As Katy Perry’s back-up singer for eight years, Elle B can testify about what it’s like to feed off the energy of throngs of fans. But for the South African leg of Perry’s Witness: The Tour concerts at the Ticketpro Dome next week, Elle B will not just be a testifier for Perry’s star power. She will be performing her own solo songs.
I catch up with the singer-songwriter - whose real name is Lauren Ball - while she is in Nairobi, Kenya. Sporting micro-braids and an infectious smile, the Los Angeles-raised artist tells me how she wound up in East Africa.
“What started as an artistic sabbatical has become a bit of an ‘Am I staying here or am I not staying here’ kind of situation,” she starts. “I left the tour with Katy in February and thought I’d go to New York and settle.
“I wanted to travel for a bit and kind of decompress and just be in a place where I didn’t have too many distractions so that I could write and get on my path.
“I always wanted to come to Nairobi and have been interested in the afro-house movement. So Nairobi was the first stop and three months later, I’m still here,” she laughs.
Upon hearing her sing in 2009, Perry promptly hired Elle B as her lead backing vocalist and they have been working together since 2010.
In 2016, Elle B released the Noire EP and shot the cover of that EP in the Dead Sea with an iPhone. Her DIY approach to all things to do with her music makes me ask her if her current home is inspiring her to make a new sound.'
“Kenya is interesting because when people think of African music, the West African sound is still pretty dominant. But with Kenya, it’s cool because the sound is still very soulful and r&b and reggae influenced, which is my vibe.
“I use to travel to access my inspiration, so being here in this new environment is inspiring me.”
It’s been two years since she released the EP that put her on the map as a solo artist. Now, Elle B is working on a follow-up filled with West coast vibes, R&B and afrobeats called Noire Blue. “As a concept, Noire has been about self-discovery and personal identity. Noire with an e at the end of the spelling makes it feminine and it’s like the black woman.
“Through the experiences, I’ve had touring and travelling and becoming a citizen of the world has challenged who I am. It’s a huge mirror for me. Through my songwriting, I am still exploring what it looks like to be a free, black woman living on her own terms.
“Noire Blue means black and blue and it is one of several EPs I will release,” she continues. “After this, it will be Noire D’or - which is black and gold - and I may finish with an idea I have for Noire Blanche.
“It’s a departure from an old self and revealing a new self, but black and blue plays on this notion of me being a fighter and the war wounds you get when you’re really trying to access your identity. The themes deal with that in an empowering way and I’m trying to not make it sorrowful.”
One of the songs she’s already put out is L-I-O-N, which is about her father - and has nothing to do with Perry’s Roar. This is one of the songs she’s going to perform in Mzansi.
“At the concerts, people should expect to dance,” Elle B says. “None of my new songs fall under 90bpm. The songs are relatable because you can get through anything with the soundtrack of your life. I’d love to have pantsula dancers with me because it fits my natural groove, especially being from the West Coast where we have crip-walking. Basically, I want it to feel like you’re just at a good party.”
Catch Elle B at Katy Perry’s Witness: The Tour concerts at the Ticketpro Dome on July 18, 20 and 21. Tickets at bigconcerts.co.za