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Aluna on her new dance album 'MYCELiUM'

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Being the only Black professional in an office can be draining. Electronic music artist Aluna has similar feelings about her workplace - studios and stages. And in the arena of dance music, where it feels like there is little minority representation, she is raising her voice.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "KILLING ME")

ALUNA: (Singing) What did I come here to do? What did I come here to prove?

RASCOE: The English artist, who is also part of the duo AlunaGeorge, has just released her second album. It's called "MYCELiUM," and it documents her quest for self-empowerment.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "KILLING ME (FEAT. TSHA)")

ALUNA: (Singing) I wanna feel alive.

RASCOE: Aluna joins us now from LA. Welcome.

ALUNA: Hi. How are you doing?

RASCOE: I'm doing all right. So this album has an intriguing conceptual framework. Mycelium is, like - that's, like, the roots of fungus. What about, like, this life form inspired you on this album?

ALUNA: Well, in this album, I was becoming an advocate for all the changes I want to make in the dance music industry. And I'd knock on the doors of the people with power and money and control and sort of ask them to change the way they do things and be more diverse, etc., etc. And that really didn't work for me. I kind of started to work more organically with just anti-racist allies, friends, growing change that way.

RASCOE: Was it something particular about the image of mycelium that grabbed you?

ALUNA: I think I'm more inspired by the science of it, this cell network that grows randomly and then, as it finds nutrients and other information, it starts to create channels that distributes it to other areas that are needed.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALUNA SONG, "OH THE GLAMOUR")

ALUNA: I really thought that it was, like, fascinating. It was like, OK, I can do that with communities. I can do that with people. It's like building something together.

RASCOE: Do you have an example of a song that you feel like really exemplified that on the album?

ALUNA: Absolutely. I think that "Oh The Glamour" is a perfect example of that.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OH THE GLAMOUR")

ALUNA: (Singing) Oh, the glamor to be glamorous every day. Oh, the glamor to not know any other way.

RASCOE: Glamor has always been a way for queer people to escape the reality of being disempowered. Like, is that part of what drew you to the words of the song, or did you think about that?

ALUNA: Yeah. I mean, I think a lot of people of color, the pandemic, that pressure, especially economically and then George Floyd has this almost combustible effect - like, the change that you have to go through to really survive that. But often, to pull out of adversity and oppression, the LGBTQ community has used glamor.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OH THE GLAMOUR")

PABLO VITTAR: (Singing) To not know any other way.

MNEK: (Singing) No other way. No other way.

VITTAR: (Singing) Oh, the glamor.

ALUNA: Glamor signifies a much higher and much potent form of joy that has the power to pull you out because trying to aim for averageness and normalcy and - for me, personally, has never been something I can achieve. Like, I grew up the only Black girl in an all-white town. So for me to try and aim at normal - never going to happen.

RASCOE: You know, you have a song on the album, "Supernova," and you talk about - in that song about not needing to pick a lane and letting go of shame.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SUPERNOVA")

ALUNA: (Singing) But you can have it all. You're not one-dimensional. You don't need to pick a lane. That is guaranteed to make you go insane. Let go of the shame 'cause there's no one to blame. But there's someone inside you. Now she's arrived just like a light.

RASCOE: Does that come from the way you grew up?

ALUNA: Oh, yes. Absolutely. I think I am a connoisseur of being an outcast. What I found as I started to break out of my childhood city is that so many people feel like fish out of water. So many people experience this moment where they leave the place that they've grown up in, find themselves in a new land. And, all of a sudden, you know, you just don't feel like you're at home anymore.

RASCOE: So where are you home? Are you at home on the dance floor?

ALUNA: Absolutely. I mean, dancing and, like, completely losing my sense of reality, I was healed for another however long until the next time.

RASCOE: Do you think that's what, sometimes, people don't get about dance music? Like, they may think that it's more frivolous, or it's just not as deep?

ALUNA: I think that can happen really easily. I think that I would say that anyone who thinks that that's the whole vision of dance music is missing out because what you really want is that intimate experience where you've got your own space to dance in, and you just really don't care what anyone else thinks of you. You don't really know what you're doing. You're surprising yourself, and you're sweating. And you're drinking water. Drink water.

(LAUGHTER)

RASCOE: Yeah.

ALUNA: It's an incredible evolutionary process.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SUPERNOVA")

ALUNA: (Singing) ...Into your heart, and, baby, now's the time.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALUNA SONG, "BEGGIN'"

RASCOE: One of the last songs on your album is called "Beggin'," and, like, you sing unapologetically about being someone else's weakness. Like, what does this mean to you?

ALUNA: I know my own value, but sometimes, other people don't know that until they see what I can do with their raw materials. Once people realize what they have and then they want more of it, it's like, well, that's not really going to happen.

RASCOE: Yeah. It's too late. You missed your chance now.

ALUNA: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BEGGIN'")

ALUNA: (Singing) Beggin', beggin', I'll get you beggin', beggin', beggin', beggin' 'cause I'm your weakness.

Wishing you hadn't met someone or underestimating them, and now they're in your life, and there's so much more to handle than you ever thought - and I like that idea, kind of Trojan horse. I'm - I can come across as pretty understated. I like that about the way that I do things.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BEGGIN'")

ALUNA: (Singing) Beggin', beggin' for me to leave you.

RASCOE: Obviously, this is a dance album. What type of advice do you have for people who want to maybe get into dance music, but maybe they're a little shy, and they don't know where to begin?

ALUNA: Dance music is all over the world, and there's all different types of dance music. It's not just Eurocentric-sounding house and techno. There's so much that could be your entry point. Like, try to listen to your dance-ometer (ph).

RASCOE: What's a dance-ometer?

ALUNA: It's a tool inside your body.

RASCOE: Oh, OK (laughter).

ALUNA: It's you developing your own taste for what works for your body. Whatever makes that easier to get more energy into and to get more movement in your body naturally, that's your dance-ometer working.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RUNNING BLIND")

ALUNA, TCHAMI AND KAREEN LOMAX: (Singing) When the rhythm takes me high...

RASCOE: That's English musician Aluna. Her new album is "MYCELiUM." It's out now. Thank you so much for speaking with us today.

ALUNA: My pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RUNNING BLIND")

ALUNA, TCHAMI AND LOMAX: (Singing) Let my soul down. I never let my soul down, yeah. Let my soul down. Freedom is locked in my mind. Gotta believe it. It's the mountain I climb 'cause when I let me soul down, let my soul down, when I let my soul down, it's like I'm running blind. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.

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