18 Aug Elo: The electric, pink-haired songstress owning her shine
“I think everyone should hear my music. I make really good music, I write good stuff and I work with really talented people. This is Elo, you know?”
The self-assured songstress sips off the last of a glass of fine wine and beams warmly, long pink braids cascading down her shoulders. It’s late afternoon and Sowetan-born Lerato Sellane, or Elo as she’s widely known, is chatting on about music, touring, and as all modern-day musicians do – personal branding.
“The dream would be for Elo aka Elo_Zar (the brand) to be a fully-fledged business. Right now I’m running Elo Dance Preps, an organisation which just kind of helps out those who can’t go to their matric dances, in any way they need. I also want to shift African music to be confident in itself enough to become its own industry,” she says before taking a breath and adding:
“The Elo_Zar brand must get to a place where we can build art schools and help people – just give back man. We don’t wanna be famous for the name-sake, we wanna assist.”
While her brand-centered dreams may still lie on the horizon, things are looking good for Elo as of late. Since going public with her music a few years back, her self-described ‘vock’ (rock-based music with a touch of jazz and pop) has branched out into dancehall tracks, electronic music, and even orchestral numbers at times. She’s taken her sound to far-flung stages in Texas, opened a few events locally, and most recently, Elo performed on the impressive Bashu Uhuru lineup, even belting out a few verses with the BLK JKS.
She’s an artist who loves to perform and it’s evident in more ways than one. From her impressive gig history to the off-the-cuff way she flips up a song on the radio and makes it her own from the passenger seat of an otherwise quiet car ride.
“When I was in school, my friends and I formed this group. We never really performed, but we’d always be writing songs,” she explains. “We’d just take a song by Brian McKnight for example and we’d mash it up with a kwaito track. Pretty soon we became those girls who were always singing in class and of course it irritated the teachers, but we couldn’t help it, it’s what we always wanted to do.”
Later, Elo would study music formally and be exposed to a number of genres, an experience to which she attributes her now-signature fluid and far-reaching sound to.
Outside of music she performs too. Take the surly-looking security guard from earlier in the day for example – “What are you doing? You aren’t allowed to take photographs here,” he barks at the photographer amongst us. “Oh it’s just two photos,” Elo fibs in a sugary voice. “They’re for my ID.” – and the photoshoot continues.
It’d be quite easy to think a personality like Elo’s has been in the making for most of her life, but as it goes, Elo wasn’t always this outgoing.
“I mean look, I think on a personal level my general issue is just being human,” she laughs. “I used to find myself being intimidated by other female elements. It happens you know, whether it stems from the schooling system or from the home, but I’m at a different place now and I’m not worried about another women’s light anymore.”
In a South African music scene that’s still growing into itself and one that’s still a far cry from being women-led, the musician believes in carrying this approach forward in her career, and it’s something she hopes others will do too. “I’m at a point where it’s like, look, if we’re gonna be in the scene as women, let’s not push each other out of the way, let’s all work together, let’s build and grow together,” she explains. “‘Be It’, which is still my favourite song, is like a sermon to myself. Every single time I’m in orbit it reminds me to be myself and not to be intimidated by other people. You don’t have to do that. Let their light shine on you and learn from them or collaborate with them you know? It’s been a serious journey for me.”
Most of that journey can be heard on her debut EP Elogram. From tracks including ‘Be It’ with its boldly declarative tale of isolation and loneliness as a result of forging new identities, to ‘Stare’ which delivers a shimmering retrospective of the artist’s younger years.
And what’s Elo’s role in Lerato’s journey? Are they separate at all?
“I dance between the two. Elo is just Lerato with pink hair, but actually…eish. No actually I’m just not sure.” She grapples with herself for a while before speaking as one would when discussing a good friend.
“Sometimes there’s more of Lerato in Elo’s writing and Elo is more of the performer of the work. I don’t find any need to be Elo at home, but for all the other times, I know I can be Elo, and what I can tell you is that for the next while I’ll definitely be pushing Elo a lot more. Big things are coming.”