Lara George is unarguably one of the most inspiring and finest Nigerian gospel ministers to burst forth in the early 1990s. In this heart to heart chat with Daniel Ikwuagwu, she tells it all.
CCLM: Please tell us a little bit about yourself growing up. Moments you recall with deep nostalgia.
My growing up was simple. I was brought up in a close knitted nuclear family; my father, mother and four siblings, two brothers and two sisters. I am the fourth of five children.
One of my fondest memories was eating pounded yam and egusi soup from one massive plate with all of my siblings digging into that same bowl and sharing one bottle of coke. It was like a family ritual. We always ate pounded yam on Saturdays. We would get up early to cook the yam, everybody had tasks apportioned to them, and we would take turns pounding the yam in the mortal while my mum would oversee all the work that was going on, and we’ll be sweating away in the kitchen through the whole process making the pounded yam, with that soft meat, and sometimes crab and shrimps in the egusi soup. And after eating the pounded yam that Saturday afternoon, the whole family would fall into a deep sleep, later to wake up in the afternoon to watch TV. That forms one of my fondest memories while growing up. It was really beautiful.
I also have very beautiful memory of eating breakfast with my dad. Dad taught me how to use fork and knife. I shared his meals with him. I had my own tiny tea cup and I would be sipping my tea, mimicking him as he sipped his, and trying to use the fork and knife as he was using it. I was about five years old then, sitting on his lap to have that breakfast. It was so wonderful. Till today, yam and egg still remain one of my most favourite meals because I had that with my dad so many times. Those are some of my fondest memories.
CCLM: How did you come into music, and especially gospel?
I have been singing from a very young age. Particularly, pivotal moment for me was when I joined the choir at my secondary school, Queens College, Lagos. It was a beautiful moment there. I learnt how to sight-read. We were trained musically and our teachers were so amazing that even though I already loved music, it just made the love for music even more. Out of my six years in secondary school, I was in the choir for three of those years. So when I moved on into the university, the first thing I looked out for was how I could use my musical talent. I joined the music team of the fellowship I was at then which happened to be very active musically. That was where I met the members of the musical group that I later went on to be part of called Cush. That group, CUSH, was made up of three females (myself inclusive) and one male. We went on to sign a record deal in Los Angeles, United States. I think that was the beginning of my professional exposure into music. I have gone on with my music since then. After the group split up, I went into solo and have been singing solo ever since.
CCLM: What were the challenges you faced while building to make your dream in music come true?
Well, one of the biggest challenges when I was starting out musically was really how to fund the dream. There is one thing to have a dream and another thing to make it come alive. For example when you have a song and it sounds great in your head then you are like ‘okay, I really want to do this.” How do you go from the point where the song is sounding great in your head to actually making it materialize? You need money- right? So you need resources, and money is one of those resources. Perhaps the manpower that you need is probably more important than the money itself. It all comes together. First I needed to find a producer who I could work, with whom my vision could align. Then I also needed to afford the producer. I remember when I was first starting out as far back as 2007, when I first recorded my first solo album, there were producers who were charging like N200, 000 per track. That may not sound like a whole lot right now but at that time when the Naira was exchanging at N150.00 for a dollar, it was a whole lot. I remember that three years down the line in 2010, when I tried to find producers to work with, there producers who charging way more than that. It was pretty difficult initially. My husband was able to find funding. We found investors who believed in my dreams and were willing to put money behind what I was doing. That made a world of difference ready because with that investment I was able to go into studio, record my album, shoot my video, and basically able to launch myself to the world. That was an amazing intervention from God as far as I am concerned.
The other thing is keeping the work going because when you start accepting invitations and you get really busy you start to experience a little bit of burn-out. When that starts to happen you may not be able to create music as easily and readily as you should. Ideally as an artiste you really should not constantly be on stage because you need time to refresh and retreat into whatever it is, whether solace or environment that helps you to create. When you are constantly on the road it becomes a little bit hard to do that. So the way that I was able to overcome that is to look for other ways to generate income. This is a little bit difficult to explain but the way I was able to stop myself from working so hard was to work hard in a different direction so I could find other streams of income and not have to flog myself musically. That way, I was able to stay fresh and produce good music without feeling under pressure. I think the spit of remuneration
CCLM: You are an alumna of University of Lagos where you bagged a BSc in Architecture. Did you totally rest practice in Architecture to give music your all?
