Paris-based Londoner, ALA.NI has just dropped her latest a cappella track and we can’t stop listening to it. ‘Papa’ has been taken from her forthcoming self-written, produced and arranged new album, ACCA, and features guest spots from fans of her work, including Iggy Pop and Lakeith Stanfield (Uncut Gems, Atlanta).
Written and recorded a cappella (with no use of loops or sampling), the album is the follow-up to her widely praised debut ‘You & I’, which picked up airplay across 6Music and secured ALA.NI other famous fans amongst the likes of David Lynch, David Byrne and Jean-Baptiste Mondino.
The accompanying video for ‘Papa’ – co-directed by BAFTA-winner Martina Amati and Tania Feghali – was filmed over the course of a two day shoot last summer, between Lake Como and the riverside woodlands of Switzerland’s Verzasca. ALA.NI spent a year working on lung capacity and underwater choreography for the submerged footage shot at Lake Como by Amati, whose passion for free diving informs the surreal, gravity-defying feel of her work.
“No instruments used on this track, only vocals and a beatboxer. Studio walls were banged, chests, faces tapped and slapped and also a Cuban butt, all to create the percussion.”
“This song started out as a poem, written for a girlfriend with recurring dramas with men. A year after writing the poem and whilst in Mexico together, I read it to her. ‘Papa didn’t love me, any man take me.’ She quickly exclaimed ‘that is a song lyric!’ so we proceeded to jam around this idea. I took it back to Paris and started to work on the production and soon realised, maybe these words are applicable to me also. Daddy issues… Oh the healing powers of music. No instruments used on this track, only vocals and a beatboxer. Studio walls were banged, chests, faces tapped and slapped and also a Cuban butt, all to create the percussion.”
A powerful vision of modern womanhood, ACCA is unflinching in its account of pain, anger, sadness, and growth. Written whilst on the road in spots including Paris, Mexico, Los Angeles, the UK and New York, ALA.NI created the album by layering up hundreds of vocal tracks, some of which imitate the sounds of instruments, building a hypnotic world that blurs the lines between vibrating vocal cords, bowed strings, and blown reeds. Written – as with ‘You & I’ – a cappella, with ACCA ALA.NI pushes a vocals-only technique to its furthest possibilities. “It was all pretty lo-fi on my end,” says ALA.NI, who often captured songs on the fly using a laptop whilst in transit. “I didn’t record to a click, I didn’t use a tuner; I’d just press record and lay down whatever came out.”
When ALA.NI’s debut came out, comparisons to Ella Fitzgerald and Judy Garland were quick, but her music reflects a far more complex influence and experience. Born in London to Grenadian-immigrant parents (her mother a couture seamstress, her dad a reggae bassist), ALA.NI’s great uncle, Leslie “Hutch” Hutchinson, was one of Britain’s most popular singers in the 1920s and 30s, also lover to Cole Porter. A talented dancer, ALA.NI loved Julie Andrews and the ballet, but was told in no uncertain terms that as a young black girl, those things weren’t meant for her. Graduating from Sylvia Young, ALA.NI worked as a backup vocalist, performing with the likes of Mary J Blige, Andrea Bocelli and Damon Albarn. ‘You & I’ triggered ALA.NI’s debut on Later…with Jools Holland, also bills shared with Rufus Wainwright and the Dance Theater of Harlem, and sets at New York’s Lincoln Centre and David Lynch’s Silencio club. More recently, ALA.NI has also sound-tracked Netflix hit Russian Doll, starring Natasha Lyonne.
‘Papa’ is out now. ACCA is set for release on 24 January.
Photo: Martin-oger Daguerre