After being a back singer for many artists including Damon Albarn, Andrea Bocelli or Benjamin Clementine, the London-born singer and songwriter Alani Charal (“Ala.ni”) is now pursuing a solo career. We had the opportunity to see her perform at Conde Duque last July 13, this time, at the very front. For almost two hours, her deep-thick voice melted with the warm summerish air of the Madrilenian night, offering those in the venue an unforgettable performance.
Ala.ni is almost a renaissance-type woman: she started as a dancer, studied fashion, did some poetry and is now mostly dedicated to music. On top of that, she has a true passion for photography, having rescued an old technique for developing pictures called cyanotype. Her pictures can be found in Dust and Soul https://www.dustandsoul.com/listados/ala-ni
We had the chance to talk to her when she came to Madrid:
You are about to release your second album, No Format: what can we find in this new album? What has changed in you between the release of the first album You & I, and now?
Yes indeed. It won't be with no format this time, as they only licensed the You & I album. So for now, it's back to being an indie artist and needing to find the new sound a new home. I'm making an accapella album. Going even further into just the voice. I have a beat boxer and male vocals on the new album. It's got beats and is more rhythmic and maybe not entirely what is to be expected of me, as a "jazz singer", but I never gave myself that title, so I feel free to be as I am and express myself as I wish and hope that someone likes it enough to come and see a show and buy a CD.
What cities will you be touring for the promotion and, are there any special venues that you are looking forward to play?
This year I will got to Brazil for the first time, which I can't wait to do! Next week I get to sing to the mountains of Chamonix and do my best Julie Andrews impression. I have the dress ready and everything!!! HA!
Can you talk about the concept of Cyanotype? What is it? When did yoy get involved with it and do you foresee a comeback of thus procedure?
The concept of Cyanotype is a process that uses te sun to expose an image into the most amazing prussian blue.
It's a 150 years old technique that I wish would make a big come back. I started working with this technique about 3 years ago. It took a while to learn the science of it all. It's sad, we are all so caught up in mobile phone amateur photography that we are losing the art of all the beauty and history of photography.
Billie Holiday once said: "If I'm going to sing someone else, then I don't need to sing at all" - Do you pay special attention to the way your voice sounds or is it an effortless sound, to make it sound that original and authentic? Do you have a technique for singing (classes or courses) or is it a natural process?
I have tried not to pigeon myself as a jazz singer as I don't see myself as that. I trained in musical theatre and opera, but I am a lazy student. I never do warm ups or practice. Preferring to just let the music guide me. Every performance is different. I need it that way.
You were born in London but you are based in Paris. What does have Paris that London doesn't have, and what has London that Paris doesn't have? Does the city that you live in impact the way you write?
I was getting very dishearten by London and weighed down by it's hard life and disrespect for conservation of it's history. Old buildings and streets being knocked down carelessly and new ones erected in a matter of months.
Paris is golden and full of romance and life. Those old building ain't going anywhere. The frech know how to live, in London people just survive.
What are the things that inspire you to write?
It's a common thing in the songwriter world to not want to sing some lyrics that were written in the past because composers don't feel identified with them years later. Does that happen to you? Do you stop singing songs that you don't feel identified with?
I'm not sure ofthe question. I like timeless songs with timeless sentimients. Human nature doesn't really change through the years. A good song is a good song. I tend to sing mainly songs written by men and sung by men. Less pressure for me.
Where does the ALA.NI name come from? Why the point?
It's .NI because my website provider is in Nicaragua. It was my publishers idea. I like it so I used it. I get asked this often. My name is really Alani, no point.
"You & I" was just released in the US. How has the reception been so far?
It's been amazing. I tried not to have too many expectations of what would happen out there and just let the music do its thing. NPR have been so supportive, which has been a reassuring things for me. I'm just a tiny tiny grain in a massive sea of music, so its good to know that I can travel the world with my music and someone listens.
The cover picture of the You & I album shows a melancholic - eyed face with a sad smile. Can you talk about this picture? Did you choose it?
I haven't thought about the sad smile, eyed face. I just wanted something neutral and modern to contrast with the tone of the music. I always work very closely with any artwork and visuals, so yes it was all my choice, from selecting the photographer to the layout and all elements of the album content.
You are a multitalented woman. Poet, musician, dancer, writer... you even worked on fashion for a while. Can you talk about this phase of your life? Why did you end it?
To keep it brief... my life without music is no life at all. I was trying to put my hand into so many other branches of my creativity, but would eventually realise that music is the root out of which all other forms of my art can grow.
Is heartbreak more inspiring to write, or is it being in love?
Both are part of the same thing. You can't undestand one without the other.
How was Monteux Jazz Festival?
Well it was a great day. I didn't get to see many other artist unfortunately as I opted to swim in the lake and has press to do, but the after partu was great. I was brave and got up to sing for a bit with the french artist "M".
What is blue for you? Is blue the color of sadness?
Blue is my one of my chosen colours. It reminds me of the sea and expansiveness. It can also be the colour of love.
Your parents were from Grenade. What is your relationship with this place? Has it marked in any way you are now?
My parents being from Grenada and me being born and raised in London has been a cultural lesson all my life. It's a very different way of life of which both I appreciate. I love returning to Grenade. The smell alone as you disembark the aircraft smells like home. But I do struggle to know exactly which culture I must be... so it's best to just be "Alani".
What are you looking forward in the future?