LU KALA knew she was going to be a singer. She never deviated from her dream. But not everyone had faith in Lu’s vision. “No one believed me when I said, ‘I’m a singer, this is what I’m going to do!’” LU tells us. “I just remember being young, like, singing and annoying every single person near me,” she says with a laugh, “And just believing in this dream that was bigger than myself.”
It’s this persistent confidence in herself that led Lu to self-release her first single as a solo pop artist, the anthemic “DCMO (Don’t Count Me Out).” The track – apropos, as it traces the feelings of being overlooked – begins with a sparse rhythmic base before soaring into a catchy chorus. She wasn’t expecting much, other than the personal satisfaction that comes with creating music. But then the song popped the hell off.
So far, the track, released last year, has almost half a million streams on Spotify, with the French version at almost 40,000 streams. “I never expected it to go so far,” says LU. “Not that I didn’t have any confidence in it – I believed in the song – but I didn’t know if people would actually listen to it.”
LU has almost 40,000 followers on Instagram. She’s flown to L.A. and New York, writing with prominent producers and songwriters, hoping to shape her career the way she’d always envisioned it after this enormous propulsion. She also just released the video for “DCMO.” She’s continuing to build a steady following, again, off the strength of one song. A not unheard-of feat (hello, “Old Town Road”) but the high quality of a track – which is true of “DCMO” – can propel an artist much further than its status as a trendy hit. “As much as I talked about ‘this is what I’m going to do’ and ‘this is what is going to happen,’ to see it happening in front of your eyes is something very different,” says LU.
Before the release of “DCMO,” LU had already garnered early praise for her performances. Reviewing her performance at the Manifesto Festival in Toronto, NOW Magazine wrote that LU “stole the show with her powerhouse voice and stage presence that seems ready for international success.” The Congo-born Ajax resident has been chipping away at her goal of pop success for awhile now, despite the seeming curveball appearance of her immediate, single-song success. She’s been professionally working in the industry as a songwriter since 2013, working with the likes of DVSN, and Academy Award winner Jennifer Hudson on her JHUD album in 2014. She knows her way around crafting a pop song for others (lovingly calling herself Dr. LU), helping to coax the most out of the performers with whom she’s writing. But writing for herself, promoting herself as this formidable artist, too, is a whole other task.
LU KALA is a compelling artist, not simply because of her enormous skill as a singer, but because her dedication to honesty in her work complements her performance. As a singer, her vocals are interesting, both jagged and lofty. She’s so perfectly studied pop music that her delivery is just as impeccable as pop stars who’ve been at it for years. But her songwriting, the material she’s bringing us in these verses, is so authentically LU, you pay closer attention to the message she’s delivering.
“I’m actually living my dream.”
“I remember when we were writing ‘DCMO,’” she says, “I [closed] my eyes, singing ‘I know I’m a big girl/ you are afraid to claim me,” and I remember opening my eyes feeling embarrassed a bit,” she says. “I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t believe I said that in front of someone!’ But at the same time, there was this feeling of relief that felt good. It was almost me realizing that I felt that about those situations.” From that moment on, LU says she made a promise to herself to put forth honest music; to have a body of work representative of her innermost thoughts and feelings.
We come back to the point of confidence. LU’s belief in herself feels like a form of survival. Her belief, as with that of many others who don’t fit a specific mold in pop music (hello, Lizzo), is the singular truth that the only person you can trust is yourself. It begins and ends with LU, first and foremost. “I’ve always had to be confident growing up and being this plus-size girl,” she says. “Automatically, I think that was something I needed to have when I was really young. I knew I had to believe in myself more than others would. [That] I’d have to turn down the naysayers.”
With this much impact on her one song so far, it’ll be thrilling to see where she’ll go when she releases her as titled first EP in 2020. “I’m actually living my dream and making money off of my dream,” she says, “And that’s really cool.”