Actually, it’s Master Degree in Architecture if I may correct that. No, I did not totally rest practice in architecture for music. Actually what a lot of people do not know is that right from when I first started off my music career from when I was with a group to when we were signed on by a United States based record label, I was actually working in a nine-to-five job. And I have always run a multiple career simultaneously, don’t ask me how I have done it, but somehow God has given me the grace to do that. I have always been in real estate and have always used my architecture as well because I have also been in involved in construction somewhere along the line. So I have not completely given my architecture a rest because it always come into play one way or another.
CCLM: Has music, especially gospel music paid off?
That’s a very loaded question but I think the answer to that is based on perspective. If you think about the phrase that says “money is not everything” then if I answer in the context of that then I will say that gospel music has paid off tremendously. The way it has paid off for me and continues to pay off is that it’s a fulfilling sector of creatively to express oneself. You know I get a lot of messages on social media especially, thank God for social media, it has afforded us the opportunity to connect one on one with friends and people who love our music. For me, I get a lot of encouraging messages from people who come back to say “O Lara, I was in such a depressing time and your music just turned my life around. I have people tell they had family members come out of comas just because they were listening to music. I have had people invite me to events where they had family members had been diagnosed of what looked like untreated ailments, couldn’t walk, and couldn’t talk. Some would say they were listening to my music and were able to walk again. I have had people say just the most amazing testimonies. That’s the fulfillment that money cannot buy. So, am I one of the richest artistes? No. Am I rich in spirit? I would say Yes! Am I happy? I would say, extremely. And do I find joy in what I’m doing? With no regret whatsoever, with the ability to go to sleep at night knowing I am not destroying people’s lives with my lyrics or with my videos- the answer to that is YES. That I can sleep at night and that I’m leaving something behind that my children and their children after them can be proud of- the answer to that is YES. For that I would say gospel music has paid off.
CCLM: How well do you combine being traveling musician, a wife and a mother? Has there not been a strain or frustration balancing these without hurting the family especially?
Ehm, well the pull is certainly there. Everything is about a balancing act. I am not one of those people who wants to grab all you can… I am really content with not too much. Of course, my definition of ‘not too much’ may be different from other people. Over the years I have learnt to create a pretty good balancing act. I always try to make sure time for family. My husband can probably attest that I have done a pretty good job of carrying the family along and not becoming strangers to one another. That’s important. Of course I have had a lot of help from my husband. We work together in more ways than one. Communication has to be top notch in order for that strain to not happen. And there has to be a lot of understanding. I have had help from my mum, my husband’s mum, my dad when he was alive, and my husband’s father as well, you know it really takes a village… I do believe I have the best family possible. So I haven’t really felt that strain like that. I think God has really been faithful and the people who surround me- my family- have been truly amazing.
CCLM: Music talents management is a very vital but missing vocation in Nigeria. Can it thrive in Nigeria?
Nigeria is a growing economy. There is certainly lots of room for growth. I remember when I was just starting out, talents management was something that seemed so alien to a lot of people. I remember when I would talk about my manager, people would look at me and the rest of my group members and say, “Oh, you’re so boujie.” But we weren’t trying to be boujie. It was just something that was needed. The industry does need talent management. But the truth of the matter is that until the matter expands enough commercially to be able to accommodate the requirement of the talent manager, that is to say, we have an industry that can actually pay for the services of a talent manager, how will that aspect of the sector boom. It can’t. You will just have a lot of exploitation going on of the talent rather than a situation the talent is happy financially as well as the talent manager. Except the talent manager is trying to work for free. These are topics that- especially within Christiandom, people tend to over spiritualize things, they don’t want to face the facts that there is a very real aspect of work that goes on behind the scenes of five minutes or three minutes songs that you hear and love so much. People don’t understand that there’s all of that industry that have to happen in order for good music to continue to be churned out. When the industry grows to a point where not just the secular industry is being properly remunerated but the gospel industry is ready to accommodate all of the legal frame work, the management aspect without people saying “oh, these artistes are being proud because they have a manager or bringing in all those things. Perhaps, when we are ready to be really business minded, that’s when that thriving you really talked about with start to happen. But until then we may just have to make do with improvisation.
