The Brussels singer and multi-instrumentalist Lubiana did not sit back and relax during the lockdown: she released an EP, recorded her debut album and found a new, better version of herself. She gives the instructions for doing so here, free of charge.
Female kora players? They are rare, but Lubiana is one of them. The Brussels native with Cameroonian roots fell in love with it a few years ago, when the instrument appeared in a dream and when she shortly afterwards bumped into a kora player in the streets of Spain. She then met Malian Toumani Diabaté, one of the world's most famous kora players, and was completely captivated by the instrument.
“The kora is a stringed instrument that is played in West Africa by griots, storytellers,” says the Brussels-based multi-instrumentalist and singer. “A tradition that continues from father to son. I thinks it's wonderful that these traditions are still alive.” The sound of the instrument is somewhere between the guitar and the harp. Lubiana makes joyful soul pop with it, which has already filled one EP. Her new single “Mamy Nianga” will be followed by her debut album after the summer.
For Lubiana, music is a journey, she says, both externally and internally. That journey has gained extra depth in the past year; the lockdowns were a period of personal deepening for Lubiana. American talk show host Oprah Winfrey, among others, showed her the way. “I started listening to her podcast Super Soul Sunday during the first lockdown, and I haven't stopped since. In it, she invites people like Deepak Chopra and Viola Davis to talk about the path they took to get where they are. They are stories about being in power over yourself and every decision you make, about finding your true self and realising that you are the master of your life. I think Oprah Winfrey is very authentic, she dares to show her vulnerability.”
Lubiana found Oprah Winfrey's life philosophy so inspiring that she started a podcast of her own. It's called Be... “In each episode, I go deeper into being free, into being unstoppable. About my journey that brought me closer to myself – becoming an artist, and all the obstacles I had to overcome as a result. These are experiences I want to share to empower other people with the same dreams. It is a podcast about self-love and self-care, because I wanted to show that there are positive things even in difficult times.”
Connects with that depth: the book The Power of Now by German author Eckhart Tolle. “I spent a great part of the first and especially the second lockdown worrying about what was going to happen. With the world, but also with my existence as an artist. That book helped me to turn off my ego, not to think constantly about the past and the future, or to project desires, but to live in the moment. I compare it to how you are as a child: you also live from day to day and you don't worry about what you have to do later. Tolle has helped me to understand my life better.”
It was not just a spiritual enrichment that helped Lubiana through the past year, also a physical one. “Before corona I went to the gym but when they all closed down, I started exercising online through TrainSweatEat, a website set up by French YouTuber Sissy Mua. Every day at six o'clock, an online session of around thirty minutes with a few thousand other people, it is very liberating. Not only physically, but also mentally, because you switch off your thoughts for a while. When the gyms open again, I'm just going to keep doing it at home. (Laughs) That saves me a lot of time too.”
During those workouts, Lubiana started listening to the music of Nigerian pop sensation Burna Boy, especially his album African Giant. “His music lifts me up, when I listen to it I want to move and dance. Burna Boy mixes traditional music from his homeland with contemporary pop sounds in a superb way. His music is very modern, but at the same time he tells the story of his own culture in his own patois.”
Another musician that Lubiana is keen to highlight is Senegalese kora player Ablaye Cissoko and especially his album Le Griot Rouge. “There are four large families of kora players in West Africa. That is why you often come across players with the name Cissoko or Sissoko, sometimes with the same first name. Sometimes, this leads to confusion. (Laughs) Ablaye Cissoko is my all-time favourite kora player. He has set up a school for kora players in Saint-Louis that is open to all people to play the kora, both men and women. I will go to Senegal soon to record a video clip, but I will also be going to do a residence at Ablaye's place to play the kora every day from ten to five. That will be intense.”
To catch her breath after all those intense moments, Lubiana likes to watch Netflix. Two series she has enjoyed are the French series Lupin, the hit series with Omar Sy, and Call My Agent!. “When watching TV, I want to relax and not think too much about the issues of the world. (Laughs) In Call My Agent!, well-known actors and actresses play themselves, you get a bit of a look behind the scenes. For example, you see how Jean Dujardin plays a caveman, and how he cannot fall out of that role and sleeps outside in the garden at home. Or Cécile de France who is told she has to take botox after she turns forty. It's also nice that a friend of mine, Stéfi Celma, plays in it. She also sings and is releasing her first EP this year.”
“Other than that, I try not to spend too much time on a screen,” Lubiana explains. “Especially not to read the news. The media too often focus on negative things, while there are still so many great things happening every day. You have to give people hope that they can still change the world.”
The single "Mamy Nianga" is out now