British singer-songwriter, Lánre, was born in Stoke-On-Trent in England, but spent most of her youth in Nigeria. Her music, which is a mixture of folk and soul, is heavily influenced by her Yoruba heritage. While her professional career began in 2002, it wasn’t until 2010 that she decided to venture into a solo project.
Lánre’s most recent EP, “Human,” is a collective of uplifting songs about the human experience. Each song is a story about hope and unity. We spoke with Lánre about her inspirations, storytelling, and her journey into a solo career.
How did you get your start in music?
I’ve sung in church choirs most of my life. I, however, started playing music professionally with UK gospel collective GK REAL and started writing and performing solo material in 2010.
In regards from going from GK REAL to a solo career–What made you decide to take that step and explore a solo songwriting career? What has the transition been like?
Around 2009 the dynamics of the band started to change, and it was decided that the collective should take a break. At the time, I wasn’t really sure what the next step was. I knew I wanted to write, but along the lines of poetry, fiction writing. I didn’t think music. Later that year, my dad suddenly died, and I think death has a way of nudging us to action. I decided to take guitar lessons and stop procrastinating. A few months later, I had a few songs ready and was going to open mic venues and sharing the music.
That gospel vibe is really evident in your songs. Was that something you implemented consciously, or was it simply a result of having been in that musical environment for a long time?
I don’t really go, “I’d like to write a gospel sounding song.” I think it comes to play naturally because it’s a huge part of my upbringing and musical education. I love playing with harmonies and the layering of vocals. The strength in the collective human voice is a powerful tool, I think.
You were born in England, but you spent most of your time growing up in Nigeria. How has that knowledge and experience with different cultures shaped the way you write your music?
My music is informed by my grandfather and father’s story telling. You can hear elements from the years I spent singing in choirs both in Ibadan (the largest city in West Africa) and here in London. It’s not out of place for women to break into singing when you get your hair done at the market place; it’s where I draw my love for communal singing, and I try to bring that into my live performances.
Your songs have that storyteller’s repetition found in folk music, but they’re also so multi-layered musically. What influenced that?
That storytelling repetition is definitely influenced by my heritage and culture. A lot of Yoruba folklore is structured that way and I love how that helps to reiterate or drive home a point. Musically, I have been blessed to have amazing musicians who are able to interpret and bring colour to the stories I try to tell with my songs. So for my EP, “Human,” I had the help of producer Feranmi Ogunseyinde, Ben Trickey on guitars and bass, Jamie Philokyprou on violin, and Rohan Budd engineering. It helps when you have people who are willing to give so much of their talent to make sure the music is presented beautifully.
Did your creative process for “Home” differ from you creative process for “Human?”
The process of creating the songs is pretty much the same. I write all the songs and guitar parts, try them out with a live audience, and then when I think they are ready, I take the songs to the next level, which is recording it. For “Home,” the recording process was similar to a live recording where we had all the musicians in one room and went through each songs and record a few times until we got the best take. “Human,” however, we had a different day for recording the music–mainly guitars, ukulele, violin, drums–and then another day for me to come in and lay the vocals.
Can you tell us about the single “My Soul” and the story behind it?
Sometimes you listen to the news and every story you hear is horrific. It’s crazy out there, and as a singer/ songwriter, you actually feel helpless to do anything. In April 2014 the whole world heard of over 200 girls kidnapped in Borno State in Nigeria. I remember watching and reading everything there was to read and one BBC interview was of the mothers–I tear up just thinking about it now. I was speaking with my mum and she said in Yoruba, “eni tó kàn ló mò o.”In other words, you can never know how that feels until it happens to you. I wrote this song from the perspective of the girls, and what it must feel like to be 13 or 14 and get kidnapped from your boarding school. What’s going through their minds? Where are they now?
Which song on the EP holds the most significance to you and why?
I really feel like “Fire” is one of those songs that feels like the reason for it, and it’s meaning gets clearer by the day. It’s a song about how we need one another as human beings–no man is an island kind of thing. You can call it a a song about friendship or kinship.
What or who inspires you?
Mostly poets and storytellers. I am reading “Questions for Ada” by Ijeoma Umebinyo I want to write songs that will make people feel the way her poems make me feel. Brutally honest, straight through your heart.
“Human” is now available on iTunes.