In the video for her current single “Where I’m Coming From,” singer Lila Iké returns to her rural roots, the Christiana area of Manchester parish, located in south-central Jamaica. Throughout the 4:32 clip, family, life-long friends and a wider community surround Lila, who has in the past few years emerged from her small-town background to become one of Jamaica’s most buzzed about young talents. The video was shot at her family home, the bar/shop her mother owns and even a small room she once rented; those segments are juxtaposed with footage of Lila singing at her high school graduation.
“Every scene in the video shows a specific era of my journey because I want people to know who I really am. Everyone in the video has known me since I was a baby, they know I was raised by a single mom, and the struggles she’s been through; when we filmed in the bus park where my mother’s bar is located or at the (outdoor) market, I was shocked to see how many people showed up and were genuinely happy for me,” Lila told Billboard during a recent visit to New York City. “The video’s flashy scenes, where I am wearing a (faux) fur, a suit and pulling up in a jeep shows people that you can be poor, come from a small town and still find success.”
The driver of the open-air jeep in the video is also the person primarily responsible for the attention her captivating, soulful vocals are receiving: her mentor Protoje. A 2019 best reggae album Grammy nominee for A Matter of Time (In.Digg.Nation Collective/Easy Star Records), Protoje has become a marquee name in contemporary Jamaican music, playing The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and influencing numerous artists, including Koffee (he appears in her “Toast” video) and Chronixx, with whom he has collaborated on several singles.
Lila Iké’s video for “Where I’m Coming From,” directed by Nickii Kane, debuts below.
Protoje and Lila’s working relationship began in 2017 when he contacted her on social media. “Protoje reached out to me on Twitter and said he heard one of my songs, he loved it and we need to link; I thought, is this the real Protoje?” Lila laughed. “I went to his home studio, he played some riddims (rhythm tracks) and I freestyled the ideas for ‘Biggest Fan’ and ‘Gotti Gotti.’ So, our linkup gave birth to my first two singles, our working together and my being here in New York now.”
Protoje, with support from his team (his mother Lorna Bennett, a former singer, Claire Osman and Jamila Pinto) manage Lila, and another dynamic young female artist, Sevana, but neither artist is signed to his label In.Digg.Nation Collective (Osman manages the label’s day-to-day operations in Kingston). “All our music comes out on my label, but I don’t want to tie them into a label contract, because we are all independent artists, myself included,” Protoje told Billboard following his May 4 set at the Tmrw.Tday festival in Negril, Jamaica, where Lila and Sevana also performed. Protoje, Lila and Sevana were in New York City ahead of Protoje’s headlining Celebrate Brooklyn! Concert in Prospect Park, which drew over 5,000 people, according to organizers. When asked specifically about working with Lila, he told Billboard, “When me hear talent, me know it and the first time me go to the studio with Lila, the vibe of her songs was so strong, me get goosebumps. Lila can write, she can sing, her talent is enormous and people are going to hear it because you can’t contain it.”
Lila Iké was born Alecia Grey, the second oldest of four sisters; she chose the name Lila, which means blooming flower, and Iké, a Yoruba word meaning the Power of God. Her mother, an avid music fan, played an assortment of genres at home: reggae, country and western, R&B, gospel and jazz, which was significant in shaping the vocal versatility that characterizes Lila’s traditional reggae sound with a glistening modern edge. “Dancehall was the only music my mother didn’t play at home because its lyrics (sometimes) aren’t really child friendly, so when I started writing my own songs, I wrote conscious lyrics that my mother would want to play in the house,” said the singer. Recognizing the financial stress her mother endured providing for four children, Lila quit Northern Caribbean University in Mandeville, about 40 minutes from Christiana, where she was studying to become a teacher, and found work at a call center in Kingston, over two hours away. Lila, admittedly, didn’t know what a call center was, nonetheless, she relocated to Jamaica’s capital, determined to make her own way and pursue her dream of a musical career. Lila performed wherever she could, including at open mic Saturday nights at Jamnesia, a seaside venue (located in Bull Bay, about 20 minutes outside of Kingston) where many Jamaican artists who have shot to prominence over the past 10 years honed their performing skills, including Chronixx, Jah9, Kabaka Pyramid, NoMaddz, Raging Fyah and Protoje.
Last fall, Lila returned to Jamnesia for her first headlining performance, a showcase curated by the Jamaica Music Conference (JMC), an annual reggae industry gathering held at various locations around Kingston. “I wanted Lila for a JMC showcase because she is currently one of Jamaican music’s most exciting artists,” comments JMC co-founder Joan “Nanook” Webley, also the founder of Women in Music Jamaica collective. “Lila’s songwriting and vocals are on point and her performances are authentic and engaging because she’s comfortable sharing her story with the world. We would love to have her back at the JMC 2020; she’s had an exciting year and it would be interesting to hear her speak more about her journey.”
Lila has incorporated her journey in each of the songs she has released so far. “Biggest Fan” movingly recounts her mother’s initial resistance toward her musical pursuits, which has now given way to her unwavering support; “Gotti Gotti” draws from her grandmother’s warnings about the perils of greed; “Second Chance” is a heart-wrenching yet sultry depiction of love gone wrong and “Where I’m Coming From,” ultimately an anthem of strength, was born out of her tribulations including the two years spent working at the call center, which Lila says was “the most depressing time of my life.” A trap influenced reggae single produced by Kasadie “Caspa” Jones, “Where I’m Coming From” is already eliciting strong responses. “The reactions to Lila and her new single have been palpable and positive; she makes an immediate connection with people,” comments Easy Star Records’ CEO and co-founder Eric Smith. “With her performance in Prospect Park during Protoje’s set, we were struck by how many people were singing lines from the song. There was a real sense that the crowd understood they were seeing an exciting new talent emerge.”
Lila will embark on her first headlining European tour on July 25 with her as of yet unnamed band; she also intends to begin work on her debut EP once she and Protoje return to Jamaica following their respective summer tours. “One of my greatest blessings is working with a man who is empowering women, so I have no doubt I will become the woman in music I want to be,” Lila shared. “I realize that the more I write about personal experiences, the more people gravitate towards me. I have gotten so many messages about ‘Where I’m Coming From’ from people going through struggles. The music I grew up listening to, people sang about things they have seen and felt, and in years to come, I hope people will say, man, when Lila sings, you can feel everything.”