Anané: There’s a whole life before it.
A life that started in West Africa which is interesting…
AV: It was actually the Cape Verde Islands – which are ten little islands located off the West coast of Africa. It’s about five hundred miles off the coast of Senegal.
Then it’s its own separate entity and not necessarily a part of Africa?
AV: Not necessarily but it was a Portuguese colony until 1975.
Were you born and raised there? Talk about what it was like.
AV: I didn’t grow up there. I was born there but we left when the country was going through a revolution – they wanted to become independent. [With] my dad being Portuguese and working for the government at that time, we were forced to leave for political reasons when I was about two years old. After that, we lived in Portugal where my dad is from; my mom is Cape Verdean. We lived in Portugal until we came to the US in  '78. My dad came over first, set up shop, then came back and brought us here to Rhode Island.
Why Rhode Island?
AV: Originally, we were supposed to live in Texas because [my father] had a sister living there. But friends he stayed in touch with from Cape Verde told him there was a big Cape Verdean and Portuguese community in Rhode Island. He went to check it out and found friends already there, so he decided that’s where he wanted to stay.
What are some of your early memories of living here, was it a big adjustment for you?
AV: Being little, I guess you can adjust to anything. It was actually cool because when we came, it was during a blizzard. As kids, we’d never seen snow before and we were just in awe – like, ‘Oh my God! What is this?’ We wanted to be outside and play and my Dad’s trying to explain that it’s a blizzard and it’s dangerous so you cannot go and play. From my memories everything was nice because my Dad had the place already furnished, warm and with a Christmas tree up for us. I can actually still remember walking from the snow into this cozy home he had already set up.
The life of a princess from the beginning, there’s nothing wrong with that. (Laughing)
AV: No, No honey. I’m not a princess. There were many struggles before that. (Laughs)
What was your social life like with your family and culturally in the new environment?
AV: Well, it was nice. My parents were very much into family functions and parties. I can remember going to parties since I was very little because my parents took us everywhere. There was always something to do on the weekends – a wedding, a birthday, or a graduation, always a party to go to. I would be out dancing with my brothers and my parents until midnight or 1 in the morning. Then be passed out in the back seat of the car with them taking us home and putting us to bed after.
How many siblings do you have?
AV: I have two brothers – one older and one younger.
When did you realize you were 'pretty' and how did that lead into modeling?
AV: No, I did not realize I was pretty; I went through an awkward stage. As a young, young baby I was cute but then something happened along the lines. I was always the tallest one, really skinny. Then being of mixed race, my hair has always been very curly. Kinky as some people call it. Then on top of that, I had to wear glasses and of course [my parents] go out and get what they think is cool – the lenses turned dark when you went outside and they were Lucite lilac! I was so the ugly duckling. But through all of that, I was very outgoing and involved in sports. I was president of the class. I was always very personable and had friends. It was the dating scene that wasn’t happening.
AV: Well, I think once I started modeling at about fifteen or sixteen. I actually went to one of those modeling schools where they taught me how to do eye makeup, your hair and all these things. And since I was already such an outgoing person, I kind of grew into my own skin and became comfortable with who I am. Being elected president of the class and then voted “Most Likely to Turn a Frown Upside-Down,” “Most Talented” and “Most Spirited” were things I valued. My friends had all the boyfriends, but I had the achievements. I had medals and honors, which were fulfilling for me. From there, I started developing into my own person and that’s when I fell into the modeling. It kind of happened because someone approached me at my sixteenth birthday party and asked if I wanted to run in a pageant at the local Portuguese social club where my parents were members. From there, the winner would go on to a bigger pageant representing the Portuguese community for the State of Rhode Island. So I entered, won and I got a trip to Portugal. My dad went with me as my agent. While I was there, I had dinner with the ambassador, the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister of Portugal.
And all of this is while you are still in your teens?
AV: Yup, I was still in my teens and I had to learn proper etiquette real quick for dinner with the ambassador. I did interviews that transmitted throughout the Portuguese community around the world. I got to get my message out as a young person [while] living in the United States.
What was it like to compete? Were you really nervous or did you always just have a clear sense of poise?
