this is anaïs, the new popstar tackling period shame
If you merged the voice of Beyoncé and the aesthetic of Solange, you’d get something close to anaïs.
Photography Mathieu Bitton
anaïs doesn’t like to explain her music to other people. “I just tell them to listen to it and then I start drilling them about what they think it sounds like,” she says. After trying to sum up her sound in a sentence we can understand her reluctance. Each song on her debut EP, Before Zero, traces a disparate vein: “I try not to make the same song twice,” she explains. She hasn’t. nina -- dedicated to her idol Nina Simone, with a video directed by i-D regular Campbell Addy -- is the kind of soulful track that stokes the fire of revolutions. set in stone’s backbeat and breakout chorus wouldn’t go amiss at 4am swimming in strobes and flailing limbs, while window’s lullaby-esque acoustic guitar line foregrounds her powerhouse of a voice -- one that strings such sonically diverse songs together. Somebody should really choreograph a tango to the closing la mamma, an intoxicating track on which she sings in French, her mother tongue.
It’s quite the U-turn for someone who stayed silent at school for seven months until she perfected her English without a French accent. Born in Toulouse but of Senegalese origin, anaïs moved to Dublin with her mum after her parents split, then headed to Dakar to stay with her dad, before finally settling in California. Later, she studied alongside Arca and Gallant at New York’s Clive Davis Institute. “By the age of 15 I’d lived in three continents,” she says. While this came hand-in-hand with harrowing experiences of bigotry and hate, it also equipped her with an inherent ability to empathise with people of any ethnicity, culture or background, which shows in her art. “I try to make music that doesn’t discriminate,” she says. “Music that’s really humanist at its core.”
Her latest video for set in stone, which we’re premiering today, is indicative of this ability to relate -- and speak to -- universal experiences. Set in Louisiana, it hones in on the era most budding popstars are eager to sweep under their awkward side fringe -- puberty. Specifically, getting your period for the first time, and the toxic shame this can bring about. “Being a young teen, surrounded by boys, not being able to get in the water and experiencing a million different emotions at once but not being able to express why, is a feeling I think many of us have have,” anaïs says. The video is a testament to her ability to make music and visuals that actually say something, but still look -- and sound -- really damn good. See for yourself.
Hi anaïs! What’s your earliest music memory?
Probably the first time I heard the accordion -- it felt like a real living and breathing organism. I really liked it as a child.
Why did you start making music?
I’ve been making music for as long as I can remember. My mom always says I was singing way before I could talk and that she realised I was fascinated with music when she saw me at five years old, mesmerised in front of the film What’s Love Got To Do With It. She recalls me asking her to replay one of the performance scenes over and over again as I obsessively mimicked Tina. Later on I was taught violin and sang in choir, and began songwriting in 8th grade.
You studied alongside Arca and Gallant -- what was in the water there?
The school had an intense audition process and only admitted about 10% of applicants, so I think for those reasons all the kids that applied and got in to the Clive Institute were pretty special. We had brilliant teachers (Bob Powers who worked with D’Angelo and Robert Christgau, one of the greatest music journalists), and while some of the curriculum was academic, the focus was always on the expansion of creativity, and so much of that occurred through the process of collaboration with our peers. It was a remarkable place to learn and hone talent.
Can you remember when you first discovered Nina Simone ?
I feel like she’s always been there -- that VOICE. But I rediscovered her a couple years ago once I really became acquainted with her story. I found Nina so fascinating because she embodied everything I think a great artist should be; an incomparable timbre, purpose in her music, a true voice. And she was bold. She single-handedly fulfilled all of my musical cravings and my needs as a young black woman trying to find her place in the world, but also in the music industry.
How do you want your music to make people feel?
I want my listeners to have an emotional reaction to the music that incites reflection. I would like my music to accompany people through a journey of awareness and self-growth, one through which they question and challenge their behaviour, beliefs, judgments and the world around them.
You can play one of your songs to anyone. Who is it, what song and why?
I’d love to spend an afternoon or an evening with Erykah Badu or Kendrick Lamar. I’d play them some of my unreleased music and get their perspective on it. I consider them to be two of the most intuitive, insightful, thoughtful, generous and purposeful artists -- qualities I’m striving to emulate in my work. To be able to share a moment and a song with either would inspire a lifetime’s worth of wisdom.
Who is your dream collaborator?
I’d love to do a collaborative record with James Blake. We are quite different but I think the place where we’d merge would be special. Outside of music and in another time, I would have loved to work with James Baldwin. The film I Am Not Your Negro, which is based on his unfinished manuscript, really resonated with me. I am not sure how we would have collaborated, but he’s someone I would have liked to spend many hours with. I’ve been heavily inspired by his work.
What piece of art do you wish you made?
I wish I had written any song by Jacques Brel.
If you could, what would you tell your 15-year-old self?
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, to fail and to be bad. It’s okay to be mediocre and work your way up.
Finally, what’s in store for the rest of 2018?
I have a lot of music coming out and hopefully a couple shows.