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You Heard It Here First: ALA.NI on new album ACCA and the music industry’s need for a #MeToo movement

Every week Stylist shines a light on a female musician you need to be listening to. This week we talk to Paris-based singer ALA.NI, whose blues-tinged vocals are reminiscent of a bygone era. 

Timeless is a word that gets thrown around a lot, but it feels entirely fair when applied to London-born, Paris-based singer ALA.NI. Her jazzy, bluesy voice was practically made for the 1930s ribbon microphone she’s rarely seen without, and it has garnered her fans as diverse as Iggy Pop and actor Lakeith Stanfield – both of whom make an appearance on her latest album, ACCA.

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ALA.NI’s rich, sweeping sound makes sense considering the wealth of influences she’s collected over her lifetime. Born to a Grenadian couture seamstress and bass player in west London, she grew up surrounded by the sounds of her famous grandfather Leslie ‘Hutch’ Hutchinson, a star of 1920s cabaret. 

She studied at Sylvia Young Theatre School and has been performing and earning her own money since the age of five, often spending it on antique furniture for her bedroom and secondhand vinyl – an old soul since her childhood.

Her latest album, self-produced and recorded almost entirely a cappella, sees her layer hundreds of vocal tracks to create a hypnotic, ethereal sound that is simultaneously modern and reminiscent of a bygone era. 

But despite her homage to musical greats of the past, ALA.NI’s sights are set firmly on a brighter future for women in the music industry

“There have been times I’ve looked around a room and there are just 12 men who all think they own a part of me,” she tells Stylist. “I used to have managers who’d say, “You should wear heels”, or basically tell me to get my tits out. And I’d be like no, that’s not me, I’m not doing that just to satisfy some male ideal of femininity.

“Just like #MeToo in Hollywood, these dusty old, white men have had power too long, they’ve done a lot of damage, but we can restore it because we’re women. We all need to support each other in this.”

The first single I bought…
Might have been Deee-Lite – used to go vinyl shopping down at Ladbroke Grove with my stepmother. I got obsessed with buying records as a kid even though I didn’t have a player.

The first gig I went to…
Was Sunsplash, a reggae festival in south London. I remember my dad took me and I was on his shoulders the whole time because I was such a small, skinny thing. I also went to a lot of rehearsals because my dad was a reggae and calypso bass player. I’d be there in these rooms full of weed smoke at the age of five, very irresponsible [laughs].

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The first time I performed…
Was in Carmen Jones [the Olivier award-winning West End show] at the Old Vic when I was 11. We were split up into different teams because it was illegal for one kid to work eight shows a week. 

I also remember to doing an early audition to be a singer at Disneyland Paris when I was about 10. I had to sing A Whole New World and the spotlight was on me, but I just froze. My cousin got the part…

The first time I knew music was my future…
Well, really I wanted to dance, my dream was to join the Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre. But I ended up going down the singing route at 15 because I saw that the dance world was not for me, as a black woman. I trained in pink tights – those were not the colour of my skin. I was told I had the wrong body, my boobs were too big. 

Last year, I opened for the Dance Theatre of Harlem in New York and I saw all these amazing black dancers backstage warming up like gazelles, so elegant. The next day I spent the whole day in bed crying. I didn’t realise how much being a dancer meant to me until I was literally presented with the thing I wanted to be. I just thought, imagine all those kids who have their dreams squashed and don’t know what greatness they possess.

ALA.NI releases new album ACCA
ALA.NI's new album ACCA is almost entirely a cappella.

The first time I realised I was good at what I do…
When I was at 15, but I ended up leaving because I felt like a corporate puppet, I didn’t have any freedom. I started doing backing singing, I did some fashion stuff, but eventually I knew I wanted to sing. If my soul doesn’t sing every day I know I’m suffering from depression or something. If I don’t release something musical in a day, I have to check in with myself.

The first thing I do in the morning…
Make a herbal tea or have lemon and water to cleanse. Then if the sun’s out I like to meditate. Where I live in Paris the sun comes in through the window in the morning and I like sitting, listening to the birds. Then I’ll go for a swim. I love being in water.

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The first person who inspired me…
Is probably Judy Garland, I heard Somewhere Over The Rainbow in a ballet class at the age of three and though, woah, this song is magical. Julie Andrews has always been my staple too, the things that women does – could have done – with her voice. I’m always trying to put my voice into other people’s to learn how they sing, I’m about technique. People like Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Joni Mitchell, Ella Fitzgerald.

The first female artist you should go and listen to after reading this…
Little Simz. We did a few gigs in Paris together really early in her career. I have full respect for her, she’s got bars for days.

ALA.NI’s new album ACCA is out now at hypem.com; alaniofficial.com

Images: Martin-oger Daguerre, Jean-Baptiste Mondino

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