Little seems to hold back Lachi, a prolific New York City-based recording artist, songwriter, and diversity inclusion advocate. Interviewed by ABILITY ten years ago, she has since expanded her music repertoire, recording a wide variety of music, influenced by multiple genres, and reflective of her many passions. She has released songs with SONY and Warner Music, collaborating with and supported by some of the biggest names in the dance music industry. Her current singles are “Messages,” with Be Yourself Music, and “Genius” by LSD and newest single “Bigger Plans” with Swutch Records.
The daughter of Nigerian immigrants, she was born in Maryland with a congenital visual impairment. Music became a natural outlet for her. She has since synthesized, if you will, her considerable musical talent with advocacy work, performing at disability pride events and focusing on “disability visibility” on national diversity and inclusion panels. ABILITY’s Laura Wheeler caught up with the busy artist to discuss her latest creative endeavors, upbringing, and advocacy work.
Wheeler: Lachi, does it have a significance or a meaning?
Lachi: I go by Lachi. I try as much as I can not to go by my government name, however, the Streisand effect continues to haunt me. My middle name is Ulachi. It means ring of God. Not sure I live up to that.
Wheeler: What language is it from?
Lachi: It’s Igbo.
Wheeler: Oh, my gosh! Nigeria, Igbo!
Lachi: Yes. My parents are Nigerian. They came to America in the late ’70s. I grew up in a combination of west Philadelphia, upstate New York, and North Carolina. I was born in Baltimore. I eventually made my way back here to New York City. I chose the name Lachi because growing up I went by my first name, and I was very shy. Becoming an award nominated recording artist was not in my sights at the time; it’s not that I am totally blind. But a lot of people looked at me like, “Is she not smart?” As opposed to, “Oh, she must be visually impaired.”
When I moved to New York City, I decided to change my name to Lachi, and began to turn into the person I am now; who is a complete 180 degrees from the young girl I was. Totally loud, totally obnoxious. I’m the type of person people switch tables for because I laugh so loud. (laughs) Right! I love telling jokes and stories. I just wasn’t that before. It’s about leaving the nest and realizing that you can reinvent yourself.
Wheeler: When did you start getting into music?
Lachi: I was always into music, ever since I was very young. The story is that my mom bought a keyboard for my older sister. I think I was about three or four, and my sister threw it away because she wasn’t into music. She wanted to be a dancer. So I picked it out of the garbage and started learning how to use it. But I’ve been playing the keys and writing songs for as long as I can remember.
I would get all of my stuffed animals, put them in a big group make them sing. They weren’t very good— (laughs) —the alto section was always flat (laughter), but they were very disciplined. When I told them to be quiet, they were.
I spent a lot of my time in a corner, writing, reading, creating music, creating poetry. The real creative side of myself was highly nurtured growing up, while other kids were out playing soccer or doing whatever they do.
Wheeler: Who do you work with?
Lachi: For my music, I am currently signed to a management agency called Big Management. I’ve been with them for about four years. Sadly, the manager I worked closely with at that agency, Gary Salzman, passed away due to COVID-19 in April. It was rough because we were close.
In terms of organizations, I’ve been tangentially working with, I have done work with Respectability.org. I’m part of their national speakers bureau, speaking to businesses and charities about disability inclusion. I’ve also been working with an organization called Divas with Disabilities. I love their concept, dealing with women of color who have disabilities and raising them up in media. I have also been working closely with different disability pride festivals who put on pride events in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania—generally the northeast.
I could go on forever. I’m working a lot with inclusive fashion brands and stylists, like Diversity Styling. If I have a show, I’ll try to wear garments by a disability-inclusive brand at my shows.
Wheeler: That’s a great idea!
Lachi: Yeah. That’s been really fun. There’s another organization called Eye Inspire. They are relatively new, but I love the woman running it, Yvette Chivers. She’s a blind DJ friend of mine. They’e teaching young kids who are visually impaired or have sight loss about music and self-empowerment. They’re based out in Europe.
Wheeler: Where in Europe?
Lachi: In the UK.
Wheeler: So, music became an outlet for you early on?
Lachi: It definitely became a way for me to express my emotions. I would write songs about the things I felt and saw, about other people’s experiences that I internalized. It was definitely a way for me to express myself.
Wheeler: Do you play anything besides the keyboard?
Lachi: I noodle on the guitar, but I also get my nails done, so— (laughs)
Wheeler: Yeah, that’s not easy when you’ve got nails.
Lachi: Right. I own a ukulele. But keyboard is my main instrument, as well as my vocal cords.
Wheeler: I was reading your website and listening to your music, I know you said you listened to a lot of Beatles and Radiohead and others. I hear a lot of different multicultural influences in your music, which is really cool in my opinion. I even found where you had done a recording with an Israeli and a Moroccan musician.
Lachi: Oh, yes! (laughs)
Wheeler: Tell me about some of the different influences on your music and how they came about.
