The Soul Seen: Lisala

The Soul Seen is a retrospective of features that appeared on ISPYSOUL during its acclaimed initial run. These features provide a snapshot in time of key moments in the careers, from fledgling to legendary, of several creative and talented artists. The projects featured are older now, but no less significant. The insights and perspectives they shared, speak to their success and as you will find still resonate today.

Many of you may not know the extraordinary vocalist Lisala Beatty or Lisala as she is commonly known, but you should. Just ask the very many who do by way of her work over the years with the super talented singer/songwriter/producer Angela Johnson or renowned collective Burnt Sugar. You might also ask those who became instant fans of Lisala, the artist, upon the release of her then debut release Get It, which features a crafted sound she calls Grit Soul. Well, lucky for you it seems after years of lending her splendid vocals to others she’s reviving up the solo machine again as well. We’re excited to say the least and looking forward to whatever she delivers. A few days ago she released a video of a stunningly creative acapella cover of Michael Jackson’s hit, Burn This Disco Out that appears below. This and the news of her impending solo return has encouraged us to revisit our interview feature with Lisala done upon the release of her debut. Many things have changed since then, but Lisala is absolutely still a talent you should know.

And below our first look from the original ISPYSOUL feature WATCH CLOSELY, 2003

Lisala
True Grit

Taking chances. Ever think about what would happen if some didn’t? If some didn’t step out on a limb or follow an inner voice. Look beyond convention or move beyond barriers. If outstanding songstress, Lisala Beatty or as she is commonly known, Lisala, hadn’t done any of that, let’s just say we’d be deprived of knowing a tremendous talent. But because she has an amazing vocalist with a distinctive musical approach, finely accomplished and undeniably soulful, is on the scene. Shaking it up in fact with a sound she calls “Grit Soul.” It’s that sound that’s the essence of her impressive debut release, aptly titled, Get It, a novel blend of funky syncopation and futuristic accents that artfully create arresting grooves and backdrop for the key element, Lisala’s vocals – deft, dynamic and riveting. It’s a brew that’s undeniably her own and certainly stands apart from the lions share of emerging soul artists.

As Lisala describes it, “[Grit Soul] is definitely a combination of influences. For me, as a child, I definitely listened predominately to R&B and soul music, but then I also was very much exposed to other types of music – classical, jazz, gospel as well. What I found that I was always most attracted to were singers and music that just really moved you. The music that made you say, ‘yeah, that’s what I wanted to hear, that’s what I’m talking about!’ whether it’s by connecting with the voice or even just the musicians and their feeling in the music. The one way that I can describe it is that you just grit your teeth at something that is really good. That gut feeling, that grit that makes you really, really open up to the music. When I write, I’m going for that. I’m going for something that catches you by surprise – just kind of hits you – something that someone can feel.”

Indeed the talented singer/songwriter, who calls Brooklyn, NY home, has been blessed with a powerful voice and healthy range you can’t help but feel – A voice that has drawn comparison to soul diva and a Lisala favorite, Chaka Khan. In fact, an endearing nod to the renowned singer comes by way of a splendidly reworked version of the Rufus hit, “Tell Me Something Good” on, Get It. Upon hearing her on that track and the rest that make up the ambitious debut it’s hard to believe she almost resigned her tremendous gift to performance around the house in favor of a career in advertising. After graduating from the prestigious Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, the pressures of expectation that come with that distinction along with some honest assessments of her life and mind state, moved the pursuit of a career in music way out of consideration’s reach for a time.

“I definitely was like ok, this is what I was supposed to do,” says Lisala. “ I went to a good school, now I’ve got this degree and I’ve got to use it.” That brought her to the not so artistic world of advertising sales and away from creating and performing. “It was a combination of things for me,” she continues. “Wanting to deal with all the practical elements of life and being able to be independent, support myself. And, there was also a lot of fear. Fear of rejection, but also of success musically and what that would mean for my life. I also knew my musical ear was not always what was [considered] mainstream. I knew that would be a factor as well.”

Ironically, for someone who had previously performed a great deal, especially during her high school days, as part of a vocal troupe influenced significantly by the music of the extraordinary a cappella ensemble, Sweet Honey in the Rock, there was one more thing she admits was a hurdle.

“I almost didn’t like to stand out that much. I was more comfortable in just going on and putting [music] aside,” says Lisala. “I always continued to sing around the house and be into music, but I was not thinking this is something I should really look at more seriously.”

Fortunately, by the urging of a friend, she pursued an opportunity to sing with a talented vocalist from the New York area, Tamar Kali, who was in need of a background singer for an impending gig. That experience ultimately served as the ideal situation for Lisala.

Okay, sure sure, background singer, no pressure, I can do that”, she remembers thinking. Needless to say the performance re-introduced Lisala to fond feelings of old. “Being on stage”, she recalls, “I was automatically reminded of how many times I had been on the stage as a kid and all the good feelings of that. Once that happened, I said ‘ok, you know? This is something I definitely should not have ignored.’” Soon after she joined the cutting–edge, critically acclaimed collective, Burnt Sugar and has not looked back since. Along the way, she has also added to her credits performing with standout artists such as Angela Johnson and musician/producer and noted Gil Scott Heron collaborator, Brian Jackson. Now, she can add a credential only a short while ago seemed improbable – recording artist.

“It’s an exciting time. It’s a scary time,” laughs Lisala. But I’m just so thankful and looking forward to getting out there, performing and getting a feel for the response.” See what can happen, when you take a chance.

bert Caldwell

copyright iSPYSOUL all rights reserved

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