At a little over 5ft 4in with a relatively petite body frame, bubbly personality, an ever evolving fashion style and a HUGE love for the camera (she loves taking pictures), it is hard to believe Lawretta Richards (RETTA) Ladybrille November ‘Artist to Watch,’ struggled, deeply, with loneliness and isolation.
“Massive head,” “big forehead,” “your head is too big for your body,” was what she had to endure at the hands of classmates who teased her mercilessly in grade and early part of high school. “That was hard for me to deal with. It really got to me and made me have very low self-esteem at a very young age,” explained the beautiful budding singer to Ladybrille Magazine. “It made me a loner, where I would sing to myself and write songs by painting a picture of what I wanted to become.”
The picture RETTA painted was that of a successful and famous musician. (This) 2010, her picture is on its way to becoming a reality.
She might not appear formidable but how story is one of resilience, determination and self-discovery all channeled into her music. Treading the path least traveled and opening the door to create opportunities for many more artists to come with her willingness to stand out; Ladybrille Magazine is truly delighted to unveil, in our in-depth EXCLUSIVE interview, one of Africa’s Next Big Star, RETTA. Read on!
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Hi Retta, how are you?
RETTA: Fine, thank you!
LADBRILLEmag.com: Thank you so much for the exclusive. I want to do things a bit differently. Start from the bottom up, so to speak. But, just before I do that, paint the picture for our audience. What was your favorite childhood memory growing up in Nigeria?
RETTA: I think my favorite childhood memory [has] to be how I became [quite] rebellious and bold. Very funny, it shaped and made me who I am today. [I] was a loner, had very low self-esteem and I was very fragile . . . If I had to put it in a song, it would be Chrisette Michele’s “Fragile,” which is my favorite song from her. I was very fragile and would cry off anything. Words got deep into my skin. I could cry from being told I was stupid. My peace was my house, my pen and paper and my mirror and then my family.
At some point, I got sick and tired of all the tears, the low self-esteem and also being bullied by my classmates, so I said to myself things had to change. One day, in the middle of the night, I went to the sculpture of Mary right at the center of my school and basically wept all night and pleaded with God to take my soft heart and give me a strong one. I even told God if possible, I was willingly to take a [heart] of stone. I (spent) my night there and had to basically be dragged away (from) there. Oh boy! When I got out, I became a monster! (She laughs)
I became rebellious. I saw myself as the cutest chick ever which I still do till today, loved everything about my face and my unique forehead! (Laughs again)(Retta began to display her new found confidence)
In one instance, I basically snapped on one of my teachers when she flogged me in school because I (braided) my hair, instead of wearing the short haircut that we were required to wear. I (grabbed) the cain/(whip) from her and flogged her several times back.
(Laughs) (Breaks into Pidgin English) “I beat am sha o.” (laughs)
LADYBRILLEmag.com: (Laughs) (I am sure there were ramifications for that. What happened?)
RETTA: I got expelled from school for a few weeks. I was just out of control and was ready for anyone that wanted to get me. With my new self-confidence and love came all the secret admirers and girls “haterz” and “beefing!” (laughs) But, I had things under control because I had my guards up and felt all boys wanted from me was SEX. Which I still think they do sometimes! [Laughs] But, now I am more at peace with myself. . . a little growing up and experience comes with maturity.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: WOW! I was not expecting that from you. (Laughs) Alright then. Let’s get into the music and I want to return to discuss a bit more about you later.
THE BIG PICTURE AND RETTA’S PLACE IN MUSIC
LADYBRILLEmag.com: [W]hat do you think is lacking in Africa’s music scene and what do you think you bring to the table that is different?
RETTA: What I really think we lack is uniqueness in style and sound. Today everyone is beginning to sound . . . the same. If we take our time to figure our style and sound, it would make a big difference and that’s what I am bringing to the table.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: When you say “everyone is beginning to sound the same” what do you mean by that? Explain to us the evolution that has taken place in Africa’s music industry?
