In just over seven years Lira Molapo has made an indelible impact on the music scene thanks to her smooth vocals and eclectic sensual sound that is both African and international. Since ditching her career in finance, the multi-platinum singer/songwriter has produced four albums, won multiple Samas, and broken records with the first and biggest-selling South African Blu-Ray release (2009’s Live In Concert – A Celebration).
This East-Rand girl, who wrote her first song at 16, remembers telling people as a child that she wanted to be Whitney Houston when she grew up. With the recent release of her stunning album Return To Love, Lira is set to secure her status as South Africa’s leading diva. She spoke to Mambaonline about her gay fans and her new music.
You have a big gay fan-base. Why do you think that is?
I think gay boys love singers. I think there’s something that resonates with them in as far as the diva performer goes.
What do your gay friends mean to you in your life?
Our friendships are genuine human connections where we relate as people who share fears, challenges, dreams and aspirations. My gay friends and fans have contributed a lot in me coming out of my shell and exploring new and exciting things.
How did you feel about winning Role Model of the Year at the Feather Awards last year?
I love the Feather Awards – it’s a great honour to be honoured in this way and accepted by the [gay] community as someone they look up to. I’m always pushing the importance of being true to yourself – loving yourself and accepting yourself because this is the only way to be truly happy in life. The fact that they would see that and appreciate it and recognise it in the form of this award was very special for me.
Do you consciously work at being a role model?
I think whether you like it or not, by virtue of being in the public eye, you are a role model. The question is, are you a good one or a bad one. I make the conscious choice to be a positive role model, I think the country needs it and it gives me a great sense of purpose.
Do you get annoyed when you get compared to other artists, such as Sade?
Being compared to Sade is a great complement because I aspire to appeal to the same market that she does throughout the world. She’s a great example for me.
Some of your fans were disappointed that you weren’t able to perform at Joburg Pride last year.
It’s always such awesome fun being at Joburg Pride – I get to step out of the norm and let go a bit more. Plus it’s an awesome crowd to perform for. I’ve had a problem with the dates because I had other prior engagements that prevented me from attending for two years in a row.
You studied accounting and financial auditing and then gave up the corporate world. What made you take the step into making music your life?
I was doing well in my career but I was feeling unfulfilled, which made me depressed. I began to think of the last time I felt fulfilled in my life and all I could associate with fulfilment were my days of performing and writing songs… So it seemed logical that if I go back to that, I would find happiness again. It was risky but I was young and had nothing to lose.
Did your family support you in your decision?
My mother was the most supportive – she had seen me deteriorate into depression and that saddened her so she gave me her blessing to follow my heart. My parents then supported me in whatever way they could while I pursued my music career. They are the apple of my eye. It makes the journey so much easier when you have the support of your family because the world can kick you around so much. It’s great when you can go back home to the comfort and love of your parents.
What advice would you give to someone who’s considering doing what you did?
Plan and be as prepared as you can for this industry. Be willing to find solutions for yourself and to do the necessary work to achieve your goals. You have to have a clear vision and a reason or purpose for doing this – something bigger than yourself. This will help sustain you when it gets really hard. Lastly, believe in yourself: Know that you can do this, and you deserve it – then keep at it until you get there.
Last year you acted in an Italian film shot in Cape Town. Did you enjoy the experience?
I absolutely loved acting – it opened up my mind so much! I did not know I had the potential to act. I think it also enhanced me as a stage performer.
Do you see more acting on your horizon?
I’m more likely to pick and choose my roles because music is still my first love but absolutely – I will do more acting where opportunities present themselves. It feels like a natural progression.
What music have you been listening to of late?
Honestly? My latest album, Return To Love. I’ve been listening to see if it was truly complete and I’ve fallen in love with it. It makes sense to fall in love with it before expecting everyone else to.
How does it differ from your previous work?
This album is more groovy because that’s the mood I’m in – yet it remains undeniably Lira: soulful, honest, sultry and urban African.
What are you most proud of about it?
This is the most refined ‘Lira sound’ I’ve ever achieved. I’ve also grown as a composer and vocalist in ways that I always hoped… Now I can just continue refining and evolving. My foundation is feeling very solid.
What aspect of making music do you like most; writing, the studio or performing live?
It’s a very cyclic thing. Recording is daunting but composing is exciting because it’s the process of putting my ideas down and performing is the ultimate because this is the part where I share those ideas with the world. It’s spirited, spontaneous and in the moment fun!
It seems that South Africans have been blessed with amazing female musical talent over the decades: Miriam Makeba, Abigail Khubheka, Brenda Fassie… How have they inspired you?
Miriam Makeba has been my icon because she achieved what I’ve always dreamed of, she became an international African female icon. She makes it seem possible for me. Our female icons really paved the way for us. I have it easy in many ways because they struggled through.
What, do you think, makes South African female musical artists such remarkable figure compared to our men?
I think it is simply because we make a bit more effort in the presentation in our craft. We dress well, we sing meaningfully and also we are dominant at the moment…
You have an amazing sense of style…
The best thing about my career is my freedom to express myself. I love South African fashion for its expressive, fun, colourful, feminine and abstract sensibility. I too am these things…
Return To Love is now in stores nationwide.