Tea Time With Aluna
Aluna, one half of famed duo AlunaGeorge, knows that what makes you dream is the most powerful currency
Latashá Alcindor (ZORA): For the folks who don't know you, who are you and what do you do?
Aluna: I am Aluna and I am also in the band, AlunaGeorge, one half of it. Currently my focus is on my solo project that is all about dance music. It's an opportunity for me to pull together my cultural heritage, as well as the places I've lived in (UK, America), into my particular brand of dance music—dance music that makes both a young Black woman feel at home, a young biracial-non-binary person feel at home, or whatever it is you are, feel at home all in one space. I'm trying to create a space for those sentiments, those feelings, and those connections, and [to] pull that into real life, live experiences.
LA: What fueled you into making music?
A: Music was probably, it sounds a bit exaggerated, a lifesaver. My life as a child didn't have much consistency or stability as it were. I'd already moved ten times by the time I was in secondary school. I'd moved countries. I was in a single-parent family, low income. So there was lots of alone time and lots of weird spaces to be in, like a school, photography studio, a mobile home by the side of the road. All of those spaces were turned into magical playgrounds when you turn on the music loud. So when it came to that kind of pivotal moment where you start choosing your career direction, it was actually my mom who accidentally suggested that I do music.
LA: You're really into Futurism. Do you feel like 3D and AR are going to become something that you're interested in for your future and your work?
A: Yeah. I feel maybe the permission to do it got granted through reading up on AfroFuturism and looking at the concept of what an aspirational art form does for a community. I don't think I’d really thought about it before, in terms of fantasy writing and things like that. I didn't understand it aside from being an entertainment value, I didn't understand it for the Black community that, what makes you dream is one of the most powerful things, the most powerful currency.
What I like about digital art is that the landscape is not based in reality. You're starting already from a position where it's fine to say, ‘This is where we're starting, and it's not where we are now. We're skipping a few steps.’ I always thought when people talked about future stuff they always talked about a dystopian future where everything is destroyed. And I was like, ‘Well, I'm not really into that s****’.
LA: How do you feel about AI and holograms in touring?
A: As long as they're being used for the purpose of invigorating the audience, then it's all good. A lot of the time, those new technologies feel threatening to an artist who, a) can't afford to do those things on stage, and b) are struggling to use their essence, their physical stage presence to excite an audience. Ultimately anything that we invent has to connect to the human spirit regardless, and there are people who will always be disconnected and use new tools and new technologies to further that disconnect; and others who will use it differently.
LA: What is your biggest challenge as a Black woman musician in dance music?
A: The system. The system that currently has the festivals being predominantly white, and [what] I would call "the gathering spaces," [that are] predominantly white, so all the factors have to change. DSPs, in line with bookers who book festivals, in line with government legislation that particularly targets Black gatherings, in relation to the erasure of the history—all of that has to move. To make change in all of those spaces sounds crazy, but as I have given myself a beyond-my-lifetime lead on it, I'm doing it compound-effect style. So I dedicate a certain amount every week of my time to trade with these parts of the industry. The biggest challenge is to keep going. I picture the future, and that ultimate party at the end of that future, that's going to be so fun: where people who have been moving the needle in all of these different places—Black people, Brown people, LGBTQ and white allies—get to celebrate together.
LA: What has been your biggest triumph?
A: My biggest triumph came fairly early on in talking to DSPs behind the scenes—we actually managed to change the way that dance music is viewed in the mainstream on DSP platforms. So you now have some sub-genres in dance platforms like Jersey club, Baltimore club; we also have some Afrobeat being brought into the fold. No dancehall, yet. That was incredible to watch, and also shifts in employment, like who’s in charge of certain areas. All it did was give me a taste. I was like, ‘Well, I offered this amount of my time. I said these things. These results happened. It's possible, then’. We just have to do that—times a bloody thousand.
LA: You have a deep connection with your fan base. What made you approach your connection in that way?
A: Reclaiming myself, my personal fulfillment within my career. Prioritizing my wellbeing as it pertains to me being a Black woman. Not just feeling satisfied based on the idea that I'm an accomplished musician, producer, singer, and performer. I did find myself in a lot of situations while I was having huge amounts of anxiety, and trying to work over the top of that, and it ultimately eroded my efficiency as an artist because it was so exhausting. Now, I can keep doing the same things that I've always done, but in the back of my mind I know I'm working for change, and I will see that change come. So now, if I'm back on one of those stages, and I'm the only Black person I can see apart from maybe two people in the audience, I feel different because I'm like, ‘Yeah, but it's alright because we have a plan’. And the fact of the matter is, I know that all the white people in that audience also want it to change, they're just not actively doing anything.
