LU KALA wants you to feel worthy in her world of pop music

The Congolese-Canadian singer opens up about her Juno nominations, the exhaustion of breaking through pop music and being pushed into a box.

LU KALA is carving out a space for herself in pop music. (Photo by Thom Kerr via Legion)
LU KALA is carving out a space for herself in pop music. (Photo by Thom Kerr via Legion)

Stepping aside and letting people shove her into a box of their expectations isn't an option for LU KALA.

The 28-year-old pop singer, born Lusamba Vanessa Kalala, has spent her life standing up for herself — and it remains the same when it comes to her career.

Despite reaching the top five in pop charts in Canada with her song "Hotter Now" and seeing tens of thousands of TikTok users create videos with her single "Pretty Girl Era," LU KALA says finding her footing in the pop music landscape hasn't been a walk in the park.

"It's exhausting," she tells Yahoo Canada. "I love R&B music but I don't make R&B music — my music is straight on straight pop. It's definitely exhausting people calling it sometimes 'R&B pop.' No, it's not. It's literally only pop music and it's been a tough fight that a lot of people will say just because I'm Black.

"It's annoying that a lot of times, people have tried to keep me in that box. But, obviously at this point, you just can't ignore it."

Owning her space, unapologetically

LU KALA learned to stand her ground at a young age. Born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where she lived until moving to Regent Park in downtown Toronto and later Ajax, Ont., the singer grew up the second youngest of eight children. That full-to-the-brim household — paired with parents who had their own responsibilities — left her craving attention. Moreover, being plus-sized her whole life meant there was no room to swallow her feelings.

"You had to have a level of that because if you didn't, people really thought they could play with you," she explains about growing up. "People may try to bully you or this-and-that, so I always had to stand strong. Because of it, I had to find my confidence very early in life.

"I had to make sure I was strong in who I was and who I believed in."

Those themes of passionate self-love, standing up for yourself and channelling a commanding sense of confidence is ever-present in LU KALA's life — both in her outgoing personality and her vibrant music.

I'm a fun human being, I don't hold back, I'm not afraid to be blunt.LU KALA

She wrote "Pretty Girl Era" — a bubbly pop anthem where she almost implores listeners to even half-try doubting she's in her "P.G.E., baby" — during a time she radiated what she chants in the song: "Wake up gorgeous every morning / I'ma put a ring on it / 14 karats, horse and carriage / Cinderella, I'm that b— / look at how I glow."

While LU KALA says the song was written almost on a whim, it's one that has resonated far and wide; the song was recently nominated for her first-ever Juno award, where she's also up for Breakthrough Artist of the Year at the 2024 Canadian awards show set to take place in late March.

A message in the music

Over the past several years, there's been a wave of pop music centred around themes of wellness; artists like Lizzo, Selena Gomez and Taylor Swift have all belted lyrics about putting themselves first. Those aren't particularly new concepts in the pop landscape, but LU KALA notes she doesn't necessarily aim to direct her artistry with a goal of preaching self-empowerment and self-love in hopes of hopping onto a trend. Instead, it's all about showcasing her true self to the world.

"I just genuinely feel empowered in myself," she shares. "It took a long time to get to this place, so I'm happy to share this message."

I like writing songs that are a direct reflection of who I am.LU KALA

Writing "Pretty Girl Era" during a time she says she was feeling herself was seemingly an easy feat, but finding the words to pen her latest single, "Nothing But Love," almost took two years. The piano-centric ballad features her formidable, raspy voice admitting lines like, "In the mirror I'm fine, but inside all the glass in me shattered" as she reminisces about an ex-lover.

Even though the song might exude elements of sorrow, LU KALA shares writing "Nothing But Love" sparked a fire in her healing journey, sort of giving her the sensation of running up a hill and nearing its peak. It's a self-assurance channelled from within that she wants her fans to duplicate.

"I want people to feel beautiful when they look at themselves in the mirror," she adds. "I want them to feel glowed up when they've broken up with somebody."

LU KALA says she feels privileged to have grown up in Toronto since she was able to witness a wide range of cultures, an experience she infuses in her music today. (Photo by Thom Kerr via Legion)
LU KALA says she feels privileged to have grown up in Toronto since she was able to witness a wide range of cultures, an experience she infuses in her music today. (Photo by Thom Kerr via Legion)

Putting out these songs, along with singles like "Hotter Now" and "DCMO (Don't Count Me Out)," that have a sense of empowerment was eye-opening for LU KALA. At first, it was simply about putting something fun out into the world — until she learned there was a bigger importance.

"They're just 'I feel great about myself' songs," she notes. "But I don't think I realized how some people would be really emotionally connected to it because they needed to hear that message."

I can't wait until one day, everybody is screaming back my song.LU KALA

Now, as she gears up for what she prefaces will be "a big year with a lot of LU KALA music," she understands that greater meaning for her fanbase.

"I hope when people listen to my music, they feel comfortable, they feel like there's a space for them to just be themselves," she says. "If in the world, everyone tells you you look terrible or mistreats you, I hope that when you're in LU KALA's world, you feel worthy and loved and you find that confidence."

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