French-Senegalese songstress anaiis is using her music and artistic platform as a powerful tool of connection, healing and belonging, composing music that touches many souls so deeply. She does so through profound introspective moments that harvest an atmospheric blend of harp renditions, interwoven with ethereal genre-fluid melodies that serve as a loving friend.
Occupying the space between diverse styles, anaiis is a child of the diaspora who writes from an observatory lens through her experience as a young Black woman. Nostalgically looking back she states that "being an artist has become a part of my identity and personality, rather than just an activity or passion I was pursuing.” Alluringly singing about identity, grief and healing, anaiis has anchored her commitment to music.
Growing up in many various cultures and cities like Toulouse, Dublin, Dakar and now residing in London, the essence of community has felt somewhat of a warped thought to you. How has your sense of community differed from your teenage years to now?
Thank you for these thoughtful questions. It’s been interesting to realise over time that the web of my community was been stretched thinner every time I moved. I’ve had to rebuild my circle of friends with every arrival and, in a sense, that was a little destabilising. It takes time to find your kin spirits and to build trust, and it seemed like every time the bonds were solidified, very soon I’d have to move. It’s hard getting attached to people and knowing that you’ll be leaving them. Although it’s easier to keep in touch now due to the internet, the loss is still felt every single time.
This realisation, though, has really awoken within me a need to prioritise my community and to cherish them whilst they are nearby. I think a big part of why I am still in London is because of the love I have found in the people here and it’s probably the only thing that has kept me here.
You attended an art high school, and also joined the music conservatory to study violin among other musical accomplishments. How did these experiences help you progress musically?
I think those experiences really anchored my commitment to music. I didn’t know how to verbalise this at the time but somehow being an artist has become a part of my identity and personality, rather than just an activity or passion I was pursuing. I now see this as something that is actually quite dangerous because I think being too attached to a 'career' or an 'idea' of oneself can be limiting and it can sometimes bring unnecessary sadness.
On the flip side, though, these experiences helped me to also feel self-assured in this being my purpose. Even being admitted to New York University’s Clive Davis’ Recorded Music programme was a form of validation that I was on the right track and it taught me to keep following my heart. I feel extremely blessed to have been able to have music at the core of my education since I was a kid.
You worked together with the Women of the World Foundation on some of their TEDxLondonWomen events spreading compassion, authenticity and self-liberation. How did this position garner a self-reflective moment for you (personally and artistically)?
It felt wonderful to know that the intentions I’ve tried to communicate artistically have reached the right audiences. I feel honoured to be a part of the many voices that are dedicated to spreading these messages. It’s even more encouraging for me to keep striving for personal liberation as I know that it will keep informing my work and it will help me grow artistically.
You mentioned in this TEDx Talk that you looked up to the women in your life, like your mother and grandmother, for guidance but when you did, you found reflections of yourself. The reality of women who compromised so much in service of others. Taking these emotions in, what do you want women to take from your healing harmonies?
I would love for my music to accompany someone through deep introspective moments of their lives, serving as a loving, non-judgemental friend who serves as a reminder of their own worth. I share with openness the things that I am going through to be part of a bigger conversation and to bring light on things that need to be challenged. I’d love women who listen to my music to reckon with their power and to feel that their voice and individual experiences are of value.
Previously you mentioned you were somewhat reluctant to draw personal relationships in your work. What made you ready for this chapter of vulnerable honesty?
It finally dawned on me the many forms in which healing can take place. I realised that so much healing can be offered through reflection and testimony. After a period of isolation with my own suffering and self-denial, I recognised that sharing this story could be cathartic for me and maybe preventative or regenerative for others. I was reluctant to be too personal in my work before because, on a deep subconscious level, I felt that the world already had so much suffering within it that I didn’t think there was a place for my own. I have seen now that people really love to connect with the personal and there’s a lot more material to explore there than merely through selfless philosophising.
I am now really longing for a sense of community. But I want it to be rooted in profound connection and to me, there needs to be a deep sense of transparency and honesty in order for a genuine bond to form. Putting out work that’s deeply vulnerable is not easy, especially when you are used to people exploiting you and using your pain against you, but I feel empowered now, and I believe things will play out differently. I want to share this with people who might need it and I’m excited to grow and connect with them.
