Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large
The South African musician and singer Lira is one of the performers at Barack Obama's inaugural celebrations. PABALLO THEKISO / AFP
The South African musician and singer Lira is one of the performers at Barack Obama's inaugural celebrations. PABALLO THEKISO / AFP

African diva to sing for Obama what she sang for Mandela

Obama's inaugural celebrations tomorrow will feature the multi-platinum South African singer Lira

South Africa's Lira will be among many performers at Barack Obama's inaugural celebrations tomorrow, but she is determined to be remembered for a performance to rival Marilyn Monroe's wooing of John F Kennedy.

The multi-platinum artist hopes to give Obama and other guests at the Ambassadors' Inaugural Ball in Washington something as memorable, but perhaps not as racy, as Monroe's Happy Birthday, Mr President.

"I am going to concentrate on seeing how I can make it special, not only for me," said the 33-year-old, whose real name is Lerato Molapo.

Lira has chosen to play Obama a song that she has previously performed for a president: Something Inside So Strong by Labi Siffre. "I played that song for president Mandela in 2010. It was his favourite song when he was still incarcerated," Lira said.

The song features lyrics laced with meaning for a free South African who grew up in an apartheid township performing for the United States' first black president. It opens: "The higher you build your barriers / the taller I become / The farther you take my rights away / The faster I will run."

"It was a song about the struggle of the native Africans during apartheid," she said. "I saw it as a great present for the president and I am singing it for Obama in the same spirit."

At her Johannesburg studio during recent rehearsals for the ball, Lira admitted she has been a little nervous. "I am feeling very confident now, I was overwhelmed and a little bit nervous, but I think we have prepared a beautiful show," she said.

She has packed several elegant jackets for the North American winter and the dress, by the South African designer David Tlale, that she will wear in one of the most important moments of her career.

But her thoughts about the trip to Washington have little to do with the razzle-dazzle of show business.

She recounts the emotion of watching Obama's first inauguration in Kenya, where the president's father was born.

"The whole country stood still and was celebrating Obama. It was beautiful," she said. "Obama represents possibility, what is possible for an African child out there. We Africans always needed help, but time is turning. We want to be equal, we want to be excellent in what we do, we want to play in the global field." - AFP

Back to the top

More articles

Editor's Picks

 This comparison image shown on Reddit annotated the objects with vehicles from the movies.

What Star Wars fans say is going on in Abu Dhabi’s desert

We may still not know exactly what The National caught pictures of in the Abu Dhabi desert last week, but the online community has had plenty to say. Here are some of the best bits.

 Jennifer Grout will compete against seven other celebrities in Your Face Sounds Familiar. Joseph Eid / AFP

Jennifer Grout on competing in the new show Your Face Sounds Familiar and her rise to fame

Jennifer Grout is set to wow Arab audiences once again in the new MBC talent show Your Face Sounds Familiar. Saeed Saeed speaks to the American about her success story

 From left to right: Greg Churchouse, Roy Stride and Peter Ellard of Scouting For Girls. Ian Gavan / Getty Images

Sandance returns in May

Sandance is heading back to Dubai in May with a line-up that includes Arrested Development, Scouting for Girls, the Pet Shop Boys and Fatboy Slim, plus the Saudi DJ Omar Basaad and local acts.

 Jedi Master Yoda in 'Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith'. Lucasfilm / Twentieth Century Fox / AP

Star Wars shooting in Abu Dhabi rumours gain traction

What started out on Sunday as an optimistic rumour that Star Wars Episode 7 is set to shoot in Abu Dhabi is seemingly gathering traction as the week progresses.

 A boy waters plants in the yard of a restaurant in the Colombian village of Aracataca. Yellow butterflies make an apperance in the book. Eitan Abramovich / AFP photo

Mourning and memories in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s languid hometown

Mourning and memories in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s hometown of Aracataca, Columbia.

 Shah Rukh Khan plays a shot during a friendly match between the members of the support and administrative staff of Royal Challengers Bangalore and his Kolkata Knight Riders cricket team. Dibyangshu Sarkar / AFP

When the worlds of Bollywood and cricket collide

With the first game of the Indian Premier League beginning today in the UAE, we explore the league’s Bollywood connections, which are as glitzy as they are controversial.


To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National