2007 June Style Star: Lira

Her real name is Lerato Molapo, but she goes by the name of Lira. Her music soothes your soul like hot chocolate on a cold winter’s night.
Even thought she won a song writing contest at the age of 16, it hasn’t always gone Lira’s way; in fact only recently has she been able to truly explore her musical talent.
It’s been four years since her first Album All My Love, and Lira has grown a lot since then.
She has transformed from a reluctant R&B artist into a musician, who is free to play with any kind of sound.
And that’s what her latest album Feel Good is all about; you can hear Lira is enjoying the sound of her music.
This vocal powerhouse embraces her feminine spirit and it and is thrilled to be an African woman in these wonderful times.
Lira is not just about voice; she is the whole package, but she admits it was quite a process to get the right look.
Lira is inspired by fashion from the 30s and 40s and says she wants a style that will enhance or at least reflect what she is as a person.
She spoke to gsport about her amazing transformation, her musical influences, and her sense of style.
Introducing gsport’s June Style Star, a brand new Lira

Where are you based, Lira?

In Randburg, Johannesburg.
How long did you have to work before you achieved that initial success?
Uhm, quite a while, let me see, there’s two years to release my very first album, and a further two years to release my second album.
How did you find that journey, that time, obviously learning different things about yourself?
There were parts of it that were very difficult, where you almost feel like you’ve failed in pursuing what you really wanted to do. There were parts that were very fulfilling, when things started going right.
It was very much a journey of personal development and personal growth. I had to deal with a lot of things; I had to be honest with myself on many levels; I had to work hard on my craft; my mentality; for the voice …; I had to hustle to get the right kind of players; but I reckon just being armed with a good attitude added a lot of good things to my journey.
And to win a song-writing competition at the age of 16, surely then you knew, that’s it, something’s going to happen?
Certainly, that was the first big affirmation, because before then, I mean I was just saying during lunch time with a friend of mine Lebo, we just did various songs, uhm, just a few groups, and we learned to harmonise together.
But having that kind of recognition, a talent show was for the entire East Rand area, which is now called Ekhuruleni, and there were all kinds of genres there, I mean we had rock, kwaito, and different sounds from different people…
But now to win that many categories for me was a huge affirmation, I thought “Wow, I must have something special.”
And consequent to that, I had lots of opportunities to perform, which began a sense of fulfilment of being on stage, you know, you can move a group of people just by your voice was amazing for me.
You started off as an R&B artist, and now your music has changed completely: Choosing a genre, how has that been for you?
It was just that discovering that this is where I want to go initially… I very often say that my first album was like a fulfilment of a childhood dream, it was cool to be an R&B artist. It was a way of doing what I wanted to do, but in a more wildly acceptable way.
But the R&B genre soon grew sterile; I connected a lot less with it. I find the music lacked substance, and I just couldn’t relate any more.
It became rather ‘pop’ than R&B, I mean, I think my biggest influence was old-school R&B, like your Luther Vandross’, so when the genre was moving, I just couldn’t find my place it in anymore.
So I had to really review what I was going to do, and I just had to go back to where I wanted to go initially, and I just find with what I do now, I am able to play with different kinds of sounds and genres, which is what I wanted to do. I don’t want to be restricted.
I found R&B to be somewhat restricting, this time around I feel I’m free to play with any kind of sound, to use my voice in any way, and ultimately, it’s about story-telling, relaying a story in a way that the listeners can feel the truth of it.
Do you think the transformation of Lira has been spiritual, musical, and all-round?

