Anané and Louie Vega share an easy chemistry. The iconic husband and wife team, known to club culture across the globe as The Ritual, share not only the decks, but also a son together, and this travelling troupe relish every moment they spend together – especially when they’re seeing the world, with tour dates taking them to venues like Blue Marlin in Ibiza, Elsewhere in Brooklyn or Contact in Tokyo. It’s deep, it’s tribal, it’s soulful and it’s vocal.
The concept of The Ritual prioritises vibe and the energy as more important than cherry-picking the same tried-and-tested crossover anthems again and again. “It's so not about that!” laughs Anané when we chat over Zoom midway through the summer. “It's exactly the opposite! The element of surprise, the element of being free in music, the element of not going somewhere with an already preconceived notion that they're going to play this record, they're going to play this label, they're going to play these artists. That is the what happens with an industry that becomes so compartmentalised. A DJ should be free in their element to surprise the audience at any time with something that they would never expect to hear. That's what it's about!”
The compassion and energy the always-dynamic duo put into their sets was on show when they recently helmed a Mixmag Presents July 4 celebration at 1 Hotel in New York City, locking hands and grooving together while fireworks exploded above the Brooklyn Bridge behind them. As we catch up a fortnight later to discuss what makes them tick, Louie is especially excited to kick back and chat music for 40 minutes: believe it or not, this is the first time he’s graced our cover. But what exactly can people expect from this particular Ritual? “They can expect to see Louie dancing!” exclaims Anané, who is fast-becoming a force of nature, not just as a DJ but also as a fashionista, radio presenter and label boss. “We have such a great energy together. I mean, this wasn't thought or out planned out, this just kind of happened naturally 10 years ago. Just by getting into the booth and playing with him, and a friend of ours said: ‘You know, you guys should play together, it's really cool to see and there's something magical that happens.’ And so we did that. And we've been able to grow and do it in a way that’s still underground. To be around for 10 years and still doing things from the heart and from the core, that is special.”
Even when pushed, neither will divulge a house record that sums them up as The Ritual: it’s just not that kind of party. Boxes are there to be avoided and genres are there to be traversed. “I'm from the Cape Verde islands and there's an incredible musical rainbow from my country,” she explains. “So it's a part of who I am and the music that I play. I have a show on Worldwide FM and the first hour is dedicated to all Cape Verdean music, which is interesting for me because it's given me the opportunity to really dive deep into the country. I left as a little girl, so to bring to light this music that makes me who I am is very special.”
But it wasn’t that easy for her: especially with coming from a conservative family. “I lived in a really small town, every Sunday I listened to 95.5 WBRU on my headphones while roller skating around my neighbourhood, it was the only radio station that played all of the R&B sounds I loved! I went to reggae festivals but spent most of my time in my room, listening & writing music while performing in front of the mirror... that was my escape from a very traditional family who hosted many serenades at home.”
Of course, as a solo artist or as one half of Masters At Work, Louie Vega needs little introduction, even to entry level Balearic or European ravers. He’s a bona fide house music pioneer of Puerto Rican ancestry, and the first of a clutch of ‘90s producers – Armand Van Helden, Dennis Ferrer and DJ Heather among them – who helped put a certain strain of house music on the global dance map, not just at The Sound Factory Bar in New York, but especially in the UK, where records like ‘I Can’t Get No Sleep,’ ‘To Be In Love’ with India and the entire Nuyorican Soul project on Talkin’ Loud continue to cause maximum disco damage almost three decades later. He’s also a GRAMMY Award-winning producer, and Anané is GRAMMY nominated.
Read this next: 90s House DJs Still at the Top of Their Game
But in case anyone retrospectively wants flowers: alongside his studio partner Kenny Dope, Louie and Masters At Work became two of the biggest go-to remix producers of the nineties, with their names appearing on dozens of top tier singles including – deep breath – Daft Punk’s ‘Around The World’, Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love’, Simply Red’s ‘Thrill Me’ and ‘Close To You’ by The Brand New Heavies. All four mixes – and indeed the dozens of major label mixes they made around this time - sound as fresh today as the day they were first planted, and MAW records remain on rotation just about anywhere you hear good house music. So it’s little wonder that Gilles Peterson asked them to headline this year’s We Out Here festival: a new generation are discovering what real, authentic house music is about and who better to lead the charge than Vega himself?
To paraphrase an old MAW record, this may have been a long time coming but it was also very necessary. Louie himself helped instigate the new inductions into house over lockdown. Worldwide FM undoubtedly played a part, with Louie’s weekly shows digging out uplifting classics, but radio wasn’t the only platform. Like Jellybean Benitez and DJ Jazzy Jeff, he was one of multiple house music heroes who utilized Twitch over lockdown to keep the disco fires burning. While other platforms constantly cut off due to frustrating licensing requirements, Twitch seems to have overcome its copyright takedown issues and allowed these iconic producers to play their hearts out for hours on end. As well as giving an insight into their record collections and collective spirits, it also allowed fans and viewers to see inside their homes. “It brought a community of people together from around the world,” says Louie. “It was really wonderful to see. Nobody was going out anyway. And even now, some of those people didn't go to clubs, and now they're starting to go to clubs to reach out and connect. So it's been a great way for us to share our knowledge, and it's going on to this day.”
