Being a soul singer in a city full of folk and rock musicians doesn't seem like an ideal situation. There is a small community in Austin making names for themselves despite that. Alesia Lani has found a lane here, riding it all the way to the Austin City Limits Music Festival and Thailand.
If you grew up listening to Otis Redding, you might've belted out "Stand by Me" or did your best Duckie from Pretty in Pink impression to "Try a Little Tenderness." Lani—whose government name is Alesia Buchanan—did what most of us couldn't, she became a real soul singer. She grew up listening to Redding, Bobby Womack, Donny Hathaway, Sam Cooke, the R&B and soul greats, but her tastes aren't one-note. She also loves rock, counting Blink 182, Nirvana, and Green Day as a few of her favorites.
When talking to her, I could hear why so many people have sung her praises. She has a sweetness about her that is a combination of earth child and go-getter. A big believer in putting out what she wants into the universe whether it's her career or otherwise, she said "I'll make it happen or ill manifest it…there's no getting comfortable."
While she doesn't like expectations, she also doesn't like to get stuck doing the same thing. When the offer came for her to play another headlining show at Stubb's, she took a risk and didn't settle, she asked for what she wanted. What she wanted was to play ACL.
To my surprise, the Austin-raised singer had never been to ACL, let alone played there before. "I told myself I would never go if I wasn't performing." Manifesting and going after what she wants has worked for her, and she doesn't take it lightly. Playing the festival means another step forward, "It means a lot. I've seen my parents do it before me. Just to share the stage with all these artists…especially being an R&B artist."
As an R&B artist who doesn’t play an instrument, Lani often thinks the city looks down on her a little, but she doesn't let that stand in her way, "I don't play an instrument, but my voice is my instrument, shit." An instrument that she has been practicing since she was in school choirs dreaming of being 30 with her life together.
Now, getting closer to 30—her birthday is during ACL—she is using her instrument to connect to even more people. Her songs tackle personal issues and moments in her life that most of us wouldn't share with the world; some of them on her sophomore album Resilient. She wasn't too sure about sharing them either. Recognizing that some of her fans might have been going through similar things, she considered what it would mean to them. Hesitant, she ultimately decided she had to, "I didn't feel like I was being honest with my fans if I didn't."
Honesty flows through her work, as she has always written her own music, only recently working with co-writers. On tracks like "Zai's Poem", she boasts her skills as a black woman, mother, and artist dealing with everything and still fighting on. This spoken-word piece ties together the experiences and life lessons she explores on the album. An album that varies in genre and style, she shows her versatility and potential.
Her hard work and resilience has made her one to watch, drawing the attention of not only the ACL producers but the folks behind Project ATX6; a documentary film project and music export program. Lani will be heading on her first tour, traveling with five other Austin musicians to international music festivals. They'll be stopping in Canada, Thailand, and England. Besides the opportunity to play on international stages, she's most looking forward to the street food, massages, and hiking. "I've always been adventurous," she proclaimed. Liking to hike, camp, and go on trails, she reminisced about going to Camp Coca-Cola in middle school.
With awards, an international tour, and a spot at one of the country's biggest music festivals, she is certainly one of Austin's rising stars. All of that hasn't gone to her head though, and she isn't dwelling on when she's going to "make it". "When the moment comes, I'll feel it. I'm just happy I get to do what I love. I just take it a day at a time, I don't like expectations." Her relaxed but diligent attitude has brought her this far, what's next might just surprise you.
"When I pick songs to cover, I usually pick mens songs, that's a piece of trivia. They expect me to do Erykah Badu…I don't want to give them what they are expecting. That's like going to karaoke and singing R&B, it's cheating."
You can check out Alesia Lani’s music online at AlesiaLaniMusic.com.
Shade is a pop culture enthusiast with a love of all things music, especially the 80s. With eclectic music tastes, she’s seen everyone from the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra to George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic. One of the highlights of her life is going to Iceland to cover a music festival. If you see her at a concert, see if you can convince her that Backstreet Boys was better than *NSYNC.