Afro-Soul singer Lira is a South African songstress who is creating a buzz with the recent release of her first North American album, Rise Again. If you think she is just the latest international “It” girl to hit the airwaves, think again. Lira has enjoyed a long-time singing career that has surpassed some of the achievements of some of our most heralded artists. In South Africa she’s already released four multi-platinum albums as well as a live in concert DVD Lira Live in Concert: A Celebration, which aired in her country in 2009 and was watched by nine million people. Released in 2006, her video “Feel Good” appeared on VH1 and it went on to become one of her first #1 hits. She’s performed at the 2010 FIFA World Cup with Black Eyed Peas, Alicia Keys, Shakira and John Legend, and had the honor to perform for former president Nelson Mandela for his 92nd birthday. SoulTrain.com was eager to catch up with Lira and learn more about her after she was recently nominated for “Best International Act” at the 2012 BET Awards.
SoulTrain.com: Hello Lira, what an honor to speak with you as you drop your first North American album. What makes this album different from the rest?
Lira: This album is actually a “best of” album, which is a collection of previous songs I’ve released in Africa but that American audiences have never heard. It includes tracks like “Feel Good,” “Phakade,” “Believer,” “Ixesha,” and “Soul in Mind”. I call my music Afro-Soul; I sing in English, Xhosa, Sesotho and Zulu, mixing that in with R&B, soul and pop.
SoulTrain.com: As far as longevity goes, you’ve enjoyed quite a career in the public eye. Even then, though, you have been called things such as “underground artist” and monikers that imply that you are still an emerging artist since you are only now building your audience here in the States. What is your response to this? Does this bother you?
Lira: You know honestly I haven’t seen any mentions of an “underground artist” reference . I’m signed to Sony Music and none of their artists are really considered grassroots per se. Of course, I’m starting new in America. It’s like I’ve climbed one mountain and now I’m looking at another one but I’m excited. All the feedback has been amazing and really positive. I was just featured in Vogue and voted [one of the] Top 5 Unique Artists to Change Music in Essence Magazine along with Elle Varner and Bridget Kelly. I have a lot of major American magazine spreads coming out so hopefully that alongside our radio promotion we’ll be able to escape any title that depicts us selling CDs out of the trunk of our car (laughs).
SoulTrain.com: Who are some of the artists you have enjoyed working with when touring? Your performance resume is impressive–you’ve performed with everyone from Alicia Keyes to K’Naan!
Lira: Yes, I performed with Alicia and K’Naan at the World Cup in South Africa. I’ve performed regularly with Hugh Masekela who is a legend in South Africa, but other than that it’s usually just me solo. All of the shows I headline in Africa sell-out, and I haven’t yet entered America to tour but that will probably be in early 2013 and even then it will probably be just me.
SoulTrain.com: I’ve followed your career for awhile and have been impressed with how you’ve always managed to stay consistent with your image and sound. Has there ever been a time when you were asked to change who it is that you are to make more money or sell more records?
Lira: You know sometimes I get asked if I’m “finally” going to wear a weave now that I’m launching my career in North America. Clearly, it’s not necessary. Keeping my hair natural has been the best thing for me, it has become my trademark and I’m very conscious how my image and style influences young girls. I’m pretty conservative with my outfits, and I kind of like that about us South Africans. I’ve still managed to sell millions of albums so I think labels know not to step to me and ask me to wear a mini skirt and a blond weave at this point.
SoulTrain.com: What has been the driving force behind keeping you committed to performing and staying in the music industry, and why?
Lira: I love to sing, I’ve been singing since I was a little girl and saw the type of power that music had in my family and my South African communities. I feel my music is important because it’s deliberately positive and upbeat. I think there’s enough negativity out there in the world and I have no desire to add to it. People seek solace in music and I want mine to be an uplifting experience. That in itself is a driving force.
SoulTrain.com: What bit of advice would you give to an aspiring artist striving to follow in your footsteps? What would you tell them?
Lira: I have realized that a lot of the freedoms I enjoy now as a young South African woman have come through the sacrifice of many great women who came before me. I have also become aware that most of the opportunities available to the girls growing up in the cities are a distant reality to many women in the more rural areas of the country. I often see value in the realization that where you come from does not have to determine where you end up. Change takes incredible courage, often many things will rise against you when you push forward. This is a part of the process and every obstacle will strengthen your character. Nothing that was ever worth having was ever easy, so my advice is to work hard and never give up on your dreams.
SoulTrain.com: Finally, is there anything that you’d like to tell our readers about yourself that you haven’t shared yet?
-Khadijah Z. Ali-Coleman
Khadijah Z. Ali-Coleman is a longtime music writer based in Maryland. Visit her at http://www.KhadijahOnline.com.