Along with being a singer, Lisa Yaro is a Grammy nominated-songwriter, producer, and actress. She has created songs for legends Mýa, Will.i.am, and Letoya Luckett.
We got a chance to talk to her about transitioning from writing records for others to making her own music, acting with Kevin Hart before his breakthrough, struggles she faces as a woman breaking into the male-dominated Afrobeats industry, her dreams of working with Nas, and working with Zlaton on her latest single "YARO."
Oumou Fofana: How is it like being such a dynamic artist? From acting, songwriting for other artists, making your own records, and owning your own label?
Lisa Yaro: It's been an amazing journey and I'm truly humbled to be able to do exactly what I love as a full time career. I’m blessed to be able to incorporate the music with the acting. My previous single “Domitilla” featuring Mayorkun is in the soundtrack of the Universal film “Asking For It.”Being able to bridge those two worlds has been a great experience that I don’t take for granted. I have definitely learned so much pertaining to the business side of the industry as an independent artist and my wish for other artists is that they are able to educate themselves on the business side because in ANY industry, learning the business is very important.
Fofana: You started off as an actress right? Can you tell us a bit about how and why you started acting?
Yaro: I’ve always had a love for entertainment in all forms. I grew up loving musical theater and would often put on concerts for my family. Luckily they've always enjoyed the shows -- at least that's what they told me. When we moved to LA I was fortunate enough to audition and land spots on various films and TV shows and started making a name for myself. I went from growing up in a small village in Kaduna, Nigeria to debuting a film at Tribeca Film Festival last year. Sometimes I feel like my life is a dream.
Fofana: In 2010 you starred in the movie Something Like A Business alongside Kevin Hart. How was it like working with him at the time?
Yaro: It was a great experience. This was right before his big break in his career, so it was great to see where he is now, and how much he's accomplished from all his hard work. Russ Parr directed the project. Everyone on set made it a memorable experience.
Fofana: Then you transitioned into music. You’ve written songs for legends like Mýa, Will.i.am, and LeToya Luckett. What inspired the transition and how were you able to work with these artists?
Yaro: Being an African immigrant living in LA was tough. My parents told me I had to be a doctor or a lawyer and I even majored in biochemistry in college. But my love for music never left me. Telling African parents that I wasn't applying to medical school and wanted to be a songwriter was a big moment for me. Life after that decision wasn't easy. I put in years paying my dues writing and building my catalogue while shopping records for potential placements. Eventually, I started being noticed and was given opportunities to work with Grammy winning artists and producers in hip hop, R&B, and pop. Those experiences really helped me evolve as a writer and set the stage for me to start my own Afrobeats lane.
Fofana: You became Grammy nominated for the work you've done on Mýa’s 2016 album Smoove Jones. It was nominated for Best R&B Album. But now it’s your time to fully shine. What made you want to start making your own music?
Yaro: I knew that I wanted to eventually transition into being a recording artist, but life is all about timing. With the Mýa Grammy nomination, I felt it was the perfect moment in my life to start creating my own lane as an artist. Being Nigerian, I grew up on African music and African artists. Afrobeats was my music and heritage and wanted to add to the culture by bringing my own sound and creativity to it.
Fofana: What songs did you write for Will.I.am and Letoya Luckett?
Yaro: I wrote with Will for his then artist Leah McFall. The record was called "Wild Fire" but she ended up not putting an album out due to label issues. Also my record called "Faded" for Letoya was sold to Warner Chappell but she never released her album.
Fofana: Your latest single "YARO" has been doing great. The visuals received over 750,000 views in less than a month. How was it like working with fellow Afrobeats star Zlatan?
Yaro: Yes! Super thankful for all the love "YARO" has been receiving, all by God's grace. It was a great time working with Zlatan, from the creation of the song to the creation of the video. On set he mentioned that it was his first time really acting in a video and it was truly an honor sharing that experience with him. He did a great job, there’s definitely an actor inside of him!
Fofana: What was your inspiration behind the song?
Yaro: I wanted the song "YARO" to be an expression of pure love for someone. Timeless love with no limitations and the video showing that sometimes happy endings aren’t always realistic but that does not take away the love that is shared.
Fofana: What is your creative process like? What usually inspires your work?
Yaro: Real life experiences are always the best storytellers. I think that everyone at some point in their life has experienced a type of love that no matter if that person was present in your life or not, the love you have for them will always remain. I think about all of the wonderful advice of those studio sessions in LA and close my eyes and just think about Africa.
Fofana: Who inspires you as an artist?
Yaro: It's between Sade and Lauren Hill for sure! I remember listening to their music growing up and having such admiration for them. They both showed me that it was possible as a woman in a male dominated industry to succeed and thrive on your own terms. Also knowing that Sade came from the same place I came from and was so business minded gave me such a respect for her and sparked my interest in being confident in sharing my creativity with the world.
Fofana: Anybody you dream of working with in the near future?
Yaro: Yes! There are so many amazingly talented artists that I am interested in creating with. I would LOVE to work on an Afro-fusion song with Nas. He’s such an amazing lyricist who embodies the essence of hip hop. I’ve always been a lover of many genres so on my upcoming projects I definitely want to infuse elements of hip hop into it. Not to mention I think a record with Nas would be an absolute hit!
Fofana: You're currently on tour right? Can you tell us a little about the experience? What are some highlights?
Yaro: Touring has been an amazing experience. Very blessed to be able to open up for Flavour on his US tour and opening up for Asake in Dallas for his show recently. The crowds bring such great energy in each city I perform in. I would have to say one of my highlights would have to be performing at Gilley’s in Dallas. Knowing how many amazing artists have performed there and being able to do what I love and share my music with the crowd was an incredible feeling. Definitely a memory I won’t soon forget.
Fofana: How do you feel about the Afrobeats genre becoming so mainstream as it is taking over the globe?
Yaro: Afrobeats has always been around and has always been the backbone and root of many types of music. Just listen to the drum lines and cadence of our sound. I’m so happy to see Afrobeats music and the artists getting the recognition they deserve. It's been a long time coming!
Fofana: Afrobeats is clearly a male-dominated industry. Do you find yourself struggling as you try to break in as an artist?
Yaro: Unfortunately, it’s the world we live in but I’m happy to see things starting to shift. I think in any field it’s always a challenge for women to succeed and progress in a heavily male dominated environment. Being an African woman in the US and having Afrobeats break barriers gives women like myself a voice and space to evolve. We have messages that haven’t been heard and Afrobeats creates a space for us to show pride in where we’re from, as well as sharing our culture and creativity with people outside of Africa.
Fofana: Could you tell us more about your record label and how you started it?
Yaro: My record label Music Corner was started to nurture creativity, build a platform for those who lack professional resources and unify communities through music. I wanted to find a way to motivate myself in pursuing this path and accomplishing the goals I set for myself, so I thought what better way than to sign myself as an official Artist. The rest was history.
Fofana: What do you hope listeners take from your music?
Yaro: I hope listeners gain a sense of the sound of African immigrants. I represent the diaspora of Africa. I represent the millions of Africans that are immigrants who have moved out of Africa but are still connected to their roots. I want Africans to feel connected. If you're not from Africa, I want you to feel the vibe of my culture.