LU KALA is here to declare her place in the music industry, one anthemic pop ballad at a time. The pop singer was born in Congo and raised in Toronto, a strong, fearless, plus-sized black woman who speaks from the heart. She states, “I like to write vulnerable songs about the shit I’m going through and dealing with, I feel like that’s really important.”
If you’re one of the 39K followers who follow her on Instagram, you’re already hip to her signature orange hair, her humble, down-to-earth personality, and the positivity she exudes in her posts. Reeling that same exact energy into her music, the rising star puts a huge emphasis on mental health — something that’s not talked about enough overall.
To coincide with her EP aptly titled Worthy, LU KALA has decided to cover the costs for 12 people to have a session with a therapist, partnering with NU Counseling & Psychotherapy in Toronto. Spearheaded by lead single “Love Shit,” which highlights the insecurities we all face in life, Worthy reminds the masses that we’re all worthy of self-love, acceptance, and happiness. Having already broken boundaries within the industry, including Apple Music highlighting her as New Artist Of The Week and Spotify and Amazon Music featuring her on billboards in Toronto, LU is living her dreams out on the daily — while reminding listeners that they can also.
Read below as we discuss her upbringing in Canada, biggest influences, creating “Love Shit,” what it means to be Worthy, the importance of mental health, self-care tips, goals, and more!
Born in Congo but raised in Toronto, what was the household like growing up?
I grew up in a big traditional Congolese family but having been raised in Toronto has truly shaped who I am. Little things like French being my first language, the language that’s spoken at home but speaking in English to my friends at school has allowed me to be bilingual. I even translated and released my debut single “DCMO (Don’t Count Me Out),” in French so my parents could understand the song. I essentially grew up in two different worlds growing up in a conservative Christian African home while also growing up around Canadian friends so I was a bit of a rebel in my parents eyes so it was a bit of a dual identity. I wouldn’t change how I grew up because both those worlds have shaped me into the woman I am, a proud Congolese-Canadian girl from Toronto.
Biggest influences coming up?
I listened to everything. Growing up, I listened to everything from pop to rock, r&b, reggae, dancehall, rap and evening some Congolese gospel. I loved Rihanna, P!nk and Drake
Some of the classic voices my parents would play around the house were people like Aretha Franklin, Celine Dion, Michael Jackson and that shaped me.
When did you realize you could do music for a living?
I’ve always known. I found something from sixth grade not too long ago where another student had interviewed me, I said “I’m gonna be a singer!” I didn’t know how to make it happen for a bit or where to even start until I just started doing it a few years ago. It’s definitely been the only thing I’ve always wanted to do.
How did you connect with your manager, Christian?
He saw me perform at The Basement last year at the BET edition kick-off. I didn’t know too much about him. I’d heard his name, then he followed me on Instagram. We didn’t physically meet until November of last year. I was back in LA and ran into him at the REVOLT [Music Conference]. He took me out to breakfast, got to know each other ever since that day. Now, he’s my manager!
“Love Shit” is so powerful, bring us back to when you recorded this record.
“Love Shit,” that’s my baby. I was telling the guys when we were creating it: “I want to write a lot of really open music. The shit I don’t feel comfortable to say out loud, I want to say in the music. I wanted every song on this project to be super open.” These were the exact words. We were sitting down and the producer at the time started playing the chords, it was weird! I had to close my eyes. I had to tell myself “you’re gonna say the shit that you really feel, the insecurities that you’re scared to say.”
I remember full-on tearing up. I don’t smile too hard because my teeth ain’t perfect. I wanted to say something about my size because I never really addressed it much in music. “My body doesn’t impress you so go ahead, curve it.” It was my full circle moment, me arriving and realizing “you’re allowed to be loved.” For a long time, I’d rejected that. I blamed it on every insecurity. They’d ask “why aren’t you with anyone?” “I don’t know, I don’t really have time.” You know how the answer goes. That’s the first time I really faced all that. I’m in a place where I’m finally ready to be loved and accept someone because I’m worthy of love. That’s my “Love Shit” journey.
Best memory from the visual?