RETTA: Music in Africa has really evolved over the years. I would not say I know so much about the music across the continent but I can speak to Nigeria’s. Nigeria’s music is growing rapidly and it appeals to the young and old. Years ago Nigeria’s music was more focused on adults, with the likes of great musicians like Fela, Shina Peters, and Sunny Ade. But we now have the likes of Psquare, 2face, Dbanj etc. who now very much appeal to the younger crowd; and yet the adult can also listen to their music. People like 2face and Psquare paved the way for someone like me and also very much inspired me and gave me hope that I can earn a living from singing in Nigeria.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Let me go a different angle. You mention Nigeria’s music industry. Specific to that market, what sets you apart?
RETTA: My sound. My music is spiritual in my own way, soulful and at same time it has a pop feel to it. Also my image and style is different and weird, which people would notice as time goes by.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: (Laughs) Oh! You saw the style question coming so we might as well deal with it now. To some extent, you have an eccentric fashion sense in terms of hair color choice, green! (Laughs) How have you been able to merge your fashion into your music to create a fitting look for your work?
RETTA: (Smiles) Green, to me, represents Nigeria where I am from and also Africa in general. Being African comes with pride and I glow with such pride with my green signature. My music is unique, so also is my style, unique and strange. I am just being me and not trying to copy anyone. Green represents Nigeria and growth! But, at the BET Awards, they saw my green as a symbol of money! (Laughs)
LADYBRILLEmag.com: (Laughs) Actually green is my favorite color and when I say that I get the money thing too. (Laughs)
RETTA: (Laughs) More money I guess. I also got my green eyes! (Laughs)
LADYBRILLEmag.com: (Yes I noticed!)
RETTA: [N]ose pierced. Hmm . . . I am a handful and strange. . . but I like am (it) that way. What you see is what you get! (Laughs)
LADYBRILLEmag.com: I”ll come back to the BET Awards. For now, I am curious, what work went into developing the RETTA we hear today?
RETTA: Developing my sound wasn’t so easy as I had to take music classes and also a vocal coach for a full year. I listened to all kinds of music and also tried other genres till I found my perfect fit. So it took a lot of sacrifice from my time, dedication and hard work. It also took a while in finding the right producer that will understand not just my style and sound but also me. I found that in OSCAR HEMAN-ACKAH (Half Ghanaian and Nigerian producer based in Nigeria).
LADYBRILLEmag.com: To me you have an alternative/rock sound based on your variety of songs I have listened to. What was the alternative song or album, in trying to find your niche, you first listened to that made you think “Aha! This is the sound or type of music I want to do?”
RETTA: After my years of soul searching at the age of 14, (Laughs) one day, my dad got me a Tracy Chapman CD and some old school mix tape. At first I was reluctant to listen to them but then I got bored on one particular day and decided to slip in the Tracy Chapman CD, and there it was. It immediately dawned on me that this was where I wanted to be and how I wanted to sound like. I started my research and even got Dido’s CD also. Listening to Tracy Chapman’s CD, I felt reborn. She had this amazing voice and there was an aura in the atmosphere when I played her song. I loved the feeling very much and just thought, “gosh I have found myself.”
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Finding yourself is one thing. Telling Nigerian parents you want to sing for a living is another. (Laughs) How did that come about?
RETTA: I can remember always watching Michael Jackson and sometimes crying with much excitement! (Laughs) I saw almost all of his stage performances and I felt he was a god on earth. (Laughs) I was about nine years but before then I loved singing for my parents. They just saw me as their cute little child having fun, until they popped the question “what do you what to be when you grow up?” And I said, I want to be a musician and I can recall my mom freaking out and telling me that I must be a lawyer. (Laughs) But I think the feeling came from stalking Micheal Jackson on TV. (Laughs) His stage craft was amazing.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: [Being a lawyer is not a bad choice. Yes I am speaking for my fellow lawyers out there. ] Given what mainstream Africa is listening to right now, what kind of success do you anticipate?
RETTA: My dreams are way beyond my own imagination. I am gonna hit across Africa by the special grace of GOD and the western market would at last really respect and appreciate Nigeria and Africa as a whole! I definitely anticipate that Nigeria and Africa at large are ready for my music and my sound.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Okay, that is a nice transition into my next question. What about your crossover into international markets like Asia and the USA? What are your plans for such crossover, if any?
