LARA GEORGE: On Finding Fulfillment in Gospel Music, I Have Set Boundaries, I Have Conquered Territories

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LARA GEORGE

In grey-black sequined dress, her luxuriant tresses settle over her shoulder. The glint in her eyes and glow on her face illustrate her peace of mind -the joy of heart. Her broad smile accentuates her ankle-long gown fitted to her figure like a caryatid. Lara George is gorgeous. She is gregarious. Endowed with musical genius, the Nigerian gospel singer, songwriter and producer is one of a kind. Beyond the KUSH group that she once belonged to, Lara George is more than music. She lives music, writes Funke Olaode

Hers has been a fulfilling journey into the world of music.
In grey-black sequined dress, the gorgeous, gregarious singer serenaded the enraptured crowd. As she gyrates to the lyrical beat, her luxuriant tresses bounce and gracefully settle over her shoulder. The glint in her eyes and glow on her face illustrate her peace of mind -the joy of heart. Her broad smile accentuates her ankle-long gown fitted to her figure like a caryatid.

Lara George is an eclectic performer. She was six when she became aware of her singing prowess. She enthralled by the magical musical wizardry of Michael Jackson.

As a Nigerian singer, songwriter, and producer, she has won the heart of many on the African continent and globally with her sonorous voice. She has also shared the stage with music icons.

Lara George has spent roughly 20 years in the music industry. In those years, she has won multiple awards and nominations locally and internationally.

For Lara George, determination, passion, and self-assurance have played a key role as her desire to venture into music was considered not serious profession by her family who placed a priority on education. As her interest grew, her inclination was more towards what would call ‘inspiration music’. She also dreamt of running multiple successful business concerns while still keeping her music going.

The artiste first came into the limelight back in 1998 when she was a student at the University of Lagos. There, a music group was birthed. The group was made up of three girls (of which she was one) and a guy. The group was named KUSH- meaning ‘The Black Man,’ (Hebrew origin) and was also an acronym for ‘Kinetically Ushering Salvation into Hearts and Homes.’ Their music was inspirational, and the goal was basically to create music that was uplifting, encouraging and would reach the whole world.

The group’s popularity and acceptability grew and it was not unsurprising they got signed on to a multimillion-dollar deal by the record label, Inclusion Records/DKG Music, based in Los-Angeles California. That was 1999.

It was a first in Nigerian history. KUSH’s first album was recorded in multiple locations across the world. Demos were recorded in Lagos, Los Angeles, and Minneapolis.

As live performances are very crucial to any artiste’s existence, amongst many other appearances, KUSH was privileged to perform at the Greenbelt Festival in the United Kingdom.

Back in Nigeria, KUSH headlined various major concerts alongside music royalty such as American singer Joe, Femi Kuti, as well as King Sunny Ade, just to name a few. During its existence, KUSH received several awards including nominations for the prestigious Pan-African KORA Awards.

Though KUSH disbanded, the time had already proved that Lara George is on the right path. “Shortly after the show ended, I went into the studio and released my very first single, ‘Ijoba Orun,’ and interestingly, it caught on like wildfire! Spurred on by the warm reception to that, I went on to release other singles and then albums, and simply have not looked back since,” recalls Lara George.

Did she know she would go this far?
“Well, with music, one can only hope,” she admits. “There is always a measure of uncertainty about whether or not one’s work will be well-received, even with the best of marketing plans in place. When I was going solo, it was particularly tough because, first, I was an independent artiste who really had no formal structure as ‘back-up.’ I literally had to take one day after the other, but I also feel like I certainly put in a lot of effort as well. Nevertheless, it’s been God’s grace all the way. You see, back then, there was no Instagram; Facebook and Twitter were brand new trends, and even YouTube had barely launched.

“Sometimes people take for granted the virality that social media affords an independent artiste today, but when I was starting out, and also because it took quite a bit of time before internet penetration in Nigeria really became widespread, I really did not have that structure on ground to exploit until much later.”
To Lara George, nothing is impossible. “I prayed it, I believed it and then worked towards the goal of success as though it was my only reality.”

The “Ijoba Orun and Dansaki’ crooner has been quiet lately. The reason is not far-fetched. “I have just recently relocated with my family to the United States of America. I got the ‘Einstein Green Card,’ made the move to the state of Georgia, and as you can imagine, have been settling in. Getting acclimatized to a whole new system of life takes a good minute, and so most recently, I have been focused on my children in particular, and just making sure that they are well-adjusted.
“Meanwhile, I do have my most recent album available: ‘A Slice of Heaven’, she reveals. There are videos of some of the singles off of the album available for songs such as ‘Eyin L’Oba,’ and ‘Nobody Greater.’

She explains: “All the songs from not only that but also all my albums till date, are available on all major online stores and you can actually now also stream for free on some major streaming channels. Get more details by following me on my official social media channels (just look for the verification mark which is the blue tick next to my channel name).
“Since my move though, I have been writing some brand new music which I am actually very excited about, and for which I will go into the studio soon.”

