Watching her provocative video for her latest single “Be it” didn’t prepare me for meeting the petite songstress, Elo. The pink-afroed artist from Tshepang Ramoba’s (of Blk Jks fame) Post Post Music stable, has a mystical sound that blends kwaito, house, RnB, jazz and electronic music.
A born rebel, Elo (whose real name is Lerato Sellane) is not into fame. She’s more interested in personally connecting with her fans.
“I have this thing called dining room sessions – I’ve done about four or five now. I pick a fan, organise a time and perform at their house. Hearing their feedback is always so meaningful. I feel as though I can take away more from that,” she says.
Elo and I spoke about her music, fashion sense and what it’s like being a woman in the music industry.
You have a very alternative style of music. What inspired it?
When I was studying, people kept trying to get me into house music. I did that for a bit but I didn’t like it. It wasn’t me. But when I listened to Moonchild I realised that was the type of music I want to make. I like playing around with genres. .
You originally got into the music industry by doing administrative work? Tell us more about that.
I used to do backing vocals for Vusi Nova before I got a job in publishing at Universal Music. My big break came when I was part of a programme with the Joburg City Theatre that was commemorating June 16.
That’s when I met Nothende. I just volunteered to be her PA on a whim and she actually let me. So, from there I was scheduling and setting up her interviews.
One day the South African embassy in Côte d’Ivoire called and they wanted to get Nothende to perform. I was making the arrangements and I asked: “Can she bring another artist?”. I just shoved myself into the lineup and performed for free. I got to open for Nothende during that concert and she became my mentor.
You’ve just released your first video, “Be It”. Tell us more about it.
I want everybody to see it. I want people to download it and send it to their mothers and friends. To me, the video is about being a rebel. I’m all about pink hair, all day, everyday. So I want people to interpret it as an expression of my rebellion.
What do you have to say to people who think you copied your image from Nicki Minaj?
Everyone draws their influences from somewhere. Even Nicki Minaj isn’t solely influenced by herself. One of her influences is Japanese and Chinese fashion and that’s what influences me too. I know my look is mainly about my [pink] hair, but that’s just because I like to style it like that.I love my afro.
You’ve started touring internationally; have you had any bad experiences?
Generally, the reception was really awesome but my hiccup is a really touchy subject. I won’t say which show it was but after a performance, a guy almost forced himself on me.
It was traumatising because it could have been worse, especially because I was surrounded by his friends. I started thinking that maybe I should stop drinking because I felt like it was my fault. It made me anxious about touring and trusting people.
As a woman in this industry, do you feel the pressure to maintain a sexual or provocative image?
Sometimes it feels like if you’re a female artist, you’re expected to become sexual for your music and image to sell.
But I also don’t like that women’s bodies are constantly policed. If a guy can walk down the street dressed however he likes, why can’t I do the same? I hate doing laundry. If I can dress less that means less laundry. Just cover what needs to be covered. It sounds silly but that’s just how it is.
Elo’s debut EP, Elogram, was released on iTunes last week.
Her international tour kicks off this month, starting in Spain, and will end in October in New York City.