Getting To Know Elmiene, Brit-R&B’s New Golden Boy

As he prepares to unleash his new EP, ‘Marking My Time’, we caught up with the rising star to discuss everything from his Sudanese heritage and growing up Black in Oxford to working with the elusive Jamie Woon and touring across the pond.

Photography by Pierre Girardin

“Soul and R&B—I was a kid obsessed.” 

It’s Elmiene’s first day back in his hometown of Oxford after returning from the States; he’s got a sold-out show at The Jericho, but this is nothing new for the 21-year-old rising star: he’s already sold out shows at Camden’s KOKO and the Hoxton Hall. The British-Sudanese singer/songwriter has surfaced as a boundary-pushing maestro of sound, captivating listeners with a voice that resonates with soul and spirit, so it’s no wonder he’s such a hot ticket on the live circuit.

It was in 2021, when Elmiene released the single “Golden”, that his journey commenced, sending ripples across the musical realm, enthralling countless listeners and industry luminaries such as DJ and Louis Vuitton music director Benji B, who previewed the song at Virgil Abloh’s final show for the fashion label in Miami two days after his passing. But for Elmiene, this experience was the beginning of his musical brilliance. His swift ascendence as one of the most exciting R&B acts in contemporary times has seen Elmiene go on to collaborate with legends such as Timbaland and co-write with the likes of Stormzy. 

EL-MEAN, his debut EP released earlier this year, unravels an artist who has undergone a profound metamorphosis, coupled with vocals that gently stir the soul, presenting lyrics that delve into the realms of headache and love. Now, Elmiene, who counts Prince and D’Angelo as central inspirations, is ready to release his second EP, Marking My Time, with the prediction of taking him to new heights. Working with the likes of Sampha, Jamie Woon, Lil Silva and more on the project, fans can expect Brit-R&B’s new golden boy to delve further into his psyche, seeking self-understanding and questioning his actions. This is a soundtrack for those navigating life’s tricky path. 

We spoke to Elmiene about his Sudanese heritage, growing up Black in Oxford, the significance of Marking My Time dropping at this juncture in his life, touring North America, and much more.

Marking My Time is me marking my time at this checkpoint in life and using it as a checkpoint for my romantic emotions.”

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COMPLEX: Black people’s experience in the UK often seems to be London-centric, but you are from Oxford. How was it growing up in that part of England, and how did it shape your understanding of being Black and British? 
It was slightly weird in Oxford because I stayed in West Oxford, which is predominantly white. In my school, there were only four Black kids in the whole year, but because of it, I feel like many of us were down for what’s good, and we’re proud of our Black heritage. We all went down different roots, but I went down the soul root—that was my addiction: soul and R&B. I was a kid obsessed. Despite being in an area where people wouldn’t listen to R&B, I was deep in it, but it all felt good. When I first moved to Oxford, my cousins put me on to R&B and at the time, T-Pain, Usher and Craig David were big, so I had people to look up to. I made my own army of people who would appreciate the music. 

Coming from a Sudanese family, what were your parents’ attitudes and perspectives when you told them you were pursuing a music career? How did this impact your inspiration and your commitment to purpose?   
I got very lucky because my mother was very open about what I wanted to do. She was’'t the stereotypical Sudanese mother; she tried to make me go through the roots of STEM. But she would never make me do something I didn’t want to do because she knew I wouldn’t do it well. So, I went to university to study poetry, then started to do music, and by the grace of God, I was able to show her that music can be financially lucrative for me. 

What was a vivid memory from your childhood that shapes your artistic expression today?
I was a weird kid when I was young because I didn’t talk much; I was just observant. If I pinned it down to something, it would be when I first saw my dad do wrong because, as a kid, in your head, your parents are like a compass, and you believe what they’re doing is correct, but watching someone that you respect to do something wrong, you notice that not everything is black and white and it impacts your worldview. It affected my artistry because now I have an open filter to my approach and do not have biases and judgments. Just live life. 

Do you remember when you faced any tribulations as a child, and how has this helped you build your determination in music? 
I grew up an only child, so a lot of my childhood was me spending time alone or watching older people, and I think even just that, you have to learn how to navigate stuff alone. And when things happen at home, usually you have siblings to go through that healing process, but for me, I didn’t have that comfort and you kind of have to build that yourself which is something that helped push me in music. 

“I just let ‘Golden’ be golden and didn’t try force-making the same track again to replicate its success.” 

Your new EP, Marking My Time, is highly anticipated. Can you provide some insight into this project’s themes and creative process, especially concerning the title track that you co-wrote with Jamie Woon and James Vincent McMorrow?
Marking My Time is me marking my time at this checkpoint in life and using it as a checkpoint for my romantic emotions. What was that life during this time of my life? My mental health is what I’m thinking about during this time. My interests, the things I’m hearing and the sounds I’m interested in... It’s a project to document and respect this time of my life because, very soon, a significant change in my life will happen. I would be making different music for this period. Jamie Woon and James Vincent McMorrow are like my senseis in the game. I soon realised their inspirations are the same as mine; they express them differently, and I’ve learned much from them. 

Marking My Time follows your impressive debut EP, EL-MEAN. How has your artistic journey evolved since your debut, and what can listeners expect from this new release regarding your growth and musical exploration?
EL-MEAN, in my head, is super novice now, which is a sign for me, and I return to it sometimes. It was fun because it was a bunch of songs that were my interpretation of songs that I loved. When it comes to Marking My Time, I’m pinpointing my sound and what I want to explore, telling the journey to come that isn’t written yet.   

The EP features collaborations with talented artists, including Syd (The Internet), Lil Silva, Sampha, and more. What was it like working with these innovators?
They’re all so great and all so different, but what I like about all of the people I worked with on this project is that they let me take the lead flow and understood how to redirect what was happening to see where it goes, which is how great art is made. 

Your journey in music began with “Golden” in 2021, which went viral and was featured in Virgil Abloh’s final Louis Vuitton show. How did this breakthrough moment influence your approach to your music career?
It was an amazing situation, and it was incredible how healing and natural it was. Everything went smoothly, and because of how natural it was, it never weighed down on me. I just let “Golden” be golden and didn’t try force-making the same track again to replicate its success. 

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As you prepare for your North American tour, what are you looking forward to the most in terms of connecting with international audiences and bringing your music to new places?
I did a couple of shows in New York and for Spotify in LA, and I realised how much the vibe is so different because you see people reacting deep down with all their senses and emotions, which I love and respect. Their appreciation is different, which I’m excited to experience more.

Looking ahead to 2024, what are your goals and aspirations as an artist, and how do you plan to build on the momentum you’ve gained so far in the industry?
I want to continue to make records that I’m proud of, that make people understand me and myself more. That’s what I’m looking forward to doing in the coming years, and I also want to be considered in the conversation amongst some of the greats.

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