Commanding the Dance Floor & Writing Some Wrongs
If her name does not sound familiar, Aluna Francis, who goes by simply Aluna, has a sweet and pure voice that may sound familiar, having amassed over one billion streams as one half of UK electronic duo AlunaGeorge. The synth-pop duo from London, which includes George Reid, has had a string of hits since 2012 including “You Know You Like It” with DJ Snake, “White Noise” with Disclosure, and “Hurting” with SG Lewis, touring with the likes of Coldplay, Miguel, and Sia. Aluna goes it alone this month, when her debut solo project, Renaissance, releases on August 28. Culminating at a time when people hunger for some relief and escapism, the record is a kaleidoscope of dance music anthems, house, Afrobeat, garage, dancehall, psychedelic, and pop with absolutely no timestamp but the future.
When speaking with Hamptons Monthly, the conversation got quite serious but also had moments full of laughter by the end. Aluna talked about standing her ground as a black woman, her need for driving home authenticity when it comes to various sounds and subgenres, and she revealed a humorous chance encounter with Madonna at Governors Ball.
You’re about to release a debut solo project during a pandemic and during Black Lives Matter, all while raising a baby girl. “Renaissance” is really about a black renaissance and how the culture and influence of black people around the world impacts all of us. How does this collection of songs resonate for you and what have you been doing to stay sane?
Well, first of all, the outcome of being in the midst of all of these things has been for me, as opposed to against me, which is something I’m really grateful for. I’m always writing about my experience as a black woman, so at a time like this, having the outlet of music, especially music that is already written, already has the agenda built within it. I don’t write politically charged songs, but I write from my black experience. But I’m not overt lyrically about anything. I don’t write as an activist; I write as a poet.
I don’t want to talk about things that I’m not interested in and I’m very interested in ending racism, both externally in the systematic oppression but also internally with the internalized oppression. Internalized oppression is very interesting to me because no one else can do it for you, like we can take down the systems, because the systems are outside of us and they are in the world and affect us all. But internalized stuff is your own personal journey and will have to come down with both yourself and the imposter that is racism and its effects within you.
On “Renaissance,” you penned these songs, sang, produced, played piano and even drums at times. How important for you was it to embody so many different aspects of this album? Wearing this many hats is not something many artists even have the capacity to do.
The most important hat for me was songwriter-executive producer because I’m not particularly interested in, for example, creating a drum sound from scratch that
I then listen to it and tweak it for an hour before I put it down. At this point now it’s very easy for me to explain the sounds that I want, the rhythms that I want, the vibe that I want, the tempo that I want, and all these kinds of things to work with an engineer or engineer-producer. So that was the main thing for me. And then lyrics and melody obviously.
Beats and production and rhythm is so central to Aluna. On new songs from “Warrior” to “Body Pump” to “Get Paid,” these songs have such a blend of genre and musical influence. When you were coming up with your solo project, I’m sure there were a lot of emotions. Where did you pull your inspiration from to craft these songs?
Yeah, it was all written in 2019. It was interesting because sometimes, especially
in pop music, when you hear beats from different genres mixed together and especially from different cultures, it’s more likely to be someone who is inspired by an ethnicity other than your own, which I call a form of artistic cultural appropriation. So, when I’m diving into Afrobeat or dancehall or reggae or house or garage, I am coming from my direct personal heritage and experience, so I don’t have to go and listen to that music in order to draw from it. It’s like in my blood.
But the unique thing I did on this record unapologetically was bring it all together in the same way that I am a person of mixed heritage. And I am a whole human, so I know it’s possible to have harmony with those different elements. And I know how to treat those different elements by going further back to the roots of what those rhythms and sounds are trying to do to your body, so that it doesn’t sound strange, basically. Because sometimes I find fusion music sounds just really strange because it takes the sounds on face value without knowing what the source of those sounds are and being able to find what’s similar about them and the connection between them.
Let’s talk about what you are doing to lift people up in your community, in the industry – women of color, women in general, people of color. How does this directly impact and celebrate the origins of dance music for you?
I would say that this is more about a celebration of the future of dance music. Because the origins of dance music are really like Chicago and Detroit house and techno, which I did not dive into. I wasn’t actually exposed to that, so I didn’t even know the history of dance. I discovered it as I was deciding what kind of record I wanted to make and the knowledge. Where I’m influenced by the history of dance music is just the actual fact that black people, people of color, and especially black women were the pioneers and creators of dance music. I was like, well, what would it look like if dance music hadn’t been whitewashed, and turned into something else? What if we just carried on from where we left off, where would we be now, what would it sound like? That’s kind of where I was going from.
You have played a bunch of times over the years in New York while touring with George Reid in AlunaGeorge at Surf Lodge in Montauk, and while on tours with Coldplay, Miguel, and Sia at Barclays Center and Madison Square Garden, Rough Trade. Do you have a specific memory of a show or moment from New York over the years?
At Governors Ball I was watching James Blake perform, and his live shows are just
so incredible, and midway through the set, way before I was ready to leave, I felt my period come on like a wave and I’m in the middle of a festival with nothing, I just didn’t expect it. And so, I was torn between finishing watching James Blake and sorting out my period, and I had to recruit a first-aid officer to go into the festival and just like find me some stuff, it was hilarious. And then, I was supposed to be performing with Disclosure and all the backstage dressing rooms were very small and shared, and I needed to, like, fully get changed. They had been talking in their room for a while and I said, “Hey, I need to get changed, I’m going on stage.” And so someone looked at me and was like, OK, alright, they went in there and then out comes Madonna, and I’m like wait did I just have Madonna kicked out of a dressing room so that I could get changed? I was so embarrassed. I was like. oh my God, why didn’t you tell me that Madonna was there? I would have just gone to the friggin’ toilet or something, Jesus! And she sat on the grass. I was like what the hell is going on? I don’t even remember the performance.