AV: It really taught me to look within myself and just be who I am. I can’t ever remember a time when I’ve put up a front to be something or someone else. I am who I am and I’ve always been that way. I’m able to speak my mind and my thing is just to, you know, be in front of people. I’ve been that way since I was a little girl. I always put on shows for my parents and when I was really young. I would move the furniture, put the radio on and do little talent shows for them. I would also write out my own scripts. I’ve been taking dancing lessons [since my childhood] and I had the yearly recitals, you know? So being in front of an audience is just very natural. After winning the pageant in Portugal, two years later I entered another one running for Miss Cape Verde. Since my mom and I were both born there and my Dad being Portuguese, there was still – though not as much as before – a lot of racial tension. So when I ran for Miss Cape Verde and won, it was funny because there were a lot of people making racist remarks like, “Who are you? What are you? Where do you come from?” I never fit in anywhere and I think a lot of that makes me who I am today. Prejudice is a big deal and I got it from both sides – from the white girls and the black girls. I was light-skinned, yet my hair was kinky. I think that’s why I was so outgoing because I had to find myself. I didn’t sit and cry, ‘Oh my God, boo hoo me!’ If anything, it made me more ambitious.
Did you go to college also?
AV: For a short time I went to college and it wasn’t for me… (voice trails off and laughs). That goes to say I studied dance in college and international relations, then decided to pursue modeling.
Were you able to support yourself with the modeling?
AV: I can’t say that I was supporting myself, but I got paid for what I did. It wasn’t on a full-time level because I had another job and in Rhode Island, it’s so small you really can’t do it on a full-time level.
Did you think about moving to the big city?
AV: Yeah. When I was twelve, I remember coming with my parents on a tour of the Big Apple. I remember turning to [them] and saying, ‘I want to live here when I grow up.’ My mother just looked at me like, “Okay. Yeah right.”
What did they think about what you were doing or what your goals were?
AV: Actually I come from a musical family. My mom is a singer and my father is a musician so it was very natural and they were very supportive and proud. But like I said, I was very independent and I knew what I wanted. From early on I just went after it and they supported that.
Let’s fast-forward to your first clubbing experiences.
AV: When I was living in Rhode Island, I was already going out. We had a small dance scene there and I really liked it. I would drive down to New York and come to the Sound Factory Bar to hear Louie [Vega] play there or at the other events he used to do. Whenever we could make it down, we would drive – FOUR HOURS – to come hear him. Then I decided that I wanted to live in New York. I moved in with two friends and started working. My very first job was a campaign for Revlon, which was very exciting – to come here, do a job like that and get paid very well.
Were you signed with someone then?
AV: No I wasn’t signed at first. [Revlon] was through contacts I had made on my own. Eventually I did sign with Click and through them I worked consistently. I did LATINA, MODE and ULLA EOPKINS, which is a magazine in Germany. I did a few campaigns for stores in the city, which provided steady work before I met Louie. I continued modeling but my passion changed from being around him all the time… going places, watching and listening to him play. I just became so fascinated and let’s say the passion for music that had always been there was ignited.
Well, you sure took your time letting it out! Talk about what prevented that from happening on wax until now.
AV: Well like I said, I met and fell in love with Louie but when [we first got together], he was going through his thing in life and I just thought it wasn’t the right time to express that. I just needed to be there for him. I continued modeling but then I kind of left that because it wasn’t satisfying anymore. Just to show up, get painted, stand in front of a camera, shoot the pictures, then you’re done; I needed something a little more stimulating.
You were even a video girl for a second there as well. What were some of your experiences like behind the public’s perception of the glitz and glamour of being a model or someone in the business?
AV: There are snakes and it’s like any business in the world. No matter what you’re in, there are always people out there trying to be sneaky. Modeling is something that is perceived as very glamorous because they glamorize it. The women look beautiful, you see these spreads in the magazines with them in these beautiful clothes, but it’s not that. First of all, you’re on the set at like 5 or 6 in the morning. Then you’re getting painted up and then you’re working twelve or thirteen hours straight in front of the camera. It’s long hours of continuously piling on makeup because you are shiny here, you’re shiny there. Sometimes you may not click with the other models you are working with or with the makeup artist, but you still have to smile, look pretty and be happy. The money is good but I was just barely making it, I was trying to survive. The money I made was going to the rent, to the food and to my transportation. It wasn’t going to drugs. I don’t know… I don’t understand that aspect of when people make it big and become successful, that all of sudden [drugs] become a necessity or that’s where the money goes. There are too many things in the world that need help. Too many children that need so I don’t see how people have the heart or the mind to spend that kind of money – not even spend it, basically throwing it away, without looking at what needs to be helped. [The business] is not glamorous at all that’s why I left it.
Which videos did you appear in?
