Caro Emerald Gladdens Our Hearts
A Diva Without the Whims
Her name is Caroline Esmeralda van der Leeuw, and she was born in Amsterdam in 1981. She started singing at a very early age and has made a career of it. In 2005 she left the Jazz Department at the Amsterdam Conservatoire. Two years later - in the meantime she had been working as a backing singer and a singing teacher - she recorded a demo for some producer friends: Back It up. It was put on a shelf somewhere, but people starting asking for it after Caroline sang the song live on Amsterdam's ATV television channel in 2008. The creative team behind the song kept everything under their own management from the beginning. Grandmono is the name of the company, the label and the orchestra for which the singer became responsible in her twin roles as employer and employee. The concept of retro glamour pop with a dance beat, fronted by a voluptuous fifties-look vamp, really took off.
In 2009 Back It up became an instant hit. The CD Deleted Scenes from the Cutting Room Floor (2010) was a sensation and A Night Like This brought the international breakthrough. We had heard things like this before, as a pastiche and with only short-term success, but ‘La Emerald’ is something quite different. The melodious swing style is in her blood. When she sang Mad about the Boy on Jools Holland's New Year show on the BBC in 2010, he told her ‘You make me happy’. In her black satin dress she had the look of a Rita Hayworth, an Ava Gardner or a Hedy Lamarr.
It was from a glamour photo of Lamarr that Emerald's stylist took the pose and oversized hat for the cover of The Shocking Miss Emerald (2013). The title is taken from the film The Shocking Miss Pilgrim (1947) with Betty Grable in an uncharacteristic part as a nineteenth-century advocate of female emancipation. The same idea lies behind Caro Emerald's act, which projects the notion of an intelligent modern woman who acts out the story that she was able to command success on her own terms at some time in the past.
Caro Emerald at Hampton Court Palace in Richmond upon Thames © A. Mouthaan
The secret of the success is the music itself, which is at times a brilliant cocktail of happy ingredients from the lucky dip of musical history, an original synthesis of a thousand and one parts of a great puzzle. When you recognise the ingredients, the pleasure is even greater. The Caribbean element of Emerald's background (her mother is Aruban) finds its way into such Latin elements as the sound of the marimba, a mambo rhythm or the bandoneon, the instrument that provides the backdrop to the tango (e.g. Tangled up with Carel Kraaijenhof). David Scheurs and Jan van Wieringen cut and pasted and played around brilliantly with loops of Duke Ellington piano, surf sounds, oompah music, Phil Spector's ‘Wall of Sound’, disco, Prince, ballad clichés and film music effects. Emerald turns it all into a flowing whole with her timbre and timing. The lyrics are not so deep, but sometimes they produce a smile, for example when, in Liquid Lunch, she sings about the Martini brand, which used A Night Like This in an online advertising campaign, as the cause of her hangover.