Your next single is filled with mesmerising trances and lyrical depth. Could you tell me a little about your songwriting journey?
My songwriting journey always starts with a feeling, it’s a spark that comes and lights up the creative process. But usually, those feelings really stem from thoughts I’ve mulled and conversed over for a period of time. I am not so good at creating songs in isolation, I tend to think conceptually about a whole project and what I want to evoke over the course of more than ten pieces.
From there, I start to map out that journey thematically and once I sit near an instrument, I let the feelings guide me. There’s usually a period where the melody is searching for its thematic counterpart and when they find each other, then the song starts to take form.
“First and foremost, I think I want to uphold the fact that we, Black women, deserve to experience peace of mind, rest, and joy. I want to uphold the idea that mental health is worth prioritising in our lives, it is as important if not more important than our physical health.”
The video for your new single, Juno debuts today. It depicts you sitting stationary in a room singing. In the end, you stand up, exceeding the height of the tiny room – it is much smaller than it initially looked. This reminded me of regaining your power and standing tall in honour of yourself. The duality of having control and letting go. In your lived experience, how do you reclaim your power?
The Juno video begins with a quote from Alice Walker that deeply resonated with me: “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don't have any.” This video encapsulates this, it recounts a moment of my life where I felt particularly entrapped. A lot of it was real but most of it was psychological. The entire process of making this new body of work and releasing it entirely independently is how I am reclaiming my power. The first step is to remember that we often have a choice to walk away from oppressive situations, to let go of people who hurt or manipulate us but we have to remember where our power lies and what our freedoms are.
Your track Vanishing navigates the bright light and the rich dark. All spectrums and processes of self-reflection. What growths and conversations would you like to uphold regarding the lack of access to mental health resources for Black women?
I grew up in a world where mental health was the least of my and my community’s concerns. There were so many hurdles to overcome to sustain basic survival that being in a good state of mind felt like a luxury none of us could afford. To this day, I find it quite hard to prioritise mental health, especially when it’s such a financial investment. First and foremost, I think I want to uphold the fact that we, Black women, deserve to experience peace of mind, rest, and joy. I want to uphold the idea that mental health is worth prioritising in our lives, it is as important if not more important than our physical health. I also want to help make some of these conversations more common and somehow make some resources more accessible.
You dip in and out of French and English dialogues. What attracted you to this combination?
I was born in France but grew up speaking mostly English. It used to feel unnatural for me to speak in French, but more recently I’ve become less afraid of using the language, I am embracing it even if I know I am using it imperfectly at times. It feels like another beautiful resource to use and deepen my work. It’s like a painter discovering a new brush, and although they don’t have the perfect technique for it, it allows them to approach their work differently and come up with new textures and styles.
You sing about themes like isolation, grief, disillusionment, identity, oppression. How do you perceive love, in all its forms?
I only started exploring a (non-self) notion of love in my work on my duet piece with Azekel Learn to Love. I think love will be a prominent theme in some upcoming projects but it hasn’t really grown its roots in my work yet. When we began writing the song, though, I was reading a beautiful book by Bell Hooks titled All About Love. In this book, she quotes a definition of love that has been dear to my heart ever since. It goes as follows: “Love as the will to extend one's self for the purpose of nurturing one's own or another's spiritual growth.” In fact, I think the love defined in this quote is very present in all my music. I think this definition is so beautiful and all-encompassing, I want to approach all things in my life with this in mind – or better said, in heart–.
Visual mixtapes/documentaries are to be found on your Youtube channel. These beautiful and informative playlists include voices from Maya Angelou, Cesaria Evora, Caetano Veloso, Ousmane Sembène, James Baldwin and Nina Simone. What relevance and importance do these icons have on our poetic narrative?
I see them all as my teachers, my mentors, my parents. I learn so much from them and I absorb their wisdom. I love being able to share where a lot of my inspiration and research comes from. I grew up with a very disjointed sense of family and community, so these people have in a sense become the spiritual angels that have helped me feel less alone as I moved through the world.
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