British-born, Paris-based artist ALA.NI U.S. has announced that her debut album YOU & I will see release in the U.S. through Missing Piece Records, distributed via Caroline in Spring 2017. With all songs written & produced by ALA.NI, the album was recorded in London at Owl Studios (owned by Sade’s Andrew Hale) and Studio 13 (owned by Damon Albarn which makes sense as Ala.ni did backing vocals for Blur earlier in her career and Albarn has become a trusted mentor). The album saw rapturous response when it came out in Europe and the UK earlier in 2016. For those attending the annual APAP Conference in NYC, she will make her debut performing as part of the Summerstage/Twilight Concerts summer preview showcase on January 5th at the Highline Ballroom alongside BADBADNOTGOOD, Dayme Arocena and Lady Wray.
ALA.NI stopped many people dead in their tracks when she appeared on Later...with Jools Holland late last year, performing ‘Cherry Blossom’ with a Disney-gone-noir vocal, as compulsively anachronistic as the sensibility of the track itself. ALA.NI arrived with a voice that seems to take in the cadences of musical history, and an idiosyncratic creative approach to conveying her music, including spooky, self-produced Super 8 videos, 19th century photo techniques for album packaging and release formats that include wax cylinder recordings and even a miniature music box. Her vocal stylings have been compared to Billie Holiday, Minnie Ripperton, Lena Horne, Judy Garland or Julee Cruise, but this is no nostalgia trip and to make these simple comparisons would be, as Glamour noted “a disservice because the thing about this West London-born singer is that she is totally unique.”
Raised in Shepherds Bush by Grenada-born parents – a reggae-calypso bassist father, and a couture seamstress mother – ALA.NI sang them ‘Over The Rainbow’ at the age of 3, and her talent was immediately obvious. She attended the Sylvia Young School whose alumni also include Amy Winehouse, Rita Ora and many other British artist and after leaving school, ALA.NI worked as a backing vocalist for artists as varied as Andrea Bocelli, Mary J Blige and Blur. She was successful, but didn't carve out a space for her own art until a trip spent with her parents in Grenada, when something happened creatively that had never occurred before: a song.
One morning at 3am, “I'll Remember” arrived out of her mouth all in one piece. Then it happened again, when “Cherry Blossom” (YOU & I’s first single) subsequently emerged, fully formed, in the middle of the night. This music sounded like a series of woozy yet crepuscular David Lynch-ian miniatures, rushing between the glow of innocence and the pang of experience. ALA.NI realized that as a backing singer she had spent too much time trying to fulfill the limited remit of her training, where as a woman of color she’d be expected to sing R&B and soul styles almost exclusively. She hadn't been able to do melismatic American soul runs, because she wasn't a melismatic American soul singer. She had been turned down for jobs because she sounded too English, but she was English.
The resulting album tracks where ALA.NI was in her head in a very literal way, too. It traces an arc through the duration of a particularly tumultuous relationship, with a man who was with someone else at the time- a relationship she hoped would win out, it quickly became one she couldn't have. As such, ALA.NI’s outlook is now tempered by wisdom and an acceptance of change, which the listener feels keenly as You & I plays. With ALA.NI’s hushed, grainy vocals sparsely fleshed out by a ’66 Gibson 345, “Come To Me” conjures up the warmth of being together during those first rushes of desire, with “flowers blooming by the door”. By the time we get to “One Heart”, though, the singer tells us: “I sense you are torn/Evidently, you love me / And another, this I know”. By “Roses & Wine”, the lover “runs out of time” and by “Darkness At Noon,” the light has gone out entirely: “We agreed to end this love affair/To erase every word that you said that set me free.” The sense of loss the record conveys is genuinely, astonishingly touching, and it turns out that her farewell to that affair in the greatest of ways, was also a farewell to the city she loved. Soon after, ALA.NI moved to Paris, which is where she now lives and works, charging into the future. You & I has changed ALA.NI in other ways, too: during a recent spot at David Lynch's Paris Silencio club, the idea of the performance, and its timelessness, soaked into her bones, and the idea of history being brought into the present – her own, and that of music – was suddenly golden, forever.