English electronic duo AlunaGeorge is composed of two distinct people, but — no disrespect to producer George Reid — it is the band’s vocalist and frontwoman, Aluna Francis, who is decidedly more charismatic.
She's engaging and personable, silly and eloquent. She makes funny voices and has a rich, infectious laugh. She is also very direct on every subject and, in fact, is seriously candid in rejecting stereotypes of AlunaGeorge's music. When the group’s debut, Body Music, was released in 2013, it was described as a long-lost '90s R&B classic. “I pretty much rejected the pigeonhole of R&B," Francis says. "I’m a black female singer, so the automatic assumption has always been that I’m going to sing R&B, and I’m very defiant.
“I also don’t listen to R&B.”
“When I see a classic R&B vibe from the '90s, it’s really not my vibe. It’s really not. It’s so funny that I sound that way.”
Francis and Reid instead prefer to describe their sound as “future pop.” Their combination of electronically infused hip-hop beats and Francis’ sweet and alluringly soft vocals landed them a spot on the Live Stage at Ultra 2016. However, her initial visit to South Florida was a working holiday born out of heartbreak.
“My first experience coming to Miami was, I’d broken up with my boyfriend, we’d booked this epic holiday, and obviously we couldn’t use that holiday. I thought to myself, What have I wanted to do for ages that I haven’t had time to do?... Learn to DJ from scratch.”
After a quick online search, Francis found a course in the Magic City that coincided with her vacation plans.
“So I went to Miami by myself, to DJ class with my backpack every day, and it was so much fun, oh my God.”
On Monday, August 28, Francis will return to Miami as part of the massive Coldplay arena and stadium tour. It’s hardly a new experience for her, yet she jokes she’s surprised each evening by one simple thing.
“I’m pretty surprised that I’m standing in front of 40,000 people every night, that’s for sure," she says. “I learn something new every day because I’m singing to an audience that’s not my own. So I’ve had to get to know the Coldplay audience, get a general feel for them,and stop being scared of them," she laughs. Despite having toured countless times as a headliner, opening gigs seem to make Francis uneasy.
“I’m notoriously scared of people’s audiences because it’s a little like going to someone’s birthday party who doesn’t know you [and] saying, 'Happy birthday!' [And they’re like,] 'Who are you?'”
In July, AlunaGeorge surprised fans by unexpectedly dropping two new nonalbum tracks, "Last Kiss" and "Turn Up Tthe Love.” The surprise release might or might not be part of a new trend for the pair, but it’s certainly an idea Francis finds worth exploring.
"We had a master plan, which was to keep releasing these double singles. It was almost harking back to a time before ours, which was the double-A single where you give equal attention to two songs. The reason we did the two together was because with Body Music, we had a lot of down-tempo music, but then we get known for our collaborations and our more upbeat hits. But I was like, 'Hey, I don’t want to leave behind what we do well and what we enjoy.'"
Essentially, half of the catalogue is great for summer days spent dancing, and the other half is perfect for sexy time in the evening. “I always forget that people make babies to our music. It’s so funny.”
Less humorous are the issues of racism and sexism. Atrocities such as those in Charlottesville force Francis, like many of us, to reflect on a very ugly problem. “Those events are symptoms of what is going on in society. I’m not as reactive to it. I’m not some kind of wise person, but, yeah, we need to deal with the fact, face the fact that we have extremists [but] that whole group of people is not to blame.
“We have to deal with the fact that we have not eradicated the Nazi ideal. It’s heavily present in Europe, and it's heavily present in the U.S... We can’t hide from it."
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On a not completely unrelated note, the AlunaGeorge Instagram page shows a video clip in which Francis discusses being defiant (a conversation tied to the HBO documentary of the same name); she says defiance is a part of who she’s always been.
“Yes, absolutely. I grew up in a white, mono-culture society in England. I was the only black person in my city virtually, and certainly my schools. It was weird because small things seemed really big, like wearing weird clothes or just being a person of color. It was only when I left there that I realized interestingly, on the flip side, I’m privileged. There are things about that are almost similar to someone who’s white in that I’m not being exactly targeted by direct racism. The way that I experience is quite different from someone of a darker skin complexion. I had to realize that.
“Actually, white people look at me and go, 'Oh my God, her tan is so gorgeous.' And then, people with a darker complexion are like, 'Yeah, she’s just walking through doors that I can’t walk through, so why is she complaining?' It’s been important to acknowledge that privilege and try to use it to increase togetherness between black and white cultures. It leaves you in a funny position because you can’t just go shouting in the streets for your rights. It’s more of a slow process of integration, education, and bringing people together.”