Over the past two decades, Lara George has churned out evergreen songs.
“Do I have any favourite song?” the artiste chuckles as tries to choose the pick of the pack.
“Maybe an outstanding moment,” she continues. “Many may not know this, but my popular song, ‘Dansaki’, was recorded in the privacy of my living room with a make-shift home studio and an awesome producer -Dimeji Durotoye- who worked with me through the song and in fact, that entire album.

“All the backing vocals were recorded by me. To have it that same song being echoed all over the world is simply a beautiful thing and remains a sort of mystery. For that, I feel grateful, blessed and always happy.”

She is currently working on her seventh solo album (which is the ninth album on which she has been a part).
As a songwriter with more than 100 credits to her name, choosing a favourite song may be asking her to push a camel through the eye of a needle. She did. “I would say that my favourite song typically changes based on the mode I am in at the given time, but to be fair to each of my albums, I will pick one or two favourites from each release: favourite songs in the first album: ‘Ijoba Orun’ and ‘Fig Tree’. In the second album, I have ‘Halleluyah’ and ‘More & More’; In the third album there are ‘Dansaki’ and ‘Rise’; and in the fourth album, I have ‘Durotimi’. In the fifth album, my favourite is ‘You alone Oluwa Medley’ and sixth album, my favourite songs are ‘Show Up’ and ‘Eyin L’Oba’.”

With Nigerian music industry which often laced with loud music, Lara George said she is not moved as she firmly believed at the initial stage that “with any form of art, my strong belief has always been that authenticity is crucial to success. Even if it looks like you are swimming against the tide at the time, it is important to stay true to oneself. To me, that authenticity shines through. People sense it in your art. With music, people feel it and live it in more ways than any of our physical senses can detect. I chose to follow my heart and although that comes with its unique challenges, still there is a sense of fulfilment that rushes in every time”.

Not often mentioned, but behind every successful woman is a responsible man. The man Lara George is married to plays two key roles in her life: husband and manager.

“My husband took on the role of manager for me, shortly after I began my solo career. He is a legal practitioner and because of that background in Law, has been very instrumental in helping to structure my music. He ensures proper documentation, and also helps, every now and then, because he is very business-minded, to clearly articulate goals and objectives, whether within a for-profit, not-for-profit, or non-profit scenario.

“By establishing these set goals, I have been able to, over the course of my career, clearly delineate boundaries which have been particularly important in a sector and culture that still struggles with a less-than-ideal view of people of a certain cultural origin. It has been a wonderful journey,” she says.

Yet, there are many things jostling for attention in her life. If she could change one thing, it will be the issue regarding royalty paid to artistes.

“It seems unconscionable to me, that any organisation would think it fair to take 50-70% of an artiste’s earnings from the sale of RBTs. Even at that, the middle-man, which is the VAS company, then goes ahead to split the artiste’s 30% by yet another, 40 -60%! Effectively, this really only leaves an artiste with about 10-20% of his/her actual earnings.

“To break it down, an example of such a scenario is this: if Artiste A’s original earnings from RBTs is N100,000, after paying the Telco and then the VAS company in between, the amount of money that will actually come to Artiste A will only be anywhere between N10,000 to N20,000. The tables should ideally be turned so that the owners of the intellectual property actually earn more than the holder of the infrastructure creating the distribution system,” Lara George laments.

As a popular artiste, living a life free of scandals is like living in paradise. “I try. I can only try. In Nigeria, we like to say ‘nobody holy pass,’(meaning no one is perfect) and that is certainly true,” she acknowledges.

“I do though, try very very hard to treat others the way that I would like to be treated and maybe that helps to minimize issues. I remain a work-in-progress and stay mindful of keeping tapped into any resources to help better me as an individual.”

A trained architect-turned-gospel singer, has she jettisoned that aspect of her life totally?
“Oh not at all,” Lara George points out.
“What many people do not know about me is that I have always had a very active professional life going on alongside my music. Whilst not always in mainstream Architecture, I continue to build a career outside of music and have worked mostly in the Real Estate sector. At present, I am also currently a licensed realtor in the state of Georgia.

“As part of my business portfolio, beginning in 2009, I was part of a company called SoForte Entertainment Distribution Ltd, (SED), which helped set up West Africa’s first and largest structured distribution outfit. Partnering with IAS Courier/TNT, as well as Mr. Biggs’ and Sweet Sensation, we had about 250 retail outlets for nationwide distribution of music products.

“The aim was to curb piracy and increase revenue for record labels and independent artistes alike. As part of SED, I have also been a part of the World Bank Advisory Committee on the Growth and Employment in States (GEMS) Project.”
With laurels, accolades, and recognition on the global stage if there is one legacy Lara George cherishes it is her ability to pass through life touching lives.

“Beyond the encomiums, I am fulfilled that I am impacting humanity. Just recently, I received a phone call from a mum who could not hold back from gushing to me about how her 16-year old grew up on my songs and is still in love with them.
“I received another beautiful call from a lady halfway across the world, talking about how my songs inspire her. The list is endless. Now that, to me…. is worth more than gold!”