Far across the Atlantic, in the distant land of Ireland, the life and success of Laura Izibor have cast a bright light on the global interconnectedness and reach of the modern music industry.
As the daughter of an Irish mother and Nigerian father, it may surprise some Americans that Laura Izibor's unique talents, while refreshing, are at the same time familiar. Inspired by the music of Roberta Flack, Nina Simone and Marvin Gaye, Izibor's songwriting talents embody the spirit and passions of her musical heroes and, for these reasons, the international press has hailed her as "The Soul of Ireland." With a bit of luck, in the weeks and months to come, several tracks from her debut album, Let the Truth Be Told, will find a welcome home on American radio.
Upon the release of Let the Truth Be Told, Laura Izibor managed to squeeze some time out of her busy schedule and settle down for an interview with Clayton Perry — reflecting on Marvin Gaye, her cultural roots, and "If Tonight Is My Last."
Several weeks ago, I had the pleasure of seeing you open for India.Arie in Charlotte, North Carolina. Out of your set, the song I really gravitated toward was "Shine." When you perform that particular song, are there any particular memories that float around in your mind?
Well, that song I initially wrote about a friend who was very shook in life. She was really in this bad spot. Just being bad, drinking bad, stuck in a job she didn't really want. It's just really hard to see someone who has a glaze in their eyes. So I began writing "Shine," and, like everything, you end up looking at yourself. Am I doing all the things I set for myself to do? So it was sort of inspired by somebody else but it came back to myself. I wanted to be able to sing a song that was therapeutic, maybe. I think in life we tend to think that it won't happen to us or we'll do it tomorrow. So "Shine" is a kind of song that really makes you live as present as possible. It's just a good song to sing, to sing about that kind of thing.
A large number of singles off of Let the Truth Be Told were featured on various soundtracks and television shows before the album's official release. When you look back, do you consider this staggered introduction as a conscious marketing tactic or an attempt to test the musical waters, so to speak?
Not so much. We didn't set out to write for market or movies. In the future though, I would definitely like to write for movies specifically. I write about a lot of things, and I have a lot of songs. A song is a song and, in these particular cases, they just happened to fit certain themes. But definitely in the future, that's something I would like to mess with.
One of the songs released before your official debut was "Carousel," which was featured on the soundtrack for P.S. I Love You. After reviewing the final track list for Let the Truth Be Told, I noticed that the song had not been included. Is there a particular reason why it didn't make the cut?
Unlike some of my songs, "Carousel" was set aside just for that movie. It was kind of a later song and it wasn't part of the time that I recorded my album. It's also the only co-write that I've done. My album only has stuff that I wrote myself. But… I love that song! In the end, I wanted a specific sound for this album, so I chose to leave it off. But it's definitely available for people that want it.
Few artists are given the privilege of writing and producing tracks on their debut album. And in the case of Let the Truth Be Told, you wrote and produced the entire album. Why do you think you were able to receive and maintain such a high level of artistic control?
It kind of happened that way. I'm used to writing songs and the label just seems to really dig them. Before we knew it, the album was finished. Somebody brought to my attention that, "All the songs that made it are the songs that you wrote because they were just better and they were more you." I was pleasantly surprised and happy about it.
Although it's hard to pick a favorite track, I immediately fell in love with "If Tonight Is My Last." What insight can you give me on the inspiration behind the song?
Well, "If Tonight Is My Last" is a song about the people I take for granted. You know it could be your sister or your mother. To me, I just wanted to pose the question. You know, you see all those films where you know you're not going to be here tomorrow and you only have five hours remaining, so you find one person to hang with, to have tea with and do whatever you want with. Who would you choose? That's kind of the question I wanted people to ask. It's nice to get people thinking about that. When you find who that person is, cherish that and realize how big that is, how huge just to tell someone that, "You know what? It will be you." If someone said that to me, I don't think there's a greater compliment in life than that.
According to your bio and various reports, you won your first music contest at the age of 15. Since you were still in secondary school at the time, I'm curious to know how difficult it was to balance your academic life with your musical life.
It made it harder; it really did. It was one of the decisions that I talked to my mother about. There was the promise that I made that I have to go back and finish. You can't forego opportunities of what we think we should do. I knew what I wanted to do and I had an opportunity so I focused.
One of the first musical artists that you discovered was Marvin Gaye. What do you most admire about his work?
I just loved the way that man poured his heart in every song. It was just so personal, whether it's his problems, his hopes for the world, his frustrations. Very few people are that honest anymore in their records. Everyone's trying to write the song that will get people with the hook and what they think people want to hear. The actual fact is people really want to hear what you're going through. It makes us all connected, you know? And just his vocals; I love the man's vocals. It's a very original thing.
As you know, Marvin's known as "The Prince of Soul." And in your neck of the woods, you've been dubbed as "The Soul of Ireland." When did you first become aware of this title, and who gave it to you?
It just came out of the blogs and press people got on it. It's a wonderful compliment, to be hailed in your own country. I wear it very proudly and am very honored by it.
Over the past few years, America has developed quite an interest in European soul singers. What do you think has triggered this interest, and what do you think separates yourself from all the other emerging artists?
Well, I think people like good music. What's different – firstly, I'm black and I'm Irish. It's kind of strange. Secondly, I write everything. So those two combinations – mixed race and seeing things with a different eye – I personally am in no box. Therefore, my music is in no box. I write from my heart. I write for me and I pray people could connect with what I perceive. So far, it's been great. What makes us all different is that we're individuals. The trick is to stay individual. That's what keeps you solid from everybody else.
What do you consider to be the biggest obstacle in coming or breaking into America?
The biggest obstacle? It's so big. Everybody kind of wants you at the same time. It's just so big. If you do the U.K. or Paris, it's fine. You can hit bang, bang, bang in four main spots and spend the weekend or a few days to make an impact. In America, it's so big. You need to find an agent who would work really hard.
As you've toured across America, what particular lessons have you learned about yourself, in terms of your own personal performance?
I've just grown so much in this, fitting in my own skin. I have opened for so many different people, so now I got love and have faith in myself and my music. I'm just relaxed and happy to know that I just need to be me. The biggest influence so far has been the India.Arie tour, but I learned a lot by opening for The Roots, Aretha Franklin, Al Green and James Brown. They've been through it all, so I am thankful for their support.
For more information on Laura Izibor, visit her official website.