AV: I did one for Redman and Keith Murray when they re-did “Rappers Delight.” And quite honestly from that one experience, I can only imagine what goes on. I can’t judge and generalize but I can say that the minute you walk on to a set, you become a piece of fresh meat that’s been tossed out there and everybody is gawking. But it’s a learning experience; going through situations and evolving into who you are.
Let’s go inside the non-glamour of standing next to Louie in the early days. What is it like to be the woman standing next to someone so universally respected? Good bad and indifferent.
AV: It’s amazing to watch someone like Louie, to appreciate the mind of someone who is brilliant. Especially beforehand: being a fan of his and then getting to know the person who is “Little Louie” Vega and then getting to know Luis. Seeing the person he is inside has been amazing and I’ve been blessed, but it’s about a balance. What can I say? You just have to learn to deal with the cards you are dealt.
Around the world people come out to hear him play and they can be so, “Oh my God!!” Is it like with Hollywood stars where people will push you out of the way to get to him?
AV: Yeah! One of the very first gigs that I can remember – vividly, I went with him to Naples, Italy. He had been telling me about Naples and how it’s amazing and I have to experience it. So I went and it was amazing! There were about three to five thousand people just feeling it and getting him in and out of the gig was so surreal. There were like five huge bouncers getting him from the DJ booth to the car at like 7 in the morning. The sun is up, it’s bright day light, we’re on the beach and it’s a big commotion to get Louie to the bus and the fans are trying to get at him. I was literally left in the dust, but I’m laughing! I’m just cracking up like, ‘Oh my God, this is crazy!’ But when we’re at gigs and I see somebody trying to get a picture I say, ‘give me your camera and I’ll take a closer picture’ or ‘do you want to take a picture with him? Give me a second and I’ll get you a picture with him.’ That’s just the way I am. I see the appreciation because like I said, I am a fan as well.
Now you have started a family and produced little Vega II. How has your life changed since then?
AV: Well, it’s definitely made me a stronger more grounded woman. It’s truly been another blessing. We came together with so much love and created life. Once you make and carry life – it’s a whole different game.
Does being on the road get old and inspire you to make a home and family a certain kind of way?
AV: Yeah, it does. Being on the road gets lonely from one city to the next. It tires you out. Do I want to do this forever? I want to be involved with music forever and make music forever, yes. Can I be Barbara Streisand and not have to go sing somewhere and still sell records, shit, I hope so. But I want to be in this business and I want to pass that on to my son. We’re passing it on now but music is part of our family and it’s something that I won’t ever leave.
Now you are a part of this business as an artist, how did it feel to expose that part of yourself and then to be in the studio with “Little Louie” Vega?
AV: Well, it was very scary. Because I’ve been in the studio with [Louie] when Patti Austin, James Ingram or George Benson were there. I’ve been there first-hand watching him work and have been completely in awe and somehow wishing it was me. Then I decided to tell Louie because I never had. It’ll be seven years that we are together and I had never told him what I wanted to do. I think I tried dropping hints though, singing along or whatever. He took it as I’m just singing along to the song but that was my way of saying ‘listen to me.’ But the man’s got a hundred and one things going on his brain so if he hears me singing along on the side, that’s just me singing along on the side!
La, La, La…
AV: Yeah...'la, la, la.' So after having my son I became so inspired to sing and pursue this. I didn’t ever want to say, ‘I wish I did or I should have, but I didn’t.’ I had to build the courage to tell Louie this was what I wanted to do. There was no easy way; how was I gonna work with this man? Finally I decided to get the courage and I said, ‘Look this is what I want to do and what I’ve been wanting to do.’ The first reaction I got was, “What? Wait a minute why didn’t you tell me this five years ago?” I said ‘it wasn’t the time for it, but I’m telling you now.’ So he said, “let’s see what you got and see how serious you are.” He referred to me to a vocal coach, then he left it up to me.
Was this before the notion of the solo project came up?
AV: The project ELEMENTS OF LIFE came from Louie being inspired by me carrying life. He said, “I want to do an album that represents life.” Still not knowing [about my secret desire to record]. He wanted to do a spoken word with me because he knows I write and he likes my speaking voice so he said, “I think you’d sound good on a spoken word.” But when I [told] him and I wanted to [sing], he gave me the number [to the vocal coach] Don Lawrence and I’ve been with him for a year and a half. We were just trying to find my niche and [determine] which style of music I would want to perform. I am a lover of Jill Scott, Gal Costa and Sade; these were the women that inspired me so we were trying to find where I fit. I‘m not a belting singer but I can carry my own. He was working with the guitar player Jose Luis[Pardo] from Los Amigos Invisibles [at the time]. We came up with a simple beat and hooked up at Jose’s place where it was like a jam session. It all flowed – beautifully, so we added a little more. Jose was playing and I kept writing what I was feeling and hearing and that’s when we came up with “Nos Vida” – which means “Our Life.” That’s how that one came about.
