Artist of the Month: Anané
Artist of the Month: AnanéJanuary 15, 2024
The improbable scene: Super Bowl XLI, February 4, 2007, Colts vs. Bears at Dolphin Stadium, Miami, Florida. Prince is about to blow the proverbial roof off with an impeccable halftime show. But first, 100 million watching fans are about to get an unprecedented taste of Latin house rhythms, courtesy of legendary DJ Louie Vega and his Grammy-winning Elements of Life live ensemble. As a phalanx of Cirque Du Soleil performers tumbles out onto the field amid a calico riot of swirling silk butterfly wings, psychedelic ladybug balloons, and bobbing papier-mâché alligators designed by artist Romero Britto, Elements of Life weaves propulsive samba and salsa beats throughout its uplifting anthem “One Dream.”
Presiding over it all from centerstage, resplendent in a bespoke gown of tiger orange and violet, is vocalist Anané. A sampled giggle of her newborn child with her husband Vega surging behind her, she entreats the crowd to awaken colorful dreams in their hearts. “Here we are in paradise, uniting rhythms make us one. Passion’s fire fills the air, enjoy the beauty of the sun.” Such massive mainstream exposure of house music’s positive vibes and global rhythms was unthinkable to those who grew up in the underground of the 1980s and ’90s. But Anané proves the perfect avatar to beam the scene’s soulful affirmations into nacho-filled households around the country.
“When I think back on that day, I still get emotional about how it was such a family affair,” Anané says. “My son Nico, my husband Louie, the performers, the crowd, and of course, house music finally being played at the Super Bowl. Plus, I got to meet Prince!”
Anané’s life has been a series of jaw-dropping moments like this, and the sublime variety of her music over the past two decades reflects a chameleonic wonder at where the universe will take her next. From soulful chanteuse and global beats explorer to slinky afterhours siren and funky diva — she’s mastered it all as a vocalist. Her 2010 debut album Ananésworld came stacked with club hits like “Bem Ma Mi,” “Shake It,” and “Plastic People,” a collection she re-envisioned in 2020’s Chapters of Becoming Anané. Her labels NuLu Music and NuLu Electronic popularized Afro house in the US with dozens of releases, and her long-running parties Nulu Movement and The Ritual draw huge crowds to hear her DJ.
Add in yoga teacher, video director, writer, artist, mother, and watchful partner (during this interview the smoke alarm in her kitchen went off when Vega forgot he was making toast) and there’s hardly any ground she hasn’t covered.
Her latest EP Take A Ride, on Nervous Records, is a retro dance floor delight, channeling jazzy ’70s funk (“Coffy Is the Color”), rapturous rollerskating jams (“High”), downtown NYC punk-disco (“Let Me Be Your Fantasy”) and steamy Italo (“Tutto Previsto”). Produced by Two Soul Fusion, aka Josh Milan and Vega, Take A Ride‘s lush, live-orchestrated sound digs deeper into disco’s variations than the usual homage—and, in true Anané fashion, carries a much more personal expression.
“This music represents to me a time when I first came to the United States as a young girl. My parents were disco lovers. I remember them doing the Hustle in the living room and at family gatherings. I thought it was so fabulous and glamorous,” Anané says. “But it was actually the image on the cover of the EP that came first. My dad collected vinyl, and there was an old jazz album he had with a gatefold. Inside was this beautiful woman, in all her undressed glory, blowing bubbles. I would always go back to it. She was like a statue. I knew I wanted to recreate that somehow. It’s very artistic: naked, with an afro, self-possessed. I wanted to celebrate being a woman, and what a woman is, what our bodies are. That’s so important right now.”
That artistic statement is a tribute to disco’s effervescent cultural power. “I never made it to Studio 54 or Paradise Garage, they were before my time, although I always listened to this music. But it wasn’t until now that I truly understand what disco culture means, which is very parallel to my art and who I am as a person. It represented a time of glamour. But it also represented a freedom, when people were very unapologetic for who they were. It was a unity of class, color, religion, sexuality. I see myself as that today. I’m a free spirit. I embrace all people, I welcome all people. Music is where you can manifest that. The dance floor is where you can make that all happen.”
Ever-restless in exploring new passions, Anané directed the video for Take A Ride single “High,” finding yet another field of expression. “I had to think, What do I want this song to look like visually? And that’s an amazing thing to do with your own music. All these scenes from files in my brain suddenly popped out, like doing a Sophia Loren-meets-Thelma and Louise scene with the handkerchief around my head driving around Ibiza, or depicting the rollerskating that I used to do as a little girl. I fell in love with the process and even wrote a couple short movies. There’s something special I’ve been working on which I hope will see the light of day,” she teases.
