There’s an attention-grabbing point at the four-and-a-half-minute mark of ‘High’, one of the highlights off Anané Martins-Vega’s ‘Take A Ride’, her new six-track release on the venerable New York label Nervous. A sultry cover of a minor 1980 hit by Skyy, the tune, up to that point, had been defined by sophisticated disco-funk guitar, an unfeasibly lush aura, and Anané’s breathy vocals — “Music’s making me high, high, high” — but at that moment the filigree drops away, leading to a brief break consisting of a minimalist bounce-skate groove and rubbery bass. It’s subtle yet spine-tingling, an invitation to dancefloor heaven in an EP full of them.
“It’s something that I feel is not being made like that anymore,” Anané says of ‘Take A Ride’, produced by Two Soul Fusion, otherwise known as Blaze’s Josh Milan and Anané’s husband, Louie Vega. “It’s very easy to create tracks, put them out, here today, gone tomorrow. Whereas when we make music, it’s truly telling a story. There’s a whole life that goes into it. There’s lots of expressions and emotions and sentiments and history and feelings, and we wanted to put all of that into this project.”
‘Take A Ride’ harkens back to the musically rich end of the disco spectrum, more closely aligned with the elegant work of artists like Patrick Adams or Gamble & Huff than, say, Lipps Inc. or Village People. Hovering somewhere between seductive and dynamic, some of the release’s rich sheen can be credited to Milan and Vega’s production prowess; some can undoubtedly be credited to the influential mastering engineer Herb Powers Jr., who lent his magic touch to the EP; yet more comes thanks to the pioneering disco polymath Leroy Burgess, who arranged and conducted the EP’s sumptuous strings.
“When I arrived at the studio and saw the string section coming to life — which is something you don’t see much anymore — it was pure magic,” Anané says. “It represents the integrity of how music is made.” But the force that condenses the swirling opulence into something that still feels fresh, despite its obvious retro leanings, is plain to see — it’s Anané herself, with a voice and visage that combines vulnerability with supreme confidence.
“I’m still that little girl arriving to this country, coming from a place where women aren’t equal... To be able to do this now, and present it in the way that I want to, is amazing.”
Anané, who also heads up the Afro-leaning Nulu Music label and its Nulu Electronic imprint, has packed a lot into her life, even well before the release of ‘Take A Ride’. It starts in Cape Verde, off the coast of West Africa, during the archipelago’s fight for independence from Portugal. Born to a Cape Verdean mother and Portuguese father, the family was forced to flee to Portugal, before moving to Pawtucket, Rhode Island. “I was too young to understand what was happening, and my parents hid it very well,” she recalls. “I think that instilled a kind of underlying resilience inside me.”
She took up modelling, eventually winning Miss Portugal and Miss Cape Verde contests. Meanwhile, her friends were taking her to Gerardo’s, a gay club in nearby Providence, to go out dancing. “It was there that I fell in love with the feeling and the freedom of dance music,” she says, “of dancing the night away, leaving your troubles at the door and making wonderful friends.”
After a period of promoting her own parties in Providence — “very underground style, warehouse spaces” — she moved to New York with $150 in her pocket, signed to Click Model Management, appeared in music videos, and became an inveterate clubber, partying at such hallowed halls as Tunnel, Nell’s, Mars, Jackie 60 and, in retrospect most importantly, Sound Factory Bar, where Louie Vega was on the decks every Wednesday at the club’s Underground Network soiree. This was in the mid-’90s, and to make a long story exceedingly short, Anané and Vega have been together, personally and professionally, since not long after. (They married in 2001.) It can be a double-edged sword.
“It is what it is, and I’ve come to terms with it,” she says with a sigh. “I mean, we’re talking about a living legend. And then here comes this young girl from nowhere — they used to refer to me as ‘the tall girl with Louie’. With the earlier projects that I’ve done with Louie, I was still very much finding myself. But I feel that, with this project, I really own it. I’m confident in who I am, and in my voice, and what I have to say, and what I bring to the table and what I represent.”
That confidence, on ‘Take A Ride’, is manifested as playful glamour, buffered to a glittering sheen, “I didn’t get to experience Studio 54,” Anané explains. “I wasn’t around for the whole disco era — but when I had just arrived in America with my parents, I remember the beautiful time of them going to parties and watching them dance. It was a time of unity, a time of freedom — freedom of expression. That all came together in this project and with the music that we created, just tapping into these things that I love so much.
“To be able to say that this is my work... I still pinch myself,” she continues. “I’m still that little girl arriving to this country, coming from a place where women aren’t equal, and then hearing this completely new sound that is so free. To be able to do this now, and present it in the way that I want to, is amazing. Someone made a comment that said, ‘It’s a bold statement that you made with this’. I hadn’t even thought about that, but now, looking at it — yeah, I am bold.”
That she is, and ‘Take A Ride’ is proof.