LA: How and why did you get into crypto and NFTs?
A: Well, the first thing I did was buy a bunch of Dogecoin on Robinhood. I was like, ‘This is fun, it's like a game’. I think one night I thought I'd gone crazy and spent $500. Then when crypto and all that became really popular, I was like, ‘All right, what am I doing, now’? My Black Girl Raver support group, one of the members had joined a trading group led by Black women, and she invited me into that fold, and I was like, ‘I have never even conceived of the idea of Black women teaching me how to make money from money’. I thought that was for the Oxford graduate from an upper-class family, white male. So I'm doing TradingView analysis with a Black woman who's like, ‘Yeah, I'm teaching basketball tonight and then I'm going to be up at 3 a.m.' I'm like, ‘This is some serious s***’, people are giving up their jobs and stuff.
LA: How are you doing all this while also making art, while also trying to hold down the community?
A: Raising a child—a brand new one—four months before COVID hit. I think that when Black women turn their powers on each other, we don't understand how we're doing so much because that has been going elsewhere, we just shine it on each other. The first Black Raver support group everyone cried, like I've never seen Black women cry, quite honestly. And so just the fact that what we were all crying, that there were others like us—that’s happened in all of these different endeavors that I'm talking about. That's why I'm able to do so many things.
LA: And what about the NFTs?
A: NFT was the idea of a member of my team. I agreed to it, and because I always agree to a new idea, my first first thought about it was, ‘Oh, there's somewhere to put my artwork’. I do a lot of 2D artwork, I also make my own clothes. There's not really an outlet to discuss it, only I'm on stage and wearing it. We'd been doing the design process, which is all familiar, and then I was like, ‘I'm going to Google what an NFT is’.
LA: You didn't even do that, yet?
A: Hadn't done it. I was like, ‘I get it; it's digital art, right? No, it's not’. That was fun.
LA: Now that you do, how do you feel about them?
A: It has completely changed the approach in my mind. It's no longer just an outlet for my creativity. One of my biggest things that I feel is part of my success is focus. When I decided to do music, I was like, ‘I've got to make some decisions here’.
Decision number one: I decided to not have a backup plan. Decision number two: I threw away all my paints, because I knew how much energy and time I would take into messing around with painting. So I did a lot of stuff where I was like, ‘Throw it out, throw it out’. And as I was working, it would all come back…but with NFTs it felt like it was extending way over to the side, totally unconnected to my music. I was spending my whole time on a whole different planet. But with the community aspect, it’s like, ‘How do I change the way the actual dance music industry is run’? And then well, if NFT isn't digital art, per se, it's a toolkit, maybe there's a way to add to that endeavor. So the DAO stuff is interesting to me, maybe a little bit too early for me to wrap my head around; I need to see some more examples.
LA: HerStoryDAO would be a great example for your Black Raver Support Group.
A: Well, the other thing is, I'll bring things up like that to them and the resistance to anything "otherworld" is big talk.
LA: Over time it will come. No force.
A: That's what I'm saying about it being early. But I am, for example, starting a charity and starting a label, because they're at this early stage where the stuff already exists. I'm thinking ahead: maybe the charity becomes the DAO; maybe the label has the capacity to onboard an artist directly onto an NFT situation without them having to do the learning curve that I have done—a bit like if you sign as an artist, you don't understand the entire music industry—there's no way that you will sign a contract and you'll move forward with your career. At some point, you'll sit down and study.
LA: So that's what you want to see for your artists when you bring them onto the label?
A: I would love that. I mean, one of the things that I'm seeing as a signed artist is that it doesn't connect quite [yet]. You really do have to be an independent artist to make NFTs work in that fluid way. So for any independent artists out there, just think about that when you got a deal on the table, make sure you know what an NFT is before you put all your eggs in that basket.
LA: What do you hope NFTs can change for the Black Rave community?
A: I hope that the investment aspect can feed into stabilizing and normalizing the Black Raver community in lots of different ways. At the moment, if you just want to do an all-Black festival, you have to really build that infrastructure from the ground up. You have to do Afropunk and who knows how that happens.
LA: They have a doc out, and it’s definitely transformed, like it all does. It all gets commercial, but it definitely started from Black folk, though.
