Her vocals are smooth and soulful. Her spirit is bright as ever. She’s just what urban music needs. Take the opportunity to meet Lira. This South African beauty is far fro being new to the game. While many here in the U.S. are just learning about her, she’s spent nearly the past decade entertaining the masses in South Africa. An intricate part of the Sony Africa roster, Lira has released several albums over the years. Now that she’s built a strong following and fanbase, it’s perfect timing that she transition her product here to the U.S.
Currently, Lira is on a tour promoting her latest release, ‘Rise Again’. In preparation for her stop here in Cleveland on June 27, we sat and spoke with Lira about her journey, and transition to the U.S..
Urban Grandstand: Thank you so much for taking time this afternoon to chat.
Lira: It’s my pleasure.
Urban Grandstand: Tell me about where you’re from, and your upbringing.
Lira: I’m from South Africa, but the town I’m from is called Ekurhuleni. I pretty much grew up during the apartheid time in South Africa. I still has a pretty good upbringing.
Urban Grandstand: So talk about your journey into music.
Lira: Having grown up in a time where native South Africans were oppressed, a lot of people used music as an escape. It offered people great solitude. As a child, I could see the power of music and how it really seemed to give people a way of expressing emotion. It captured what they were feeling but could not articulate. This made a great impression on me as a child, and my desire to write music came from there. I could really see how powerful it was in transforming moods, and giving a sense of hope. I wanted to be a musician that had that same effect on people. I wrote my first song when I was 16. That was my last year of high school.
Urban Grandstand: Is it difficult to transition into music where you’re from, or would you say it’s fairly easy?
Lira: No. The industry is very challenging in South Africa. It’s very difficult, however, the easiest thing for me was to get my deal. I happened to be in the right place at the right time. I used to be an account before I decided to go full on into music. I worked ion that environment for two year, and I was quite young. I decided to take about five years off and follow my passion. So I quit my job and drew up a 5-year plan. By some stroke of luck, I ended up at a label that was looking to sign a new soul act. Releasing my first album took three years. It was a very complex circumstance for me. My first album came out and did incredibly well. It was called All My Love. At the time, Beyonce’s Dangerously in Love was doing incredibly well, and I was able to kick it off the number two position in South Africa. That was a big deal for me. That told me that there was something really different happening and things were moving in the right direction.
Urban Grandstand: You offer a really beautiful product. I think it’s wonderful that you stepped away to follow your passion, but the reality is you were an account, and there’s a lot of work that goes into a career in accounting. What was it that made you decide it was time?
Lira: I had received another promotion. It was exciting to be young and making good money. I remember a regional manager saying that if I worked hard I could take their spot in five years. I think that was turning point. It made me question where that was what I really wanted. It felt like my entire life flashed before my and I didn’t like what I saw. So there I was, thinking about what I would find fulfilling. The only thing fulfilling to me was being on stage. I felt so alive, and I wondered why I couldn’t just do that for a living. That’s how I came up with a 5-year plan. It basically was what I thought would happen in a perfect world. I haven’t looked back.
Urban Grandstand: I think it’s beautiful. I love to see people following their passion and doing what makes them happy. I can only imagine how you must feel.
Urban Grandstand: You’ve had a very rewarding career thus far. You really took off with full steam. What do you think has attributed to your success, and to the power behind your product?
Lira: My first album was my most challenging, so I felt like a complete failure. When I look back, I feel like our industry was not ready. It was very soulful, but the sound of that particular time, we used to call it bubble gum,. For sings that were well thought out and well written, it just wasn’t acceptable. It was very frustrating for me. My label didn’t know how to market what I was doing. As soon as I changed my attitude, and stopped feeling sorry for myself, I seemed to connect with people in an amazing way. People thought I was really authentic. That’s what makes people connect. I’ve had so many dreams some true. I almost lost out on this opportunity. I write about these things, and how it feels to be yourself.
Urban Grandstand: Do you feel it will be difficult establishing yourself here in the US?
