After finding mainstream success and critical acclaim as one half of AlunaGeorge, Aluna Francis is ready to do things her own way. Briefly departing from long-term collaborator George Reid, now she’s heading towards her first solo release ‘Renaissance’ - an album that, via a deep exploration of her heritage, identity and sound, reimagines the parameters of dance music.
Feeling inspired by “powerful individuals” spearheading a new wave of the “Black Renaissance” in the past couple of years, Aluna felt compelled to use her platform to make a difference. “Music for me is an opportunity to discover, feel alive, move forward. It got to a point where I wanted to stand by my creativity and give myself the authority to make decisions,” she states.
As such, ‘Renaissance’, she explains, was designed for Black people - who Aluna believes are not catered for waithin the current iterations of the genre. “I’ve never listened to a dance record that gives me everything that I want. I just wanted to make a soundtrack for Black people who are living their best life,” she elaborates. As a series of exceptionally woven-together tracks with infectious beats, the album pays homage to genres generally disregarded in mainstream dance discourse. As Aluna explains: “I wanted to reimagine dance to incorporate Black history, and the Africa-born or African diaspora-made dance music that is considered ‘subculture’ or ‘sub-genre’.”
When it comes to dance music, the hierarchy of genres mirrors our current racial order. Black genres are categorised as lying outside the confines of mainstream dance, in the same way that Black people are ‘othered’ in wider society. Aluna sees this ostracisation of Black music as intentional; “Reggae, Afrobeat and Dancehall are all types of music you dance to. That’s dance music to me,” she notes, “but these genres fail to be included in the mainstream.”
Club culture in the UK was spearheaded by Black, queer and working-class communities, with dance music serving as a powerful tool for resistance and temporary refuge from persecution. Yet, as club culture continues to proliferate, its activist message is lost, and pioneers forgotten. So for Aluna, as a Black woman, reclaiming her sound on her own terms is important. “I’ve always found being the sole contributor to a piece of music kinda scary. I’ve always leaned on other people to verify that what I’ve done is good,” she concedes. “But now, I need to be there for myself.”
"I didn’t go solo straight away because I knew that, as a Black woman alone, I was going to get chewed up.”
The erasure of Black club music works in tandem with the forces of austerity and gentrification, which obstruct Black people from accessing many physical club spaces. The government’s now-defunct 696 form (which required promoters to detail the ethnicity of their patrons), paired with increased policing of communities, served to criminalise Black music and stamp it out of club culture. “People were being prohibited from being the central ambassadors of the music through government control; that’s big because it was a blossoming genre. The takeover by white people then happened really quickly,” Aluna explains. While Black music was marginalised, the same sounds pioneered by white artists grew without interrogation.
“I didn’t know this history of dance music for a while, and would hate seeing [only] one or two Black girls in the audience when I performed. I had this notion that Black girls in general are not that into dance, but I get it now. Of course we won’t be on the dancefloor; they took our whole genre!” she says, frustratedly.
As a Black woman in a white-washed industry, Aluna says she had to be tactful in her career decisions. “I thought to myself: I’ve got this goal, but I’m not going to go straight for it,” she admits. Looking back, the singer knows that she wouldn’t have found this level of success if she entered the industry as a solo artist. “I wouldn’t admit it to myself, but I can’t deny that I didn’t consider being in a duo as a much more successful prospect - doing music with a white man,” she continues. “One of my secret reasons for not wanting to go solo straight away is because the music industry is racist and predatory. I knew that, as a Black woman alone, I was going to get chewed up.”
The whole industry requires a massive upheaval and restructuring. There needs to be a deep interrogation into how the industry defines genre, tells its history, and who it chooses to platform. Aluna hopes that ‘Renaissance’ will help in reclaiming dance music as a form of escapism for Black communities, and help to force that change. “Black people need spaces where we can party together safely and have a harmonious night,” she nods. “I want this record to get people dancing. Dancing is healing. The world is so polarised and is getting more and more terrifying: dancing is an antidote to that.”
‘Renaissance’ is out 28th August via Mad Decent.
As featured in the August 2020 issue of DIY, out now.