Laura Izibor: Dublin's Smoky Soul Singer

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Introducing the new soul of Ireland: Laura Izibor, a 22-year-old, smoky-voiced soul singer from Dublin who is set to conquer America. Guy Raz talks with Izibor about her songs, about opening for Aretha Franklin and about growing up black in Ireland.

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GUY RAZ, host:

When people talk about the soul of Ireland, they're usually talking about Joyce, Beckett, Yeats, Shaw, but the soul of Ireland today sounds a lot more like soul.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. LAURA IZIBOR (Singer and Songwriter): (Singing) Baby, baby, you were calling, and it's crazy, crazy to think that you're lonely.

RAZ: Meet Laura Izibor, a 22-year-old soul singer out of Dublin, Ireland. She's opened for some the giants of American soul, including Aretha Franklin, James Brown, and Al Green. Laura Izibor's debut CD is just out. It's called "Let the Truth Be Told." And she joins me from Chicago.

Laura Izibor, thanks for coming on the show.

Ms. IZIBOR: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

RAZ: Now, I have to start by asking you about Aretha.

Ms. IZIBOR: Yes.

RAZ: She has got to be an idol of yours. Describe what it was like opening up for a living legend.

Ms. IZIBOR: You know, when I got told firstly I was doing it, I was then just literally about to go on stage in London. And I've never in my life smiled more. And, you know, a lot of people ask me, was I nervous, but me and my band were just like kids in a candy store. We were so excited to be on the same stage, to be singing in the same microphone.

RAZ: And did she actually watch you perform?

Ms. IZIBOR: She actually came in mid-through my show and took a picture. You know, it was just incredible.

RAZ: I want to talk a little bit about some of the music you listened to growing up. But I want to ask about your background a bit. You were born in Ireland. Your mom is Irish. Your dad is from Nigeria. Ireland, of course, is a lot more ethnically mixed than most Americans probably realize.

Ms. IZIBOR: Yeah.

RAZ: But I've read that it was hard for you a bit growing up there.

Ms. IZIBOR: Well, when I was growing up, there wasn't that many people of color, period. So, when you would see a black person, it was like, oh, my god. Guess what I saw today? No, you didn't. Yes, I did. I saw a black person. You know, and it was still that kind of novelty. And boy, as I grew up kind of, I think I was around 13, maybe 14, I started to notice a lot more black people and then Chinese people.

And it was really, when I left to go to New York to make this album, when I came back after being away for months, I was like, gobsmacked. I was walking down the street and I was genuinely, you know, every maybe fifth person, I was like, okay, there's another black person, there's another Chinese person. And it was all of a sudden a colorful nation, you know?

RAZ: Do you find that when you're in the United States, people hear this Irish accent coming out and they just sort of take a second look?

Ms. IZIBOR: Yes, you can say that...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. IZIBOR: ...to say the least. You know, growing up, like anything that makes you different, you kind of shy away from. And then, as you get older, you like that, because it's original and makes you who you are. So, I'm very - I love being mixed and I love being, you know, to throw people when I open my mouth, and then especially when they hear my music, they're even more surprised.

RAZ: I wonder if you named the track "Shine" after that. Let's hear a little bit of that song first.

(Soundbite of song "Shine")

Ms. IZIBOR: (Singing) Feel like the world is passing you by. Never done all the things you will need to try. Stuck in one place, got a pain in your face from all your stressing out. All your stressing out. You ask yourself, there's got to be more than what I'm living for. What I'm living for. What I'm living for. You ask yourself, there's got to be something else, something more, more, more. Well, let the sun shine on your face. And don't let your life go to waste. Now is the time, got to make up your mind. Let it shine on you, let it shine on you.

RAZ: Laura Izibor, you've called your style old school soul meets pop. What do you mean by that?

