uNder Spotlight: Lirase is only concerned with being honest in the music

“Being an artist is somebody who lives their life and expresses their experiences through their art-form.”

uNder is our monthly column committed to spotlighting the Best New Artists from around our musically diverse continent. Each month, we’ll be taking a step further to highlight the artists featured on uNder by offering in-depth interviews and exclusives about their music, their journey’s and their plans for taking their sound from this side to the world watching.

Personal turmoil is the source of some of the greatest music that’s ever been created. The bridge between what has happened to an artist and representing it on wax is the willingness to share those events and the emotions behind them with the world. By default, artists reflect who they are every time they make music, but it takes a level of intentionality to be vulnerable enough to make and put out vividly honest songs.

Even though he’d been making music for several years, Ghanaian singer, songwriter and producer Lirase only recently began to understand the rigour it takes to let your life experience play an unfiltered role in the process of music creation. The Takorade-born, Accra-raised Lirase got into music through a mix of awe and curiosity, consciously encountering the immersive power of music through a few songs on his sister’s phone, before going on to expand his musical tastes by intently listening to a diverse list of musical acts that included Nelly, Sarkodie, Osibisa, P-Square, M.I Abaga, and more.


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A post shared by Lirase (@lirase_tpw)

By his pre-teens, he had started plotting on how to make music, and by the time he was in senior high school, he’d started “releasing music intermittently.” Under a now-defunct moniker, Tonio, he sang and rapped, alternating between both vocal delivery forms because he “didn’t really create that distinction between being a rapper and a singer,” and he enjoyed letting inspiration lead him down the path of melodies or bars at any given time. As TonioBeatz, he produced for friends and he even helmed an electronic beat tape.

Not long after high school, Lirase gained admission to medical school in Cape Coast, and that meant music took the backseat. It also meant acquiring a wealth of experiences from some of the toughest months of his life. “Honestly, that period between 2020 to middle of 2021, I would describe as a very dark time,” he candidly tells me over a video call, his eyes briefly darting to the ceiling as he starts to recount events. During those months, he had to deal with being on the brink of dropping out of school, the collapse of a long-time friendship, and the sour ending of a relationship.

“My life was a mess during that period and it just reflected in everything I was writing,” Lirase admits. Still making music in medical school as an ancillary passion, those events found their way into his artistic endeavours and, even though he didn’t initially like that approach, it’s helped form the crux of who he currently is as an artist. “That whole time just taught me true artistry, because I feel like being an artist is somebody who lives their life and expresses their experiences through their art-form.” As a symbol of that learning curve, he’s now making music under his real name.

‘The Dawn’, Lirase’s recently released debut EP, has a weathered tone and a lived-in quality to it. Pulling from that tumultuous period of his life, the 4-song project is a statement of defiant hope, driven by the singer’s refusal to be defined by his struggles and an unyielding drive to live his life as wholesomely as possible. The events that informed the EP aren’t explicitly stated, but you can hear their emotional toll in Lirase’s full-throated singing and a sense of optimism that doesn’t pretend to have all the answers.

Entirely produced by collaborator-turned-close-friend, John Ekow Barnes, the music ‘The Dawn’ is an experimental fusion of Reggae, Dream pop, Electronic music, Neo-Soul, Rock, and more. With its sonic and thematic make-up, Lirase is well aware that his music has a clear alternative bent within Ghanaian music, but he’s not immediately bothered about widespread acceptance. If anything, he wants to be even more honest as he refines the genre-ranging quality of his sound, and that’s because he’s playing the long game and wants to be respected by listeners for his authenticity.

Our conversation with Lirase has been lightly edited and it follows below.

NATIVE: Were you one of those people that had music playing around them while growing up?

Lirase: Nah, mine is quite an atypical story because my parents were not musical people. My dad directed a choir for a while but it wasn’t anything that he like to talk about, he only mentioned it a few times. During morning devotions and those things, my mum liked singing, so she would make all of us sing. That’s it. I didn’t really have any exposure to professional music, and my parents weren’t the type to play music throughout the house.

It was mostly my elder sister who got a phone at a point and we started playing music in the house, ‘cause I’d just go take a phone and the earpiece. The first time I used the earphones, I remember the songs on the phone were “Dream Big”, “Flying without Wings”, and some other Rihanna song, and I was so immersed in the music. It was so crazy for me, like “is this what music is?” That was when I really got into music and then I joined the school band, I was a drummer for a like a year till I had to leave.

When did you decide to fully get into music?

I decided to do music when I was completing junior high school, around 13-14—I decided I wanted to make a song and release it. I didn’t release my first song till I got to senior high school, then I started releasing music intermittently like that. When I started medical school, I was faced with a tough challenge of what I wanted to do, because it demands a lot from you. I actually took a long break and I just tried to give myself enough time to think through it and see how the medical thing would go, because it was not something I was really passionate about but you know African parents.

Finally, I decided to do it professionally last year. I was about to finish medical school and I didn’t really feel fulfilled by, so I decided to try and pursue this dream of being an artist. I put all the music I’d been doing together to figure out what kind of music I should be doing that would fulfil me, and then I took pieces of lyrics and melodies from stuff that I had done, then I met with the producer and sound engineer [John Ekow Mensah] and we got to work.