AV: So we had a formula: this Bossa-nova style, the drumbeat and my Cape Verdean lyrics. It’s interesting because I never spoke Cape Verdean growing up; we spoke Portuguese. Portuguese was what they taught in school and at home we spoke it. I was very intimidated to speak Cape Verdean [as a child] because I found that I didn’t speak it well and they would laugh at me. But when I went into the studio it just came that way. The words just came in Cape Verdean and I couldn’t believe it. I thought, ‘my parents are going to gag that I’m doing a song and singing it in Cape Verdean!’ It just came naturally. For the second song we went in with a beat, I did the writing and composed it to be a song a mother could sing to a child, a child could sing to his mother. I wanted it to be very kid-friendly. “Ma Mi Mama” [Translating from Cape Verdean] “With my mommy” is the result and the hook is “Let’s go dance, let’s go sing and let’s go play.” The other part of the song is “I remember when I used to dance with my mommy.” It’s written for Nico as well as it’s me thinking about when I was young with my mom. Being a mother, this is one of those times where you want to hold certain moments in time; you just want to freeze it. You want it to stay right there. I hope this record will always bring him back to this time because he’s on there with me. We recorded a kid’s playground and Nico’s on the beginning so this is something that he will have for the rest of his life. I want my music to be timeless.
Does Nico know the song?
AV: Yeah he sings it with me – the whole album! He’s singing the interludes and everything. He knows how to ask me to put it on – he’s on it. He’s ready to do back-ups with me. Then Louie felt we should do one more song but we didn’t know which direction to go. After we finished “Ma Mi Mama” we were in the studio and Jose was playing the guitar and doing different things and we heard something that was like, ‘OK, this is it.’ For that one we collaborated with Dimitri from Paris. “Mon Amour” is a poem or spoken word thing that I wrote to Louie in English and Dimitri translated it into French. It has this tango feel and it’s beautiful and that’s how [translating] “My Love” came about. I also did background on pretty much all the songs. Once you hear that album it will be something you cannot put down.
From this side of the process, what do you think?
AV: I think it’s wonderful. I’m so happy that I did this. It was wonderful and amazing to work and collaborate with Louie. To put words, feelings, emotions and thoughts that I have in my mind and soul down on paper and then make them into music. There’s nothing that compares to the feeling of making music that people feel and dance to or that takes them on a certain journey for the few minutes that they are listening. It’s wonderful to be a creator of that for people…to give that. To have been someone out there and dancing, there are certain songs that move you… they give you chills – the hair on your body stands up; there are certain songs that do that. To be on the dance floor when my record comes on is just an amazing feeling. There aren’t words to really explain how I feel.
How have you seen others react to your work?
AV: They’re vibing it. Louie tells me when he plays it overseas, that they’re feeling it. They already know when it’s coming in and they scream for it. It’s amazing.
What are you planning to give your audience on stage?
AV: To give me, what I created. It’s just me. You’re not going to see fireworks going off, or a smoke machine, it’s just going to be me. That’s it. It’s not very complicated. I’ve already done two shows, one in Amsterdam and another in Portugal. Raul and I went out and performed them. It was amazing and I brought some people up on stage with me because they were feeling and vibing it so, you know what? Come on up. Do it with me honey! I can’t really put a description to it but when you see it, either you’ll get it or you won’t. I try to be true: be truthful to what I do, what I talk about, who I am.
Now you’re even more of a role model since there are few successful artist wives of innovative producers who are also mothers…
AV: That’s a whole nother topic!
I want to touch on it a little because the idea of the “family” in the underground is a little less known. Either the families are not seen or heard or the idea of family is not nurtured. It’s all about the music all the time.