Ms. IZIBOR: Well, I don't know if they were my words.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. IZIBOR: I mean, it's so funny to me because people have put me in every category you can possibly think of: Neo Soul, soul, R&B, Urban R&B, Pop, you know, Alternative R&B, whatever you want to call it. But to me, I think the foundation of what I do is soul. And then it sort of ventures off into various different things. You know, and I'm very influenced by everything. Carole King, especially as a songwriter, is somebody that I just really looked up to.

RAZ: Mm.

Ms. IZIBOR: I mean, the amount of songs that she's written and just the melody, the definition in her melodies, I love.

RAZ: Mm.

Ms. IZIBOR: And then as a vocalist and musicianship, I love Nina Simone, Roberta Flack, Otis Redding, you know, Sam Cooke. I just love those songs that kind of seem to just get you right in the heart and seem to live on, you know, forever.

RAZ: There's a track on your new album where I feel like I can hear a hint of Nina Simone. It's called "From My Heart to Yours." Let's hear a bit of it.

(Soundbite of song "From My Heart to Yours")

Ms. IZIBOR: (Singing) From my heart to yours, I would give you butterflies. From my heart to yours, I would give you summertime. From my heart to yours, ooh, I give you happy time. From my heart to yours, I give you mine. Mm-hmm. And baby, I'm never gonna stop loving you. No, no, baby. And you are never gonna find a love so true. No, it would be crazy. And baby can you break it down just for me like this and just understand? Ah, from my heart to yours.

RAZ: Laura Izibor, if this song doesn't become a top 10 single in the United States, all my music instincts will be wrong.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RAZ: It's a great, great, great tune. And...

Ms. IZIBOR: It's actually - it's number six in the Urban AC tracks right now.

RAZ: Is there - do you think there is something Irish about, or a hint of something Irish about the soul that you sing?

Ms. IZIBOR: The only - the link I can see is maybe the honesty, the bluntness in the way that I write. It's not, you know, there's no perception. It is what it is. I write about how I feel, and the lyrics are nearly like sometimes a conversation about, you know, just try to put it a little bit more obviously beautifully put than the conversation, but it's very human.

And when you're Irish, there's no beating around the bush. You feel what you feel and you say it, and you say it very bluntly. And I think maybe that's what it is, you know?

RAZ: And you actually wrote all the songs on this album.

Ms. IZIBOR: I did.

RAZ: Do you think about the arrangement first or do you write the words first?

Ms. IZIBOR: No, words always come probably third, actually. I start, I play the piano and then I hum. I, you know...

(Soundbite of humming)

Ms. IZIBOR: (Singing): You say that you need...

And it just kind of keeps coming, then the lyrics find themselves. And then I usually have, like, three quarters of the song and, you know, lyrics randomly put here. And then I'll sit down and I'll sharpen it up, straighten it up, see what the hell I was trying to talk about, you know, because I don't write necessarily consciously. What comes out comes out. But it always has relevance in my life when I listen back. So...

RAZ: I read that you have a little ritual that you go through before you perform every night. Can you tell us about it?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. IZIBOR: Yeah, when it's me and my band, especially, we all put our hands together on top of each other, like a go-team kind of stunt, and then we hum. It's really - it doesn't have to sound - be pretty or anything. We just all find whatever note we want and we change it. It's the vibration of being together with the group like that. And then we pray.

We pray. We pray about what we - insecurities we're feeling, and to pray for strength, and most importantly, to enjoy it. It's funny because sometimes when you say these things, the impact it has on your show is just incredible, actually.

RAZ: And that humming sound really comes out on a track on your CD. It's the last song, pronounced, "Mmm"?

Ms. IZIBOR: Mmm.

RAZ: Mmm. You do it much better than I do.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of song "Mmm")

RAZ: Laura Izibor's debut CD is called "Let the Truth be Told." She's on tour right now, and she joined us from Chicago. Laura Izibor, thanks so much for being with us.

Ms. IZIBOR: Thank you for having me. Appreciate it.

(Soundbite of song "Mmm")

(Singing) You're my light in the dark guiding, guiding me home. And your faith in me is all I need, baby. Mmm, your love it sets me free. Mmm.

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