Born in the capital of musically vibrant island nation Cape Verde, off the west coast of Africa, Anané and her family were forced to flee when she was a child due to political unrest. They landed first in Portugal and then went on to Rhode Island, where they settled. A trip to New York City dazzled the young immigrant, who expressed a desire to move there — a desire immediately quashed by her mother, who came from a more traditional view of what women could and could not do on their own. “She told me that first I had to get a husband, and he could take me. And I said, oh no, that’s not going to happen,” she laughs, “It was the first time I realized I would have to really choose to become who I am.”
She began writing music at a young age, while also entering beauty pageants in Rhode Island. The triumph of scoring the Miss Portugal title was tempered by simultaneously encountering the racism that a little fame and exposure brought with it. Discovering house music at illegal raves and gay clubs, and using the earnings from her factory job to take day trips to New York, helped her find her people. Soon she moved to the city with $100 in her pocket, waitressing and clubbing at institutions like The Tunnel, Nell’s, Save the Robots, Mars, and Sound Factory Bar. “Once I walked through those big red curtains at Sound Factory Bar, I knew I was home,” she says. “That was the club culture that helped me understand who I was. The music spoke to me as someone who knew there was a better world, where you could dress up a little and love each other, no matter who you are.”
Discovered by Click Model Management on the street, she shot campaigns for Revlon and Macy’s, and danced in videos for Def Squad’s “Rapper’s Delight” and Byron Stingily’s “Get Up Everybody.” (She had barely missed becoming a regular dancer on MTV back when she was living at home, after she received a callback but was unable to return for another audition in New York.) Making music was her ultimate calling, however, and once she met Vega and joined Elements of Life she embarked on a career that would lead to years of recording, touring, and “branching out the artist’s tree,” as she puts it.
Anané’s second career as a DJ came about almost by accident, and has now become central to her musical practice. After Vega remarked on her stellar musical selections at home, she got behind the decks for a lark at New York City’s hip SubMercer club, where the promoter told her to just relax and create an atmosphere — but the venue immediately filled up with people ready to party. An immediate hit, with beats that spanned the globe, she scored a regular slot (Kanye West and Erykah Badu would eventually come to hear her) and set about teaching herself how to spin professionally in overnight sessions at home. Soon, agents were clamoring to book her, and she was playing for thousands in Europe.
“It’s been an amazing journey, but also challenging,” she says about DJing. “I taught myself, and had to learn everything in the public’s eye—just always ready to be roasted. But Anané the singer and Anané the DJ are on opposite sides of the spectrum. When I sing, it’s very melodic, touch-the-soul, almost soft-spoken. When I DJ, I am an aggressor, I take control of that room and take every soul with me wherever I want us to go.” Working in the booth sometimes with her famous husband “fosters a deep respect for each other as artists. Of course, I’m in awe of his talent like everyone else. When we play it’s always a true collaboration. We don’t mix into each other, we simultaneously layer our tracks over one another. There could be five, six track playing at once. It’s our love language.”
Playing music from Africa naturally resonated with Anané, and young artists began sending her music after hearing familiar sounds in her sets. That snowballed into starting Afro house label NuLu Music label 2009, and the more Afro tech focused NuLu Electronic in 2013. “The name stands for Nothing Ultimately Leaves Us, because I believe that although you may forget the music you hear, the minute you hear it again it takes you right back to that certain place in time. There is an imprint on our spirit, in our hearts, of music that we hear,” Anané says.
Nulu started putting out dance music from artists from Angola, Congo, Haiti which Anané would mix with Fela Kuti, zouk, and styles from Cape Verde. “People just started losing their minds, like what is she playing? On the digital portals, there wasn’t even a category for it yet. They would clump us in with world, or soul, or soulful house.” Future stars Black Motion gave her a demo CD in Praetoria; Djeff approached her in Luanda. “Many of those artists who are so big now came through NuLu. I feel like I’m the unsung hero for signing them first, but I’m fine with staying underground. I don’t want to be part of the fast fashion that music has become. That’s not who I am.”
Disillusionment with the fickleness of the industry led her to abandon it in the 2010s to become a Bikram yoga instructor. Intense yoga training eventually built back up her confidence and determination to return, and a full-circle encounter with her musical past sealed the deal. “I went back to Cape Verde, and saw a show where women danced the traditional tabanka,” she says. “Our country is still very male-dominated, as much of the world, as much of the industries. I grew up in that traditional atmosphere, women were supposed to stay in the home, no matter what they wanted.”
“But in the tabanka, it’s the women only who drum, who chant, who dance. In that moment, I understood the fire in me. All of the ancestors behind me, all my ancestral women behind me, were pushing me forward in this life, to break these chains. To break these stereotypes. The women were so powerful. I felt a true breakthrough. There’s still so much work to be done to transform the world, to change the industry, to change ourselves and our way of thinking. And music is the universal language that can do that.”
“There’s frequency to music, that gets transmitted and moves us, and thus moves the collective spirit of the world. What better time than now to speak about freedom? What better time to say we are accepting of each other as we are?”
Marke B. is a freelance journalist living in San Francisco. Follow him on X.