Absolutely, uhm…, I wouldn’t have come this far if I hadn’t worked so hard on the other person. As I said, I had to deal with so many different things.
I left a very comfortable career to follow a dream. With that, you’ve really got to work on the person you are. Not everybody’s cut out for it.
‘Feel Good’, for example, (there) is a very strong message throughout the whole album, and for me, I had to really arm myself a very good attitude going forward, ‘cause when I first started, as soon as I told people I did an R&B soulful genre, people would go “Oh…” in a sullen not-so-enthusiastic way.
A few people in the industry would go, “Why do you do this genre? It doesn’t work it doesn’t sell in this country!”
It was difficult for me to accept that, because I felt so strongly about it, so I had to find ways of seeing it through for myself.
And how I found that was, every time I performed, people would relate. And that definitely meant for me that it’s not true what people say that there’s no market, clearly there is that market, I’m just not accessing them in the right way.
So I went about looking for opportunities, which started trickling in, in the most amazing way! Before long, I was performing in very intimate environments. Even when the environments were large, people would be open to my music.
The music started being, because I’d poured in my heart in what I’d wanted to achieve through the music, which was authenticity.
People became very open to it, and before very long, I felt I had an audience for my music, so then it obviously challenged everything else I was told.
And so, for the first time, I felt, you know what, I’m going to record this album, I feel very strongly about it.
I was very fortunate that, at the time, Sony BMG agreed with my vision, and I also feel that if I had released this album back then, possibly the country was not ready back then… Possibly.
Now people are more open to something new, something fresh… I just also think I’ve got timing on my side.
It must have been amazing to write, and co-write most of the music?
I’ve always been a writer, the difference with this album … Let me show you an example:
The first album, usually when I write, I can hear the music, I can hear the baseline, I can hear the backing vocals, I can hear the complete song in my head.
The challenge was often for me to relay what I’m hearing in my head to the next person, but it got lost in translation. It didn’t come out quite as I’d heard it, but I had to live with what came out, because sometimes I’d be so frustrated trying to explain myself.
But I also lacked the language, the jargon that musicians use to communicate with one another. So I had to accept what I was given, I couldn’t articulate myself properly.
With this album, I have gone through working with a guitarist, learning the guitar while working with a band, and for the first time being in that environment equipped me with a better language, and a better means to express myself to the people I was working with.
So this album is by far the closest representation of what I hear, and of what I am as a person, and so I think that’s part of the major change as well. The music really comes out the way I hear it in my head.
These are people that I’ve worked with over a period of five years, so we understand each other, we have a sense of one another, it’s been absolutely wonderful working with them. I feel fulfilled as a person.
You’ve got a unique style of dressing, tell us more about your personal style, and how it’ has evolved over the years:
I wanted a style that would enhance or at least reflect what I am as a person; I felt previously that this didn’t come across. There were times when I would look at a picture, and think: “Oh, that’s not me! I don’t recognise the person in the picture!”
It was quite a process to get the right kind of look. Stoned Cherrie currently dress me. It was a meeting of over a month of really trying to fuse the two together, but their look very much works on me. I want something elegant and classy, yet playful and sexy at the same time.
I feel our music is that, and I as a person, I’m like that. I want to feel sexy, yet presentable and respectable at the same time. I feel we’ve achieved that in many ways.
Also with the photos, I really wanted my personality to come across, it was wonderful the kind of people that came together, to make it happen. I’ve been very fortunate.
I’m very conservative, in many ways. I don’t like being too showy, I’m not that kind of person, I can’t carry that, so I needed to find a delicate balance.
450Where do you usually shop for clothes?
Flea markets, strangely… I’m not very usual, commercial stores don’t really do it for me. I find the more unique, the better, the more unusual, the better.
I like to play around with my clothes; I like to play around with colours, even my accessories! I find I like stuff that’s hand-made, or like the local people make, it has that beautiful special touch.
What is your favourite item of clothing?
Probably the one jersey that I have, it fits just right, and covers all the right places, and accentuates all the right places just right.
Who are your style icons?
Oh, very old-school people… I think I’m a very old soul, in many ways. I love the 40’s and 30’s look, so Josephine Baker is one of the people.
She’s quite a fuller woman, but I quite like how Oprah dresses. She’s very respectable, yet sexy at the same time. That really resonates with me.
Another person, I absolutely love her style, Halle Berry, absolutely sexy and elegant- That balance is important for me.
Favourite colour?
At the moment its turquoise. At the moment…
How do you define femininity, and what role does it play in your life?
This album has been about embracing my femininity! I used to think that the emotional…, these things that are typically female, were weaknesses.
But I found in accepting myself, and accepting everything feminine about myself, I found my strength. I love what Marilyn Monroe said one time, she said: “I don’t mind living in a man’s world, as long as I can be a woman in it.”
My fear with success and women in the corporate environment, is that a lot of them lead like men. We women, we add balance to things. We’re sensitive, we’re emotional, we’re caring, and that’s part of our strengths.
I personally feel feminine energy is on the rise, and thank goodness for that! I feel that this is a time when women will take a stand in terms of music, politics, business…, in all areas.
Because of this shift, inevitably, there will be a change, but because of the inherent nature of women, we will bring healing to every area that we work in.
For me, it’s an exciting time; women should rise up and be proud! Take a stand, and get into leadership roles, because we have a positive input in everything we’re about to do now!
What comes after this amazing album?
I’m a restless soul, I’m uncomfortable with being comfortable, and so I feel I’ll always need to introduce new changes into my life. I understand that if I introduce one new thing in one area, it will have a ripple effect in the rest of my life, so, I’m learning all kinds of new things, and I understand that that will inevitably result in change.
I’m learning the piano at the moment, because I think that’ll just improve my interpretation and expression of music, it’s really as a compositional tool.
I’m already working on the next album, incorporating every new experience that I’ve had thus far. My life has taken quite a big change, with the promotion, and the travelling, performing this album.
My biggest dream is to travel the world, Africa and the world, really share my music with the world, and these opportunities are already coming up.
I’m looking forward to sharing what is African about myself, and what is feminine about myself at the same time.
In many ways, I’m a modern African woman, I mean, I’m more in control of my life, and I think all of these things are to be celebrated.
My short hair, for example: I will not trade that for anything, because I feel its the signature thing about being African as well, just being natural.
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