AV: No, no, no… we all come from some kind of family – some more dysfunctional than others. You can’t really say normal because what is normal? Family is what holds you together. Because I have parents who have been together over thirty-years, that’s what I know. And family to me is the most important thing in the world because as you grow old, do you really want to grow old alone? No you don’t. You want to have people there who support you and listen to your dreams or listen to your problems. Who also awake you from your dreams or bring you out of the rut that you’re in. Then you pass on the good that you’ve learned (of course you make some mistakes), to your child and the family you’ve created. [You] hope they will be a productive member of society. I hope that my son will learn how to express himself and go after his dreams whatever they may be. We should encourage our children to pursue their dreams.
That’s important because people really do take that for granted and often, it’s not that way.
AV: No it’s not and unfortunately people do take it for granted. Nowadays there are too many things that are sidetracking what family values are. Whether it’s the cars or the fame, at the end of the day when all of that is taken away, it’s you, your soul, God and your child if you have one. What do you truly want your child to grow up being? To struggle with the same things we struggle with? No, that’s why we try to better ourselves and then try to pass on those things to our children. I think music is a double-edged sword. It’s very tempting in a good and bad way. When I chose to become a mother and a wife I took on a lot of responsibility. Not only to feed and clothe this child but to set values and morals, dreams and faith in this child. I think that’s why I became so inspired. My music talks about what I’m feeling and one day when he’s listening to my music and he can hear himself laughing in the background and mommy is singing about loving him, that will make him a stronger man and one that can express his feelings as well. I hope I’m doing the right thing.
What do you think people would be most surprised to know about you?
AV: (Laughs) That I sing! I think that’s the only shocker. We’ve already had the [reactions] of “What?” Who?” I’m just cracking up you know. Then aside from that it’s “She writes her music?” I think people will be very surprised because I‘ve been – not in the shadow of Louie, but I’ve been his support.
I don’t want to say behind either but it is because he’s been in the forefront for so long.
AV: I’ve been behind because if you think of our bodies, we have a spine that’s behind us and holds us up. You can think of me as [Louie’s] spine. Yes I’ve been there to support my man. There’s no shame. I’ve been behind my man, all the way. I will continue to be behind him through anything and everything. From the moment I said 'I do' and all those other things.
And long before that because you only said 'I do' a few months ago. I almost forgot to ask you about that. He finally made you an honest woman as they say…
AV: Uh huh!
It was covered in a magazine even, how did that happen?
AV: I don’t really want to say too much about that.
Why not if you consented to have your wedding covered in a magazine?
AV: Because once you’ve decided to make your life public, there are certain things that you should hold sacred. The whole world doesn’t need to know. We got married and decided to only have thirty people for that reason. It was something that was very special. You’ve got to keep something for yourself. The magazine focused more on the album; they don’t really talk about the wedding or the vows and all of that. It was a celebration and Louie being “Little Louie” Vega, it was a celebration of our life and we wanted to share that. It’s also nice to have it on record… ‘Our wedding was in a magazine!’ (Laughs)
There’s nothing wrong with that. And since success looks different in dance music than it looks in other genres of music, it is still nice to have our heroes treated like big shots and recognized by people who are interested in them beyond the music.
AV: I’m not a big shot. I can’t say that enough. I’m me, and those who know me, know who I am. Then there are those who think they know me. What matters at the end of the day is that you do something you love and that you are passionate about. Then if you get to share it with the world…
And that’s where we’ll end it and say thanks for spending time with us!
Want more? Pick up the ELEMENTS OF LIFE album on Avex Records (Japan) May 8th; or wait for domestic release later this year with two additional tracks including the debut collabo between Joe Claussell and Louie Vega featuring Anané and Raul on “Let The Children Play”.
Perhaps it’s the fertile soil of her birthplace in the Cape Verde Islands that gives her such deep resolve and limitless potential. After all, it is the same earth responsible for nurturing vibrant artists like TheTavares, Cesaria Evoria and even Amber Rose. But more likely, the secret to newcomer Anané’s imminent success can be found in a life edified by both challenge and triumph. Lived while surviving more than a few trials by fire with profound serenity and grace. Generally known as Mrs Ana Martins-Vega, Anané the artist is stepping out of the shadows of her legendary husband to offer her own musical soul in a budding career she was destined to have.
From her early days as an “awkward” teen participating in school plays to winning national beauty pageants and signing with the Click modeling agency, Ana has always found a home on the stage. Now with the release of her debut singles, she makes a new one in the studio as a singer/songwriter. Intensely private, she lets her story out – carefully – in her characteristic sister-girl style that is tastefully served with First Lady composure. Get to know this new talent in our exclusive full-length chat as she prepares to leave her indelible mark on the underground while never losing sight of who she is.