with a band, backing vocalists and guest slots by the likes of Little Simz and Chronixxx, Cleo radiated soothing, uplifting energy to a crowd that hung onto her every word. The consensus was that a musical and emotional alignment took place, leaving fans in tears of joy and with a full heart. In British music, very few can deliver such a potent mix in real time, given we’re in the era of phoned-in live performance and social media popularity trumping talent. But Cleo Sol is that special—a necessary hybrid in the instant gratification era.

Anyone who first heard Cleo alongside Tinie Tempah on the 2008 Channel U anthem “Tears” must be marvelling at her artistic glow-up. Back then, traditional R&B seemed to be on the wane as far as British talent were concerned as the onset of electro-rap landed in the streets and on the charts. Since then, the West Londoner has carved out a special position for herself as an incredible singer, songwriter and performer capable of uniting fans of disparate tastes together, while emerging as a titan of R&B and the scene at large.

In a country that constantly debates the existence of the genre, she sells out two shows at a British institution to silence the doubters. Her stripped-back take on soul and R&B—bringing together subtle jazz, reggae and neo-soul rhythms and orchestral backdrops that emphasise her serene vocal range—carries an effortlessness and pageantry reminiscent of British legends like Sade and Corinne Bailey Rae. They have anchored her 2020 and 2021 projects, Rose In The Dark and Mother respectively, two essential albums in the UK’s modern music canon. Not to mention her 2017 EP, Winter Songs—Cleo’s first official project after returning to music from a five-year hiatus, preceding her first crack at the industry in the early 2010s. Lest we forget her part in the prolific British supergroup SAULT, themselves responsible for a number of compelling projects. In fact, that she’s often aloof and out of the public eye adds to her mystique as a true talent.

“It may well still be early but, one day, when we’re all old and grey, we might be talking about Cleo Sol as one of the greatest to ever do it.”

Cleo carries the style and rhythm of the soul music our parents loved, pulling it into the present day by making nourishing, timeless music with universal appeal. Where R&B has diverged into sounds such as trap and drill in recent years, Cleo brings it back to the essence. Her lyrics are odes to her personal growth, insecurities, motherhood, family, faith, independence and determining one’s path. Her soft yet angelic vocals pierce through all our thoughts, stresses and fears, transforming them into hope and resolution to improve ourselves. Therein lies Cleo Sol’s healing power; her ability to make you self-assess, reassess, and find a positive emotional and spiritual release. When she sings, whether muted or hitting powerhouse notes, we feel as special and full of self-love as we should be. Raw and unfiltered, Cleo gives you goosebumps in every capacity, making you want to be a better person for yourself and your loved ones.

Take Rose In The Dark, her first official album, which—with cuts like “Why Don’t You” and “When I’m In Your Arms”—brimmed with impeccable musicianship and mature lyricism. Or following effort Mother, an album inextricably linked to her own difficult relationship with her own mother but also serving as a love letter to her own young child, an approach that shone with musical bliss, particularly on tracks like “Promises” and “Heart Full Of Love”. Unafraid of baring her innermost thoughts and feelings, it feels as though she’s having a conversation with you when her music plays, such is the richness of her heartfelt lyrical and vocal delivery. When she’s not pulling at your heartstrings, she’s offering a perfect combo with Little Simz on “Selfish” and “Woman” (a joint project would be appreciated, if you’re reading this, ladies). Her output, produced exclusively by Inflo (another legend in the making) has been nothing short of the highest quality and, as she continues to grow as a human being, her music is likely to continue flowing from the depths of her heart. It has endeared the biggest R&B fans and the toughest of road guys to her endearing talent, and long may that continue.

If Cleo’s growing imprint on British music wasn’t the clearest, let her catalogue and the Royal Albert Hall shows act as evidence of history being made. Let the commentary around her sink in and continue to watch that space. Protecting her isn’t even a question at this point—it’s imperative. But with her soul-cleansing performances, she more than has our backs too. It may well still be early but, one day, when we’re all old and grey, we might be talking about Cleo Sol as one of the greatest to ever do it.

Posted on May 31, 2023