LAURA IZIBOR / “Laura Izibor Mixtape”
Source: Breath of Life – (BoL Mixtape – June 22, 2009)
Early last year I wrote: “Her debut album is going to drop soon and then we’ll all know for sure. Don’t sleep. The name is Laura Izibor.” I was wrong.
Soon was supposed to be like in six months or so. That was February. It’s now June and Let The Truth Be Told, Laura’s debut album has just dropped. Four years in the making. She wrote one of the songs when she was fifteen. She finished the recording when she was twenty.
In celebration of the long awaited debut I’ve put together this little mixtape that includes six cuts from the new album, two remixes and a handful of prequels, plus a couple of those early tracks are live recordings.
The idea is that you get a chance to hear Laura Izibor in a multiplicity of contexts, that way you can gauge her talent as opposed to being impressed by the work of her producers and studio engineers.
And oh, I’ve produced records. I don’t mean the above statement as a put-down of producers or engineers. I have a lot of respect for both. I’m just saying that ultimately what is important is the quality of the artist.
So who is she and how good is she?
I’m old school soul meets maybe pop. I’m rubbish as an urban artist. I’m not as good as an R&B singer, I’m not Beyoncé and I’m not Britney Spears. I’m really bad at that, the only thing I can do well is me.
Born May 13, 1987 in Dublin, Ireland, Laura Elizabeth Arabosa Izibor is one of five siblings. Her mother is Irish, her father Nigerian. Her parents separated when she was eight. Early on she was interested in basketball. When Laura was thirteen she had an epiphany.
I was 13, in drama class, first year. The teacher asked everybody to get up and sing, which I was uncomfortable doing. I was painfully shy as a child. I came up to her and said, “Please don’t make me sing. I can’t sing. I’ve never sang before in my life.” But then I got up, and I think the song was “Miracle,” that Whitney Houston song. Everybody was really quiet. And nobody really clapped. They had clapped for everybody else. I thought that I had been so brutal that they couldn’t even clap for me. Later in the day, everyone started coming up to me saying, “You can really sing. You should do something about it.” After that, I got gospel voice lessons. I got piano lessons. Started writing.
She makes it sound easy and maybe it is for her but there is no doubt the young lady is gifted. And lucky or (depending on your orientation) she’s blessed. At fifteen she won a national music contest in Ireland. Soon she was opening for major Soul artists when they performed in Ireland—artists like James Brown and Al Green.
You’ve opened concerts for some pretty big names. What was it like getting the call to open for James Brown, for instance?
I was 17, in school I had my mobile on me – which you weren’t allowed, but I had it anyway. And my manager rang me. He was like, "You need to leave [class] right now". I said I couldn’t. Then he said "You’re supporting James Brown tonight!" So I was like "F*** off!" Then it was just a case of "Sorry sir, I have to go…" "Excuse me?" "Sorry, I’m gone … Mr Brown needs me". And I walked out the door!
At seventeen she left school, signed with Jive Records (Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake were her label mates), and flew over to New York to begin working on her debut album. By eighteen she was living in New York while finishing the album.
After about a year of development work, she switched labels to Atlantic Records, which took another year of negotiations. Meanwhile she was a teenager living in New York while handling both the business and the creative side of her career. I don’t know the details.
Don’t really need to know specifics. I know the music industry. Sister got heart and a backbone of steel—might bend some under extreme pressure but she’s hard to break.
It was not easy withstanding the pressures and evading the diversions and snares that are endemic to the entertainment industry.
Plus, physically she’s petite and pretty and mulatto. The business eats that combination for lunch every day and for snacks on the weekends. But she must have a laser in her head and a gyroscope in her heart—she stayed focused and finished the album when she was twenty.
Oh, did I tell you she wrote all the songs on the album—not “co” wrote but completely authored all the songs. The “co” was the production credits.
TS: You co-produced the album, in addition to writing it all, has that been crucial for you, getting the freedom you had?
LI: Well, you know, in honesty it wasn’t all that thought out, I was just writing all the songs and then going in and working with these people and having a bit of attitude… seventeen… I was like “how would the strings sound if they came in there, how about if the beat came in the second verse , actually, no I don’t think we need any beat, just strings and piano.” So then the producer I was working with just said he thought I should co-produce it with him. I didn’t go in there saying “I’m gonna write this whole album, I’m gonna produce it, I want this and that” I think if you look to do that it’s just ego and pride and you’ll hurt your album.
The child wasn’t street legal yet and she had not only co-produced a debut album on which she wrote all the songs but she also had a slew of songs included on movie soundtracks, television shows and major commercials. Lucky?! Blessed!?
