Nineteen-year-old singer-songwriter Sabriel is in the midst of a reinvention. The Las Vegas native who got her start singing “cutesy” folk songs is now dipping into neo-soul, fusing jazzy riffs and hip-hop bounce with the warm and delicate rasp of a voice beyond her years.
“When I first started performing, I was kinda just doing things that people told me I should do,” says Sabriel Hobart, a graduate of the dance program at Las Vegas Academy for the Performing Arts. “After a while of doing things that people tell you to do, you get bored.”
So earlier this year, Sabriel began a stylistic evolution. The singer—who made her public singing debut in 2011, at a Talky Trees open-mic session at Emergency Arts—revisited the music on which she was raised. She immersed herself in ’90s-era crooners D’Angelo and Maxwell, and R&B icons Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder. Reflecting their soulful quality in her own sound felt “natural” and “more comfortable.” But she could only take the change so far on her own.
In the spring, Sabriel assembled an eclectic new backing band, recruiting moonlighters from local reggae groups Haleamano and One Pin Short, ska band the Remedies and hip-hop crew RNR, whose bassist CoCo Jenkins was the first on board. “She’s very open-minded, musically,” says Jenkins of Sabriel. “She’s really developing into her own style.”
While this transition has been exciting for Sabriel and the band, her more recent material has been met with mixed reviews. When performing, she sees “a lot of heads turn in confusion.” She’s been confronted with a barrage of questions and continuously pressured to define herself: “What’s it like to be a jazz singer? … What’s it like playing R&B? … How is it being a pop singer?”
Her response: “I didn’t know I was any of those things.”
Being under 21, Sabriel has also been challenged by the nature of Las Vegas’s bar-centric music scene. After a recent gig in Los Angeles, where age wasn’t an issue, she found it hard to return home. While she has performed regularly at First Friday, Gold Spike, Eat and, most recently, on the Homegrown Stage at the Life Is Beautiful festival, she wishes there were more options available to the under-21 crowd. “We just need one really cool spot where it’s just about music,” Sabriel says. “Fingers crossed, it would be the Huntridge,” the Downtown theater and former music venue that’s planned to be renovated.
As for her own future, Sabriel would like to continue exploring sonic possibilities. She’s already released a self-titled EP on iTunes and a live session recorded at PBS studios. Next, she’d like to do “a secret Soundcloud album, with a lot of acoustic, lovesong-y type stuff,” she says. “I want to do [different] albums like that a lot; that way I’m not tied down to one sound.”
Still a teenager, she has plenty of time ahead to develop as an artist. “Hopefully,” she says, “I can keep growing into something less safe. I don’t like safe.”
Editor’s Note: Vegas Seven originally reported that Sabriel was slated to
play Downtown Container Park on Dec. 14. That show has since been
canceled. For more on Sabriel, visit SabrielMusic.com.