CCLM: Promotion and profitable distribution of music has become more a nightmare with the current vibrant e-innovations. CDs have gradually becoming totally old fashion. How can a found gospel musician earn good money without succumbing to the temptation of going secular? As a secular musician, you can take your music to the club house. Besides, a secular musician has liberty to appeal more to wider audience but a gospel musician has restraints.
I am a very good example of what the e-innovations you are talking about have helped to create. My music has gone to the length and breathe that it has because social media made somebody like me thrive. Especially Facebook. I latched on to Facebook very early, from when people were just using it to reconnect with old friends, I quickly started using it for business. I quickly started using it to put out word about my music, and I found that people from UK, USA, Canada, Netherland, Australia, China, even Uzbekistan were listening to my songs. Once I realized that through the Facebook analytics, I said, maybe I’m unto something here and at that time, my space existed and I would go on there to put some words out. YouTube and Twitter came along and I try to keep up with every new outlet that came up online, and it worked for me. I think it is still working though I don’t do one tenth of what I should do online. If I was more diligent, if I did more, if I put in more – I think I would reap more. So, I will just encourage someone out there, if you are a gospel artiste and you want to stick to gospel music, there is a place for you.
The way the world is right now, this is one of the best times to be born because technology affords us the opportunity to connect one-on-one with the people who like our kind of music. The people who used to be the gate-keepers; who used to stand between us and those would listen to our kind of music, technology has basically been pushed them out of the way. Now, it is really in the individual’s hands. This is the day of the independent artistes. And that independent artistes is you, me, and every aspiring gospel artiste out there. So, I don’t quite agree with you that it is more difficult now. I think it is easier now for the gospel artistes to make their mark. Because now, we can reach our people out there one-one-one, using the tools of social media.
CCLM: It’s like you’ve been quiet for a while. What’s the reason?
The reason why it seems like I have been quiet is that I relocated to Georgia, United States in 2017. And I have been settling in since then. Even then, I have not been completely quiet. I have had a concert right here in the USA and have continued to accept invitations. I have been working as a music person. I just have not released a new album but I have been working still as a music person. I just have not released a new album. The last album I released was in 2017 titled A Slice Of Heaven which was released when I was leaving Nigeria and did not do any promotions at all for it. I bet you, most of those reading this article now may not even know that I released that album. You can Google it up on at iTunes and YouTube. Some of my videos are there, lyric videos and actual videos. I am already working on a new album, and come early 2021 you all will be hearing from me- a brand new album. So watch out for it, I am already excited about the whole body of work. Follow me on my social media handles on Facebook.com/Lara George Naija, instagram @LaraGoergeMusic, Twitter @Larageorge, Www.Larageorgemusic.com, and on YouTube at YouTube.com/LaraGeorgeInspirational and you will find me there. I am going to be hosting a virtual concert soon where you will get to hear my new songs first hand.
CCLM: Any new track or album coming soon?
I think I just answered that in question nine.
CCLM: Final words to your fans out there.
I just want to say a million THANK YOU to each person who has supported me over the years. I can never say THANK YOU enough because it is the support of people like you out there that kept me going. I feel like the people who love my music really, really, love my music, and they go out of their ways to let me know that they appreciate the work that I am doing. I don’t take that lightly. I just want to use this opportunity to say, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, GOD BLESS YOU. By the grace of God, I am going to keep on making excellent music, beautiful music, inspirational music that we all can enjoy for generations to come. Thank you.