Listening to anaiis feels like taking a deep breath. The London-based artist (and Sofar alumna) makes dreamy, ethereal R&B that’s somehow grounded while floating, but above all, it just feels true. It’s not a coincidence, but an intentional journey anaiis has taken with her sound and self, culminating with her most recent album, this is no longer a dream. Sofar had the chance to catch up with the artist about her experience, and what it’s like to bring that honesty to listeners.
You grew up all over the world– Toulouse, Dublin, Dakar, Oakland, then to NYC, then to London. Where within that journey did you start to develop a love for music, then find your own voice?
I’ve been very dedicated to music since I was a child. I began with playing the violin when I was under 7, then sitting in choirs. I think it’s through traveling that I became closer to my voice because it felt like the one thing that would always remain. Then I ended up going to an arts high school, then NYU. But it’s with this last project that I really carved the space for myself, really trusting in my own phrasing, my own language [and] form of expression. With my literal voice, I finally reached a point where I feel comfortable with my tone and my ability to express. That did take many years of development, but I feel in a really good place with that now.
There’s a big focus on mental health within your music. What’s it been like to have that conversation artistically with listeners during such a raw time when so many are navigating a difficult era in mental health?
My music is always, as Nina [Simone] says “a reflection of the times.” For a very long time, like a lot of other people, I wasn’t prioritizing my mental health, and I was focusing on striving or getting by. Then life threw a lot of challenges at me– I went through a really difficult period, emotionally, layered up with the pandemic, and the Black Lives Matter movement, it reached an all-time peak, where it could no longer be ignored. I could be having these conversations in private and make music about other things, but I chose the route of vulnerability and transparency in my work, because I think that’s where healing lies. There’s something about not being afraid of the outside gaze, and being able to own my emotions, own my struggles, own my triumphs. Being able to express all those things equally and feel whole within that. The relationship that I'm trying to carve with my listeners is one of honesty and growth. I hope that even in all the imperfections somehow my music is inviting listeners into being able to be more comfortable with their own imperfections.
Being from so many different places, what does community mean to you?
That term has slowly become more important to me. I’m so used to living somewhere and leaving, making these strong connections then having to go away. I’ve learned that community [is] the foundation of where home is. I think we have an opportunity to create a support system amongst each other where we nurture. I have a community all around the world, not necessarily people who are a neighbor– but it’s about finding kindred spirits with whom you connect, who genuinely want what’s best for you.
How did you come to Sofar Sounds?
I’ve always loved Sofar Sounds. I love the concept, the intimate nature– stripping back and being able to feel someone’s essence. I’ve done one [or two] out of town, [and] there was one where there was no mic, and at the time I was really scared about it, it was just me there and people there, but I think it [was] such a beautiful approach, bringing music back to one another, remembering the sacred nature. I absolutely love Sofar Sounds.
You’ve been playing live– how does it feel to return and to reconnect?
Before I was open to doing a lot more shows, no matter the circumstance, and with this big break in-between and the way my relationship has evolved with performance, I want to become more selective about the spaces in which I share music. When we’re sharing intimate, vulnerable music, to be performing in spaces that don’t necessarily respect music is not enjoyable. That’s why places like Sofar Sounds I really respect, spaces where people come to actually listen to music. Sometimes performing in big festivals, people are drunk, they don’t necessarily care. I feel like I want to be more precise about how I share my music as a true exchange with the audience.