RETTA: There are huge plans for that. My management is working on a crossover. And by God’s grace it will be a huge success.
RETTA ON THE MUSIC WRITING PROCESS
LADYBRILLEmag.com: I really want myself and our audience to really know you more. So, I’ll dig some more with your work as an artist, the creative process. Actually, before we get into it, did you finish college?
RETTA: No I am not done with school. I was enrolled at the University of Port Harcourt studying Theatre Arts and after a year, I left because I knew it was high time that I focused on what I was really passionate about; and for me, getting through school seemed like forever. But, hopefully, by God’s grace, I should be heading back to school in Lagos.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Very well. Back to the music. Do you write your own music?
RETTA: Yes I do! But for this album I am more of a reflective writer. OSCAR HEMAN-ACKAH is basically the writer who puts it in paper. It is my first album and I want it to be perfect.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: What inspires your writing?
RETTA: Everything that surrounds me inspires me. I am more of a nature writer or I write from experience or people’s experiences in life. My environment in general inspires me to write.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: From what I read in your bio, you were involved in a lot of singing in church. Do you think that influences your music?
RETTA: The funny thing is that I didn’t do much of choir singing. I joined the choir just once in my lifetime and was there for just two weeks because my mom was always church searching. (Laughs) Maybe it inspired me just a little but it has no major part on my singing or music influences.
RETTA ON SIGNING WITH AN INDEPENDENT RECORD LABEL
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Most new artists want to sign with big record labels. You are signed to an independent record label and are the first artist on the label. Why did you think JTON was the right fit to launch your music career?
RETTA: When I left schooling in Port Harcourt I moved to Lagos to get my career started. It was a bit scary but I did move and moved in with my immediate elder sister. She was just admitted into the University of Lagos. At that point, I began my (forray) into the music industry. I met with a whole lot of people that introduced me to other people and the others introduced me to another. It took a while.
In 2008 when I was thinking of returning to Port Harcourt (because) I was frustrated, I got a call from an old friend of mine called Dami and he referred me to Joy Tongo; saying I should come with my pictures as well. It felt like it was an audition. I was kind of nervous because I hated going for auditions and I had never gone for one but, I still took my chances. When I got there, she asked me some brief personal questions, which I answered and then she told me to sing. I felt like melting at the time but I still tried to sing one of my songs I had written a while ago called ‘Addiction.’ It wasn’t my best shot. I thought I lost my chance and I had no hopes on her getting back to me like she said she would. I also went with a friend of mine that had an amazing voice and I thought she totally killed me in the audition; so I was already congratulating her until I got a call from Joy saying she picked me. . .at that time all I could say was WHAT!!! (Laughs) The ride with JTON Records has been an amazing ride and I would not trade it with any major record label. I feel at home, it is like a family to me. They understand me very well.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: That is very nice to hear. Working with JTON, how much creative input have you managed to contribute as an artist?
RETTA: RETTA and JTON (is) a match made in heaven as the record label totally not just only gets my sound and style but also me. Also, JTON’s CEO is a woman, so I was sure she just wanted to work, if you know what I mean. (Laughs)
LADYBRILLEmag.com: I think I do. But please explain to our audience so we are all on the same page?
RETTA: The entertainment industry [i]s a tough world. The fact that you are a woman even makes it worse. And also you are a young woman with no financial backing or don’t even know the top shot in the industry or guys that could have your back also makes it dangerous. I was almost raped in my search for a record label and even in an instance when someone claimed he wanted to cast me for a movie. I remember one scenario when I went to see an industry top shot guy. He wanted to rape me!
At that time I could not think straight. I grabbed a bottle and smashed it on the ground. I was ready to kill him. Like seriously. He had to let me go. I just got fed up and almost gave up on the entertainment and music (industry). Meeting Joy was good. Joy Tongo had this warm spirit in her that I felt very comfortable and safe with and thirdly she never looked down on me and I saw that she had faith in me already. Those were my major clicks. I have a huge input and influence with everything from my image to my sound and also my style. I also trust the judgment of JTON records. They want the best for me. So whatever they bring to the table, I am willing to adhere to. At the end of the day, it is all about advancing my career.
