By this point, AlunaGeorge might be the most relied upon voice in this whole dance/pop/rnb crossover world. Her collaborations with high profile producers and artists are numerous but specific.
Historically, listeners and DJs may have taken someone like Aluna and totally disembodied her, milking the talent and leaving no identity left. Vocalists were evidently discardable if they didn’t fit an industry mould. The past has not been kind to black female voices in house music especially, encouraging a sort of facelessness and co-option, but that recognition may have changed.
It’s encouraging to realise that Aluna has total agency. When I met her she had just sustained an injury but spoke with poise and thoughtfulness, her professionalism totally apparent. Despite challenges she can still stand on her own two feet as a multi-talented unit. Upon the release of her second album, one which finds her more fully embodying the entirety of AlunaGeorge, she’s become more realised as a recording artist in herself, moving from just being a “song” oriented musician to finding more confidence in being a fully fledged performer. I Remember celebrates as much as it mourns, questions and reflects.
After single handedly ending world suffering with the amazing Catching Flies, You Know You Like It as well as collaborations with DJ Snake and Disclosure, the present and future are bursting with promise.
Jonno: Everyone was talking about that Meryl Streep speech at the Golden Globes but it made me think about the responsibility of an artist when the world feels particularly chaotic or unstable. Arguably every industry is kind of neutral, there’s no real benevolent medium, it’s more up to that individual involved to use that platform. I was also thinking about dance music and certain types of vocal oriented music and how they’ve often been involved with solidifying joy. I think my association with dance music is very much rooted in its history, and how people found solace there when it was considered a radical movement. How do you feel like your voice and your music can be used that way?
Aluna: I think in terms of the responsibility of an artist, it’s almost similar to your responsibility to the whole entity that is creativity. It depends who you are. I, for example, feel that music fulfils that need in us as humans and you can really play with that. But I like to be able to communicate within that three minute window something about the problems that we all experience and how to get out on the other side. I don’t usually like to just leave people with, “Oh, we all have problems,” and then, “Let’s all cry.” I like to communicate it in a truthful way, instead of just sticking a plaster over it. I really enjoy trying to go through that journey within a song… it’s a challenge. It’s like… how do you tell the story and also take people out of that moment to mobilise them at the other end?
Totally. I guess a lot of really passionate vocalists have successfully communicated that. They’ve been able to communicate resentment or pain in a way that can still be navigated in a very celebratory way, right?
Yeah. I think that there is a difference between politics and the discussion of human rights and how we should treat each other as humans. Politics can sometimes be the best way to try and create change, but it’s not necessarily the most sustainable way to treat each other as human beings. I think that artists are allowed to do things in a different way. So, I allow myself not to have massively strong political viewpoints, but at the same time I will write a song about sexual consent written from the perspective of somebody who has had her boundaries and her rights crossed, and make that into an anthem of joy. From the perspective of… ‘it’s fun to get consent’.
It’s not like an obstacle.
Yeah. I think that as an artist you have a responsibility to tell some truths about what it is to live on this planet. If you’re not doing that, then you are just making money by distracting the masses. There is something to be said for the pure enjoyment of being lost in the moment. And that is good. It’s just not what I would say is sustainable. It’s not something that lasts. So I try to leave a mark that will last over time, that you can keep referring back to, that when you say those lyrics, they are empowering, whether you wanted them to be or not. You Know You Like It, it’s something that for me was about me being a teenager and trying to find a way to use the fact that I was a very different person in the place I lived. I kind of was the only black person in my city, especially at my schools and things like that. I try and celebrate that in some way as well. I knew that lots of people identified with that even if I hadn’t met them.
Thank you for sharing that! Yeah, I definitely feel like … My understanding of your music is that it has definitely gained a sense of urgency or even a weightfulness since your first album. I think this can ascribe too much meaning to something, but on “I Remember” I feel like there’s a tone or an approach towards pain that may not have been visible on your first album in the same way. Do you think that’s an accurate summary, and also do you feel like there was a different mindset you were in when you were approaching these songs?
What happened in the second album is… my ability to write from my own perspective started to blossom. I think that’s a hard thing to do. Because it’s like giving yourself advice and then following it. All you want to do is be like, “I’ve been wronged and I’m sad,” or ignore it, actually.
Which can be really easy.
But then I started to find that I was getting this cathartic effect of working through my own experiences and finding a way to have some way to rationalise it in my head or get over it or even exorcise those demons and those emotions through the medium of song. A lot of I Remember is very personal.
That’s amazing! I was thinking back to what I was talking about how, for a lot of young people, RnB-centric pop was their first experience with music altogether. Those kind of genres were so accessible and so upbeat – they formed a connection in terms of how pop culture was devised then. Do you have initial memories of connecting to a genre of music or a type of music or a song that still carries through to today, where it has continued to influence you?
Yeah! It was mainly stuff like Radiohead, Jeff Buckley, PJ Harvey, where they were singing about very emotional things in very beautiful ways. Because I’m a very emotional person, it created a space where I could actually just revel in that, not have to think about it and understand it, but still at least have a partner in it. Because music can be your friend. That’s what it was for me.
Do you feel like there’s a kind of disconnect when you’re playing or trying to communicate those emotions to a really big festival crowd, where people might not necessarily be paying attention to lyrical content in that same way, as opposed to a small venue? Do you think that the emotional gravity of it is different?
Not really. The first group of people that made me cry whilst singing I Remember was a massive tonne of people at a festival.
I think that was on a very, very full tent. I don’t know how many thousand people were in there, but they were outside the tent as well. A very powerful collective group of people who were feeling … I watched, for example, Bon Iver at Glastonbury in 2014 and he was playing Park Stage, so that has enough room for thousands and thousands of people, and they were all just standing stop still and they were just feeling, and most of them were men. So the feeling you got in the crowd was immense, very personal, very intimate, just times lots and lots of people. It can swing both ways.