Lira: I would say things took longer in South Africa. It was necessary though. That was my training ground. I grew so much through the process. It’s challenging here because it’s a huge market. There are so many artists and so much competition. It’s just a different space. The reason I’m doing this is because you don’t want to be limited. You want to do what you love in every corner of the world. It’s just another space where I’ve seen the music being very well received. I’m seeing how far I can go.
Urban Grandstand: Are there any cultural differences you’ve seen that have either helped or hindered you?
Lira: I don’t think so much cultural. People in the states relate the same as other areas. It’s honest, truthful, and it connects to the soul. It’s about understanding the American market, and how it works different than the rest of the world.
Urban Grandstand: what type of support have you had in your transition to the U.S.?
Lira: The one thing that made all the difference is having a person who had connections of media, networks, venues, and so on. That has made a big difference. I want as many people to experience it, and I want to connect on a live performance level.
Urban Grandstand: I love the video you have for Feels Good
Lira: Thank you. It was really just being authentic. Showing how you can start with just an idea or dream, and how it can blow up in ways that are unexpected. I hope that came across.
Urban Grandstand: I think the message definitely came across. It’s definitely a feel good record. I love it.
Lira: I’m so pleased, thank you.
Urban Grandstand: As far as coming into music, who were the people you followed, and how have they helped you to create a timeless product?
Lira: People like Stevie Wonder really influenced my desire to become a songwriter. He wrote the kinds of songs that would pick me up. They made me feel like I could fight another day. I want to be that kind of songwriter. Luther Vandross, Aretha Franklin, and Mary J Blige, I was a big fan of Mary J Blige. The other thing is there was a lot of American music in South Africa, so a lot of us really grew up on that kind of music. I saw how people really connected with it. For me, it was about writing music that connects with people. I try to include African languages and nuances in my music to bring it back home and to make it uniquely South African.
Urban Grandstand: Now am I corrected that you performed for Nelson Mandela?
Lira: That is correct. I actually performed for him a several times.
Urban Grandstand: What was that experience like for you?
Lira: It was a personal role model for me. I feel so grateful to him, for the kind of life I get to lead as a young South African. Things are so much different now. I can afford to dream, and even trust in the possibility that my dream can come true. That’s what Nelson Mandela represented. As soon as he got out of prison, the landscape of this country completely changed. Performing for him was an opportunity to say thank you. Thank you for making a difference in my life on a personal level. Not only as a South African. It’s wonderful to be able to honor those who change your life, and performing for him gave me that opportunity.
Urban Grandstand: So are you working on putting something else out right now?
Lira: Absolutely. I wanted to introduce my music to the United States. I’m working on new material and it excites me. I’ll be able to release my music simultaneously around the world. Before, I did it in layers. That is another point of growth. Very excited about that. I’m very excited about the new album. With all the connections I’ve made around the world, I’m ready to do collaborations. I’ve grown so much from experiences and such, so the new material I’m writing feels like an evolution.
Urban Grandstand: Are there any dates, or anything tentative out there right now?
Lira: I’m looking for end of the year, but it’s complex because I just introduced myself to the United States. I suppose I’ll have to feel it out. I’m not sure if it makes sense to release so quickly, or if I should wait until next year. It’s about reading the market.
Urban Grandstand: The timing has been impeccable, and you clearly have a good team of people behind you. I think everything has fallen into place. I love interviewing those who love what they do. It exudes in your conversation.
Lira: I appreciate that. Thank you so much.
Urban Grandstand: Any type of final comments?
Lira: I think we’ve covered everything. I’m here to spread my music. It’s still more than that. It’s what’s contained in the music. People as what I want to be remembered for. I want to be remembered for living authentically. That’s almost a wild idea, given my background and being South African. We just could not afford the luxury of dreaming. Having achieved that as a South African, first and foremost, and being able to go out in the world and making a positive influence is what I want to be remembered for first. Secondly, I want to be remembered for causing as many people as possible to follow their passion.
Urban Grandstand: Can you let everyone know where to find you online?