Oh yeah, I feel bloody FANTASTIC about that! It’s CRAZY! It’s all actually been down to the record label’s LA office (Laura is signed directly to Atlantic/Warner US) and their great movie department. It started off with ‘Shine’ – that was the first song – being used in ‘Nanny Diaries’ (starring Scarlett Johannsen). Then it was (the Hilary Swank film) ’P.S. I Love You’. From there it was the Tyler Perry film ‘Why Did I Get Married’; then it went on to “Step Up 2 The Streets’, ‘The Hills’, ‘Grey’s Anatomy’… And I think a lot of it is down to the fact that – though the movie industry is big – at the same time it‘s actually really small, and people run into one another all the time. So it’s literally like they all go to see each other’s movies. I mean, at one point we had two companies after the same song – because they’re like ’Who’s the girl in the credits? Has she got any other songs?’… You know, it’s just sort of word-of-mouth. Plus we got the ‘American Idol’ charity show as well – ‘Shine’ was playing the whole way through it. So it’s actually quite exciting now when I do gigs. ’Cause I can actually see people’s reactions of ‘I KNOW this song!’… And I’m like ‘Yeah, that’s ‘cause you’ve been HEARING it! You just haven’t known who was SINGING it!’!
Add in conscious—aware of who she is and what she wants in her life. She prefers longevity over fame, organic development over commercial formula. Because of her background experiences she also has a strong, strong shit detector.
Speaking of her childhood she recalls:
Sometimes – when you’re a young kid – anything that makes you different, you resent. If it’s your hair, you wanna pull it out… If it’s your skin you wanna CHANGE it… But then, as you get older, it’s more a case of ‘How can I stand out and how can I BE different?’… So, while of course there were times when it would have been great to have girlfriends I could have discussed things like Afro-hair with, in many ways being a mixed-race Irish girl was a BLESSING. You know, I learned early on not to see colour and to see people for who they really ARE – because I had no CHOICE!
In a single-parent family, the children always grow up a little faster because you all raise each other and you witness the way your parent struggles.
There isn’t this unified thing of two parents hiding you from harsh realities, so we were just that bit more mature than most kids and had a sense of taking responsibility. And I think that has played a big role in the songwriting.
Let The Truth Be Told. It’s a good album, an auspicious inaugural. You can tell that it went through a long gestation period—every “i” is dotted, every “t” is crossed. Personally, I prefer more grit and less slick, which is why on the mixtape I include “Carousel,” a track that’s not on the album.
They had too long to second guess themselves and tinker with the tracks, and to polish and polish, and spit polish but the strongest music happens in the moment rather than from a prolonged reshaping of the moment.
Laura Izibor is going to be a strong, strong songwriter. She has an intuitive feel for shaping a song. Her ability may be partially due to the fact that she writes using the piano. If you listen to the way she plays, it’s heavy on chords. She hears colors, and orchestral structures.
But technical ability aside, Laura’s two major strengths are (1) that she can shine in the now time, she can directly, forcefully and artfully sing her emotions at a moment’s notice, and (2) she is fully committed to making music.
“I didn’t want to be anybody’s protégé. It’s very tempting to put in the reinforcements, but for my debut album I wanted it to be 100% from me.”
I was blessed to have been able to write the whole record, and it is my TRUTH. It’s a very sincere record. And, while musically it is really hard to describe, genre-wise I always sorta say the foundation is soul, then it varies to R&B, and then on to pop. I mean, I actually think the reason why the album sounds the way it does is because I’VE never been able to define it, and the people AROUND me haven’t either. Which has been a blessing, and a real pain-in-the-arse as well! Because the record company is kinda like ‘She’s talented, but where is she gonna fit? Is she urban? Is she mainstream pop?’… Whereas l’m like ’Listen pal, I’ll just write the songs. Seeing where it fits in is YOUR job! Let people call it what they WANNA call it. Because I just love the artists that I love – the greats like Aretha – and I just do what I do!’… Basically I lock myself in a room; I have a piano; I press ’record’… And what comes out comes out!
Laura Izibor—it’s her time to shine.
—Kalamu ya Salaam
Laura Izibor Mixtape Playlist
01 “Don’t Stay (With Intro)” – Live from Crawdaddy Ep (out of print)
02 “Don’t Stay” – Let The Truth Be Told
03 “Don’t Stay (Daniel 2 Dark Remix)” – CD single
05 “Shine” – Let The Truth Be Told
06 “Shine (Blackout Mix)” – CD single
07 “From My Heart To Yours” – Let The Truth Be Told
08 “Yes (I’ll Be Your Baby)” – Let The Truth Be Told
09 “Don’t Want You Back” – Let The Truth Be Told
10 “I Don’t Want You Back” – Live from Crawdaddy Ep (out of print)
11 “Mmm…” – Let The Truth Be Told
12 “Mmm…” – Live from Crawdaddy Ep (out of print)
13 “Carousel" – P.S. I Love You (OST) Soundtrack
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