A quick glance into Louie’s portal showed music shelves that took in all the reference points you’d expect from a man literally born into the industry, with a jazz saxophonist father and salsa singer uncle: Led Zeppelin ‘1’, Michael Jackson’s ‘Off The Wall’, Grace Jones and Chaka Khan all pointed the way to a vivid, soulful future. For some artists, lockdown was really, really tough. But Vega seemed to keep his chin up, staying in touch with the scene through musical broadcasts. “When lockdown happened, we weren't doing anything,” recalls Vega. “We were home, you know. And actually, it was our son who said: ‘Dad, you should really stream, you really need to do this!’ I was already streaming on Worldwide FM once a month and then the icing on the cake was when Gilles Peterson asked me to do it five days a week and play all these different types of music, it really opened up a lot of doors.”
It strikes me that Louie enjoys shining a light on other artist’s careers, such as underappreciated talents like Level 42’s keyboard player and falsetto backing vocalist Mike Lindup, who he recently remixed. “Definitely! I've done that a lot through throughout my career,” he says. “In a case like Mike, a lot of people don't even know who's singing the lead on that song ‘Starchild’. I kept telling our followers, they were really excited to see that it was somebody that was also in the band and lent his talents as a vocalist. He sang a lot of the backgrounds on a lot of those Level 42 records too. Everybody got to learn a lot about Mike Lindup!”
Anané's musical agenda is also about shining a light, with the focus being her heritage. “As you know, I'm from the Cape Verde islands and so I wanted to bring that to light: and that’s why the African sounds, rhythms and melodies resonate so much with me and the music that I play. It's wonderful to be able to share music in a different way that's not club or four-on-the-floor, or what you hear normally, but something that's more chill and with a lot of sentiments and meaning, because the way that I had to leave my country in exile with my family during a revolution was very chaotic. To go back now and to listen has a lot of meaning. I just inherited my Dad’s vinyl collection, and it's very interesting because when we left the country, one of his prized possessions that he was not able to take was his vinyl collection. He now handed it to me.”
Incredibly, our time to The Ritual is already running out. It’s been a blast and we’ve covered a lot of key ground but to close out, we have to ask: was there a mentor for either of you growing up to set you on this path? Louie is up first. “I started as a teenager, so there were many stages of mentors, but one of the early one has to be when I was able to go to the Paradise Garage and see Larry Levan play. He wasn't a mentor to me because I didn't know him personally, but listening to him play his music in that club was definitely something that inspired me to do what I do today. I was intrigued by the whole DJ culture that was happening in New York at the time. You know, later on, really meeting people like Jellybean Benitez, Bruce Forest, Tony Humphries, Arthur Baker, The Latin Rascals, goodness, I could go on and on... but at that time, a lot of the producers and DJs would embrace the youth and invite you to the studio to sit in the back. And if you had any questions, just ask, you know what I mean? I would just go in and absorb as much as possible. I had many stages throughout my career. Meeting artists like that, and going out into their world and seeing what they do and how they do it, that inspired me to have Elements Of Life and a band of my own.”
Anané Vega breathes deep and thinks back to those early, formative years, an era of modern classic rock and early Strictly Rhythm house in Providence, Rhode Island. “I was really a loner growing up, but music was my escape into my own world, until I moved to New York City with a one way bus ticket, a bag of clothes, one hundred dollars and a pocketful of dreams. I grew up in a strict traditional Cape Verdean/Portuguese family and although I excelled as a student, I’d skip school, buy a round trip ticket on the bus and come to New York City, wander around in total amazement of New York City dreaming of maybe one day living there! Then I’d go back home like I spent the day at school and my parents wouldn't know! I finally was caught when my mom answered a phone call I received for a call back from a dance audition I tried out for during one of my excursions, it was for MTV’s The Grind — needless to say I wasn't allowed to go to the call back. But I wasn't introduced to the underground scene until my gay friends in Rhode Island that took me to my first club in Providence. and that's when the underground became my church.”
Anané pauses for a moment. It was a heady era for house music but the memories of that time are still crystal clear. “I will never forget the first time I went to New York’s Sound Factory Bar! Willi Ninja, may he rest in peace, was at the front door taking names and he said, ‘No, you're not on the list, get in line’. Once I got inside and walked through those big red velvet curtains, it was pure magic, the lights, the dancers, the thumping music and me! It was every Wednesday, Louie Vega playing, Don Welch and Barbara Tucker hosting and the ‘who's who’ of the house industry in New York City. I didn't have a clue who anyone was because I was just this young girl from a little town. It wasn't until a year later after being introduced to each other by mutual friends that Louie became my mentor in my career and my life partner.”
Ralph Moore is Mixmag's Music Director, follow him on Twitter