A: My eye is always on [the] commercial—it's always on mainstream. I want Black people dancing to dance music to be mainstream and normal. I want a really normal Black girl who's just studying law and wants to party.
LA: How do you envision touring in the metaverse? Because you're doing a show.
A: When I was talking with the Rave Group, we talked about the metaverse. I was like, ‘Okay, so it's not financially viable to build a Black festival, right’? And even when it comes to booking festival lineups, a booker was looking at how many people you can bring in, so they're not booking Black artists on the lineup. But the metaverse seemed like such an obvious place to start building that. Anyone who was putting on those festivals was absolutely uninterested in using that opportunity to move the needle for diversity in dance music. I was like, so surprised. It's a huge opportunity there, a huge gap in the market. I don't yet know how to do it, but I do think that with the community-based element so integral to the NFT world, there's something there. I'm not going to force it because I'm still such a newbie to this space, but all I would say is anyone who's looking to invest in what I'm putting out, to know that the motivation behind it all is, is ultimately that really awesome part that I'm talking about.
LA: How do you envision performance, live in real life, with NFTs?
A: I like the idea of things being integrated into the live show visuals. I really love the idea of things like PartyDAO, where multiple people could own a part of something, aside from being an entry point for someone financially, I like the idea of it being something that connects people. So if it's a piece of the live show visuals, when that comes on screen in that real-life moment, you have a collective shared moment.
LA: Let's talk about your wardrobe and how that connects with NFTs. What inspired your collection coming out?
A: On a basic level, it was inspired both by the fact that I do make my own costumes in real life, and I love tea. Then when I really sat down, I was like, ‘But what does digital art give me that performing doesn't’? And it was the absurdity of materials. So I was like, ‘Okay, what could I not wear? Actual cake’. I definitely can't wear cake, so that’s what I want to do. I wanted, initially if you were to describe it, to sound absurd.
LA: Nice. The collection itself: you had the puffer jacket and the headphones coming up. What are their names?
A: The first thing coming out is the Poodle Squad Headphones. I often gravitate to things that make me laugh, and poodles make me laugh; they bring me so much joy. The headphones give you access to a song that's coming out in a couple of months. You get to listen to it way ahead of its release. I'm going to create a private Discord to connect and keep people updated. I think I'm going to offer the future releases, also through those headphones. And you get the wearable version to wear in Decentraland.
[The puffer] is called the Cocoa Cream Cake Puffer jacket. I have to come up with these names in the same way that I come up with song names, you know?
LA: And you're working with FELT Zine on the puffer jacket?
A: Yeah. So I talked to Mark [Sabb]—we went down to basics and got down to like, ‘NFTs didn't come from nowhere, and the art that's in NFTs eventually didn't come from NFTs, it came from digital art’. And that created much more of a connection for me, because I was like, ‘You guys are just making art’. Then crypto was invented, and then NFTs were invented from that kind of relationship.
LA: If you could create your own metaverse utopia, what would it look like?
A: Come to my live show and you'll see what it looks like; my next run is all club shows because dance music started in the club—and we're bringing it back to the club. We're picking up where the Black community left off.
LA: What do you hope for the future of NFTs and crypto for Black creatives?
A: I think the most important thing is for it to continue to hatch dreams and to be a space where Black creatives get to feel very free in their mediums, genres, and areas that they explore. One of the things that I have always noticed as a Black creative in music is how there are certain areas in the music industry that are accepted as “Black”, and others that are not. And when you cross that boundary, you get a combination of personal guilt and shame, as well as not feeling invited. So I hope that the crypto, NFT space allows us to flourish in that way.
The financial side of it: the Black community, when they've had their hands on financial stability and movement, are already very responsible with it. But historically, when we've built financial wealth, it has been actively destroyed by racist communities. So when I see Black people getting their hands on money again, I don't worry about their ability to pass that on, have a legacy—all that kind of stuff. I don't feel like we need motivation for that. Black people, they know what they need to do with that money. But I do feel like this kind of secret or quiet way that we get boxed in, culturally, is the thing that I want to be removed by NFT space.
LA: What would be an elevator pitch to another artist, performer, or DJ in nightlife, interested in crypto and Web3?
A: If you've tried the DSP lane, and you've tried the festival circuit, and you've come across those dead ends and those gate-keeping moments where you couldn't get through the gate, there's a new lane, and the baseline qualifications can simply be taken from you using your brain and just watching some people speak. So the fact that all of these other avenues are closed off or difficult, is no longer an excuse for you.
Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.