Honestly, the glam squad! I loved hair and make up, the first time I had so many jewels on my face. My stylist was lit, I had a plus-sized black woman as my stylist and that was exciting. Me being this size, you’re not always going to feel comfortable with everyone you work with. Also I enjoyed my sexy dancing scenes since this is the first video that I did that in. I felt good because I looked good.
New EP WORTHY out now, how are you feeling?
I feel amazing! Honestly, I’ve been working on it for a bit, I’m so excited that the world is finally getting to hear a full body of work from me. These songs are really about me. To have been able to speak on things like one-night stands, wanting to be loved, me at my worst, giving the wrong guy another chance, all my emotions through everything including my mental health was truly healing.
This project inspired me to speak on mental health, my EP Worthy really dives deep into that. Because this was a healing process for me, we decided we wanted to give back to my fans, my supporters. We partnered up with a company called NU Counseling, a black female-based therapist in Toronto. We’re giving away sessions to some fans to speak about their truth, to find their words and relieve themselves. We should all be able to talk to someone equipped to deal with what we’re going through.
We need more of that!
We really do. Especially with everything from COVID-19 to the anti-black racism, I’m sure even the strongest people were tested with their mentality. If there was ever a time where this was needed, it’s right now.
What does it mean to be Worthy?
It means to see yourself, to value yourself, to love yourself, to be okay with making mistakes and still keep on going. Realizing its okay to not be around people that don’t deserve you. Accepting that not everyone’s for me and I have to move past that. To me, it means feeling worthy of everything you want in your life. The moment I found my worth, I thought to myself, “I’ve never been in love but I’m ready for it. I’m worth having that.”
Creating this during quarantine, did that affect your process at all?
In the beginning it was a bit of a struggle to do writing sessions via zoom but eventually it became the new norm because music is my job. It was a bit tricky because I didn’t have a set up and was demoing vocals with voice notes until I got a proper mic set up. The plus side was every day I was able to write with people in different countries from the comfort of my home. We couldn’t shoot a music video for my single No Smoke because of lockdown restrictions so we ended up doing an animated video for it which I love.
Going through all the Black Lives Matter stuff at a whole other high level. We’re all at home sitting down, you can’t help but feel all the news that’s happening. That inspired some of the new songs I’ve written.
What do you do for self-care?
Girl, everything from writing to sleep. I honestly don’t sleep a lot. It’s a hard thing nowadays, so forcing myself to sleep. Little things like a hot shower, binge watching movies, going for walks, listening to music, being still by myself. Being with friends that I love, sometimes I need that recharge. If I live in my head too much, I have conversations with someone about the stuff going on in my mind, to know it’s not just me. Really writing, because those are my healing moments.
3 things you need in the studio?
Good energy. Really good energy, who I work with is the most important part. I need water. I need a vibe. I love a good guitar string, someone playing live guitar. That’s one of my favorite ways to write. Or food, I get hungry.
What do you like to snack on in the studio?
I swear, I’ll have full meals. I’m not someone who eats chips or candy. Usually it’s like “yo it’s that time,” and we order a full meal. People will ask “don’t you have the itis afterwards?” [laughs] We’re gonna eat this meal though! Every other day, what are we getting? Is it Chinese today? Is it Jamaican today? We’re having full meals, crazy.
Goals for yourself as an artist at this point?
Honestly, I’ve been blessed this year. In the last few months, I’ve gotten to 2 different billboards. I cannot wait till I can have a billboard in NY or LA. When one thing happens, you want the next level of that. I cannot wait to tour. I pray that I get to do a really big tour. Opening for someone that I love currently: Rihanna, that’s my girl for life, Sam Smith. Ariana. Biggest goal, I can’t wait to have #1’s one day. It’s on my vision board, it’s gonna happen. I have really big goals.
What can we expect music-wise?
Honestly, a lot of the songs on this project I wrote at the end of 2018 and beginning of 2019. For my next project I’m sitting on songs I’ve been writing over the last year and a half and continue to keep writing. There’s honestly a lot of different vibes. There’s a song I’m really into that has a little Spanish, Afro-beat vibe, there’s a couple ballads, obviously the really big pop, anthemic songs. Lately, I’ve been doing more chill pop with more chilled choruses. I’m excited for all the bops. Some of them have a deep message and some are fun and sassy, they represent both sides of my personality. I’m excited for you guys to hear things from all sides of me.