RETTA ON HER UPCOMING ALBUM
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Let’s talk about advancing your career. I understand your Freshman album is almost complete. When do you anticipate it will be ready?
RETTA: My album should be ready by the first quarter of 2011 and trust me it is mind blowing. I am so excited and I can’t wait to finally unleash RETTA to the world!
LADYBRILLEmag.com: [With the songs I have heard, I too am confident.] You release your album, what happens next?
RETTA: I am looking to a bright future with the release of my album and that comes with a lot of task… touring, shows, endorsement and so much more.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Speaking of album launch and the promotions involved, now we get back to my BET question. You basically hung out with P-Square on their first USA tour along with your record label boss who managed their tour. What was that experience like for you seeing them on such high platform like the BET Awards?
RETTA: Oh yes! It was great and a fantastic experience. I will never forget the experience and I give all the credit to Joy Tongo. JTON Records and also Joy Tongo basically brought me to America for the first time to experience a great tour and great cities. We visited 7 major states in the USA, including Canada. Being present for the (BET awards) was mind blowing! Seeing P-square go so far was emotional for me as well. P-square is like a family to me and they inspire me with their successes and the heights they have achieved. I am very proud of them and to share that experience with them was a huge blessing. I learned a lot from their tour also. They have such a great stage (presence) . . .
RETTA ON HER MUSIC INSPIRATION
LADYBRILLEmag.com: What drives you to do music? What makes you wake up each day and say, people need to hear this music inside me?
RETTA: It all happened when I was very young. The fact that I always felt inferior growing up in primary and early secondary (high) school and I had a lot to say but I felt lost in the crowd. It was the hunger to be noticed by someone and then it turned into the fact that I just wanted to speak to thousands and even millions of people at the same time and still be able to make a difference. The fact that I share my life experience through singing drives me. It is also the fact that I can share what other people are going through… I feel like I can help put smiles on people’s faces through music.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: I notice a lot of references to American and Western artists that serve as inspiration for you and your music. Could you give us a listing of African artists that inspire you and your music?
RETTA: Though my sound and style may be different from mainstream music played in Africa, people like 2face, Psquare, Bez, Waje, Asa, MI and Omawumi also all Nigerian artists do their thing. They have all made a great change and impact in the industry and I admire them.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: What kind of collaborations have you fantasized about and with whom? (laughs)
RETTA: Hmmm! (Laughs) I have strange fantasies…it might come true, except MJ. I might have to get me my Nigerian MJ! (Laughs) I have fantasized a lot about Michael Jackson doing a full album with him. Well I knew it was too good to be true. (Laughs) May his gentle soul rest in peace. I have fantasized about doing a song with John Legend, Dido, Dolly Parton, Lauryn Hill, Macy Gray, Trey Songz and that has nothing to do with his voice by the way, though he has a great voice. (Laughs) I love me some Trey Songz, “sexy and cute.” (Breaks into Pidgin English) Dem plenty oh, these are the ones I can remember for now. (Laughs)
LADYBRILLEmag.com: (Laughs) What do you hope your fans take away from your music and album when it drops?
RETTA: First of all, definitely a great album, great songs. Deep songs but yet everyone can relate to it. Feel good music and even life changing music. It will definitely put a smile on their face and also touch hearts and definitely it would bring joy. Also fans can definitely fall in love again after heartbreaks or walk away(s) from bad relationships… I will sum it up in one sentence. I will definitely be introducing my fans to the World of RETTA… it is a ride they will never forget.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Many thanks RETTA, again, for sharing yourself with us. We at Ladybrille love your work and look forward to brilliant and quality music in days, weeks and years to come.
RETTA: Thanks a lot Ladybrille. I am very grateful for this major interview and for all your support. I love my fans and I will keep making great music.
Random Facts about RETTA
- Prefers evenings to mornings
- Loves hanging with family and friends, going to the movies, long walks
- Loves dancing alone in her room with loud music on
- Has a sweet tooth. Loves cakes and chocolates
- Nickname: Lawry
LISTEN TO KOLO FOR YOU
~Interview by Uduak Oduok
~Courtesy photo and song