How did you and John Ekow Mensah meet?

I met John in my final year of medical school. I had moved out of campus and I had my own setup in my room, so I was making my own stuff and some artists from campus used to come around as well. There was this guy that they used to tell us about that he had a studio and he was a producer as well, but I just didn’t really look into it because I didn’t have that money to pay a producer. When I was leaving Cape Coast, I met with a senior colleague who had released a double single project and she asked me to listen to it. I listened to it and the production was insane, the engineering was top notch and you didn’t really get that producers in Cape Coast, so I took his number and I called him.

I even sent him stuff to work on for him before I met him, and when I did, I saw that he had a full studio setup—he was in a band before he started making music digitally. I was amazed and it just sucked me in, and I just decided, “I’m going to do an EP with you.” We figured out the terms and we started working together. The whole thing that he was in a live band and he was a mature guy in the art, someone that has been doing music for the past ten to fifteen years, that really got me to trust him. We spent some time together sharing some musical ideas, and he got the idea of the type of records I was trying to make.

He kind of mentored me through the recordings when we started working, to the point where I would have to go meet him at Cape Coast to record final takes even though I record stuff myself—because I had finished school was back in Accra by this time.


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In a good way, there’s so much happening in the music on your EP. What would you define your sound as?

I can’t put into one genre because, as you said, there’s a fusion of a lot of things. Personally, when I’m filling any forms online for uploading my music, I put experimental or fusion. In as much as we categorise music for the DSPs and to put the music in front of the right people, it’s obvious that it doesn’t really fit just one mould. I’ll just say experimental or fusion music. I do appreciate the importance of classification and genres because, eventually, there’ll be some consistency with the work I do, maybe I can be classified to one or two styles of music at that point.

The EP has a very weathered tone to it, like you’re willing yourself to overcome personal issues. What were the events that informed the writing?

Honestly, that period between 2020 to middle of 2021, I would describe as a very dark time in my life. There were a lot of things happening on so many different fronts. When it came to school, I was about to complete but I wasn’t even into the whole school thing since level 400. I even called my dad and told him, “yo, I can’t do this anymore,” because I was failing classes and I was about to repeat a year. I didn’t want to that because living in Cape Coast was a really difficult thing, because I left all my friends and entire life in Accra, I was living in a place where I didn’t know anybody and the people living there are just in a different mental space I didn’t fuck with.

I actually stopped going to class for a week and I was thinking about just coming back to Accra to just figure my life out, because I never really had a vision to do anything serious in the medical field, so I was just weighing the options. Eventually, I spoke to some friends and other family members also called me, and I just decided that I was going to try my best. I had to go get a tutor to pass the re-sits and just restructuring my life, because at that point I was “trapping”, just skipping class and hanging in the studio with a cousin and his boys from campus. I closed down the studio, changed houses and that shift was difficult for me because I was going through withdrawals on so many levels and I had to be diligent with school work.

Also, I had a whole different issue with a friend I shared a business with for about six to seven years. We had to shut the business down because it wasn’t doing well and we were dealing with interpersonal issues as well, so we had to come to a split and that was very difficult. I lost of money and the relationship had changed, and within that same situation we had to deal with debts to a friend that also invested in our business. Emotionally too, I had to go through a break-up. My life was a mess during that period and it just reflected in everything I was writing. Even the beats I was making, I didn’t like them but that whole time just taught me true artistry, because I feel like being an artist is somebody who lives their life and expresses their experiences through their art-form.

Yeah, but that can be really difficult to do.

Yeah, but I had to learn how to do it in a way that I don’t really let it get the better of me, in the sense that I don’t let it deter me. It’s just about pouring it out and trying to move forward. I don’t think I’m expressing enough yet because, I was talking to M3nsa [solo artist and ½ of Fokn Bois] and he kept reiterating that I should try to be honest in my music, just be as natural as possible and stop hiding stuff, then you’ll be making music that’s not true to you. It might work, but is that the kind of music you want to do? Then I reflected on that and I realised that there was this kind of avoidant energy in the music, which led to me putting things in a complex manner rather than telling it as it is. At the end of the day, it wouldn’t make sense to someone who doesn’t know me or isn’t in the same wavelength. I’m still learning how to put things the way they are.

Are you bothered about reception, just from the mainstream standpoint?

I’m concerned but I wouldn’t say bothered. I’m just really starting off and it’s something I want to do for a very long time. You know how life works, I have bills to pay and I have to survive and music is expensive, so I’m concerned. But thing is, it’s only in giving value to people that I’m going to get back the investment in my music, like am I entertaining people? Am I provoking their thoughts? Is the music hitting them? That’s when I know I’m engaging them and they would want to share the music with their friends. At the end, I feel like authentic music is music you can grow with, music that will be timeless, so I would want to hold on to that and make music that feels good to me, sounds good to me, and I know I don’t have a terrible taste in music, so it’s going to feel good and sound good to somebody else.