Maverick Life

MUSIC

Pretoria’s Filah Lah Lah leads the charge on resurging R&B scene

Pretoria’s Filah Lah Lah leads the charge on resurging R&B scene
Filah Lah Lah. (Photo: Supplied)

The Pretoria native talks about her journey to self-assurance as both a woman and an artist, and why she is sure that her recently released debut album reflects this new confidence perfectly.

R&B is experiencing a resurgence in mainstream music, the likes of which we have not seen since the 1990s. Speak to any millennial and they’ll tell you tales of how they mopped floors and dusted cupboards while listening to Puff Johnson and Brandy.

The 2000s saw the rise of pop stars and bling rap before electronic dance music – begrudgingly for some – and trap had their time at the top in the 2010s. From an international standpoint, it was arguably the release of SZA’s Ctrl and Bryson Tiller’s Trapsoul that breathed new life into what was once the industry gold standard.

Amid the kwaito craze engulfing Mzansi, acts such as the late TK tempted the masses. She emerged as a local R&B heavyweight before tragedy struck and robbed the nation of her talent. The many who came after left their mark, but not as emphatically as R&B-heads would’ve loved.

Reabetswe Fila Ranamane, commonly known as Filah Lah Lah, has been bubbling under as the messianic figure to right history’s wrongs. After two critically acclaimed and well-received EPs, she’s released her debut album, On Air.

P19-Filah

The journey to this moment wasn’t straightforward.

Having started making music as a hobby while at university, she and her band at the time would perform at shows – something that kept her fire burning. Like most young independent artists, she experienced exploitation, but although it was hurtful, it fuelled the fire that bore her first EP, Filahsophy in 2020. Her sophomore project, We’re Gonna Be Just Fine, would rubber-stamp her as the R&B artist to watch a year later.

She hopes to achieve something even greater with her debut album.

“I have such a deep yearning to keep growing,” Filah explains. “As I started making On Air, I found myself uninterested in making my typical boy-crazy love songs. I started writing this new music and it was so much more affirming and speaking life into myself.”

Belle of the ball

The first two offerings spoke of an unsure and inquisitive young lady, but a steady sense of self-assurance highlights the growth she has experienced as an artist and as a woman, both of which she is sure are reflected on the album.

“The contents of this album have forced me to step into a ‘belle of the ball’ and really know that I am more capable of this thing I have always dreamed of, instead of seeing myself as undeserving.”

The final vote of confidence came in her signing with Sony for her first record deal. The famed label acknowledging the comeback the genre is experiencing and her undeniable talent are a match made in commercial R&B heaven.

“If we were to say a style of R&B that is the most commercialised, it’s trap soul. I leaned more towards that but still with a very Filah touch to it,” the Past Myself hitmaker said of one of her sonic inspirations for her debut LP.

Having grown up listening to the likes of Nina Simone, Miles Davis and Betty Wright, it comes as no surprise that her beloved fans – who are fighting over being called either the Filahsophers or the Lah Lahs – have become accustomed to the soothing yet powerful vocal performances layered with mesmeric falsettos and occasionally catchy rap performances that are so distinct to her.

“I was always different,” Filah says. “In the way I thought, played, dreamt, spoke and looked. It’s contextual, but there hadn’t been a moment in my life where I didn’t feel ‘other’. Music allows me to be ‘other’.”

Filah Lah Lah

Filah Lah Lah. (Photo: Supplied)

Visual power

Leaning into this difference has set Filah apart from her contemporaries – that and her prolific videos. On Air is slated to be the first R&B visual album from a South African crooner.

“What is always the resounding factor to becoming a visual heavy artist is intention,” says Filah. “It doesn’t matter what you’re making if your heart isn’t in it. Making a visual album is a crazy intention but I wanted it badly enough.”

The video for Call Me, the first single from the album, is rich in colour, playful in camera work and eye-catching in its direction and choreography. It is befitting of a song that has since earned a Metro FM Music Awards nomination in the Best R&B category.

This level of acknowledgement cements her spot in the mainstream music scene and, though a hotly contested category, she is brimming with gratitude.

Now, with the much-anticipated album out, the sky’s the limit for Filah.

“What excites me is putting out something we have been working on as long as we have,” she says before taking a deep, introspective breath, “and on a deeper level for me even longer because I’ve always wanted to make a project like this, but I didn’t have the right inner tools.

“People will get to really see the Super Saiyan version of Filah – the version of Filah I really want people to know.”

Fans can now stream On Air on all major platforms, and those who want to experience her live can do so when she opens for American singer-songwriter Mereba at the In the City festival at Constitutional Hill in Braamfontein, Johannesburg, on 4 May. DM

S’bo Gyre is a rapper and hip-hop artist.

This story first appeared in our weekly DM168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R35.

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