Ahead of her performances in South Africa, singer Laura Izibor got Helen Herimbi hip to her chosen instrument, having heart and being a hip hop head.
The piano is not a naturally sexy instrument. You can’t caress it like a Spanish guitar. It lacks the sensuality of fingers running though strings like they would on a harp.
And you definitely can’t blow it with purpose while cradling it like you would a saxophone. It’s who sits behind the ebony and ivory that makes it sexy.
Exhibit A: the multi-Grammy award-winning Alicia Keys who has paved the way for the likes of Laura Izibor, who will performing Cape Town and Durban this week.
The 24-year-old R&B and soul singer will grace our shores as part of the musical delegation of the ninth annual South African Cultural and Business Initiative.
Concerts that are open to the public will be held where Izibor, her piano and artists including US gospel mainstay, Kirk Franklin, our own Zakes Bantwini and more will share stages. The svelte singer admits she’s come a long way from being an Irish-born and bred soul-loving teen.
“There wasn’t a whole lot of R&B or soul music in Ireland when I was growing up,” she shares. “I mean, there were some radio stations, but you had to go out and find them.” She continues: “But the art has definitely evolved and people like Angie Stone and Erykah Badu now all have really big shows in Ireland.”
On her debut album, Let the Truth Be Told (2009), Izibor pours her heart out about young love, love lost, self-love and unrequited love. The ballad-laden offering also features a few fast-paced numbers but, as a whole, it has a strong piano-driven sound.
Tickling the ivories from the age of 14, “I think it was just the sound of the piano that drew me to it,” says Izibor.
“It was easy enough for me to play so I fell for it,” she shares. “My love for it stems from a combination of how it plays, it’s my crutch, it’s what I write on, it brings me such comfort. It’s such a lovely instrument and as people who play it, we seem like a dying breed sometimes.”
So are songwriters with substance, it seems. To let Izibor tell it: “I hope songwriting in R&B evolves because sometimes being truthful is something people fear.”
As evinced by her debut’s title, truth is at the core of her message. She elaborates: “In my music, I’m perfectly honest with you.”
Part of being true to herself is acknowledging that she can’t listen to, or make radio-ready music. It would be hard to gyrate on the mic stand while kicking butt on the keys.
She laughs: “I don’t really watch TV, or a lot of music videos, or hear the mainstream charts because that music tends to be the same projections of the same metaphors, like ‘he’s a dog, or he’s a real piece of work.’ There’s no heart or real spirit in those lyrics. So I hope and pray that strong writers will come up and write more real songs.”
Songs like From My Heart To Yours, which was remixed by legendary hip hop producer DJ Premiere. The smile through her sentence is unmistakable: “Now, DJ Premiere is quite particular about the songs he touches so we didn’t think he would do it. But he was quiet for a few weeks and then he sent it back to us.”
And the result is a drum-heavy, hip hop-tinged tune.
A fan of “old school hip hop,” Izibor uses words like “fresh” to describe the hip hop she bobs her head to. She says: “I don’t necessarily know about today’s hip hop because there are a lot of songs out that people call hip hop and it’s just pop. From the new school I’ve only heard a few J Cole tracks but, yeah, I like what he’s doing.”