Lachi: Like you mentioned, I have a very eclectic sense of music, especially when it comes to influences. Growing up there was a lot of Beatles, Radiohead, Alicia Keyes, and Lauren Hill. Very eclectic. But my mother, in her secret scheme to turn me into a virtuoso pianist, got me Beethoven, Mozart and Chopin as well. One of my biggest influences in terms of songwriting is definitely Sia. I was a fan of hers for a long time, and finally the world started realizing her talents as well.
And as well, being Nigerian, we listened to Nigerian music, all the time. Whenever there are family gatherings or reunions, we whip it out. My mom would whip it out early in the morning while cooking breakfast.
Wheeler: Who were some of the Nigerian musicians you all listened to the most?
Lachi: My mom would listen to a lot of the praise and worship music. I could sing them for you, but I couldn’t name names right now. I am into the more modern music. A lot of Nigerians are hooking up with Western musicians to make some great music.
Wheeler: There have been a lot of cool collaborations.
Lachi: There’s been a lot of great collaborations. Falz did a “This Is Nigeria” rendition of “This Is America.” Jay-Z went over there to collaborate, Wyclef, DJ Khaled. They’re recognizing that Nigeria is a force in music.
Wheeler: Growing up, you got into music. Did you always know that’s what you wanted to do for a profession?
Lachi: When I was young, I told myself, not only do I want to be a musician with a big fancy manager, but I want to be a writer with a big fancy agent. And I want to dabble in acting. That was the dream.
My parents told me to have a backup plan of course. And having a disability, they wanted me to secure a job out here in this crazy world. They were like, “Look, you’re also really good at math. We just want to make sure you get paid and we don’t have to take care of you forever.” (laughs)
Because my parents were immigrants, they said, “Hey, you’re an immigrant. Make sure you make it, because that’s why we came here.” (laughs) The age-old adage of Asian or African parents pushing for their kids to be doctors and lawyers. I was good at math, so my dad pushed for me to be an accountant, so I majored in economics and management.
Wheeler: Was that at the University of North Carolina (UNC)?
Lachi: Yes. I found music as a huge outlet there and joined the glee club.
Wheeler: And you founded a group, didn’t you?
Lachi: Yes. I studied abroad for a semester in the UK…
Lachi: At Canterbury. I opened up there a lot. Europe was new and different.
Wheeler: Europe is so different, and it’s so disability-friendly, isn’t it?
Lachi: The thing I liked about it was that it was not a thing. Nobody cared.
Wheeler: Exactly. That’s been my experience, too. No one cares. It’s refreshing.
Lachi: Yes. But it’s kind of a two-way street. Sometimes you need people to care a little.
Wheeler: That’s true.
Lachi: The benefits of people not caring definitely outweigh people being overly sensitive. But yeah, when I returned I founded the UNC Cadence with a few friends. They’re still alive today, which I’m very proud of. As I got more musically popular at UNC, people were like, “What are you doing here?” (laughs) I started playing around town. I would host “piano nights” in my dorm hall, where people would come and request songs for me to play. It would get very rowdy, crowded, and fun. Eventually people started hiring me to play actual shows.
So I went to my counselor and I said, “I want to move to New York. What do you think?” He says, “Go! If that’s what you want to do, go do it!” So I did. I went to NYU. I loved everything about New York from the second I set foot. I went with nothing but the money for the bus ticket. (laughs) I was immediately in love, from the easy transportation — I moved up from North Carolina, where transportation is slow, and everyone knows everyone else. It was great to be in a sea of random people. And obviously, it’s the music capital of the world. They say if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere. I knew that once I got a foothold somewhere, I would be good. I could feel that in the bones of the city.
Wheeler: What’s your favorite borough in New York?
Lachi: Everyone’s going to hate this answer, but it’s Manhattan. I live here.
Wheeler: I’ve been in New York a couple of times. Nothing wrong with Manhattan.
Lachi: I’ve lived in several different areas in Manhattan, in East Harlem, Lower East Side, near NYU, Greenwich Village, near NYU.
I lived in Hell’s Kitchen, very rowdy and fun, clubs in walking distance. And I lived there during a really good time in my life, right after I graduated. Now I live in Lenox Hill. It’s quieter, older people. I’m a bit young for this area, but I like that it’s quiet here. If I want to go dancing or to a show, I can come home and sleep it off.
Wheeler: Probably a little more peaceful than Hell’s Kitchen.
Lachi: Yes, thank you! A place called Hell’s Kitchen? Come on!
Wheeler: I was just curious, because everyone I’ve ever met from New York has their favorite spots. I feel like, in a way, the whole city has a lot of personality, but I always feel like I learn something about someone’s personality based on where their favorite spots are.
Lachi: That’s true. I have done short stints in Queens and in Brooklyn. When I first moved to New York, I moved to Queens, near Steinway. The boroughs, as you know, have all have their own different numbering systems. I was in Queens on 42nd and Broadway. If you know New York, you know that, in Manhattan, 42nd and Broadway is smack dab in the center — Times Square. But I was living on 42nd and Broadway in Queens and told all my friends that I lived on 42nd and Broadway! (laughs) They said, “How can you afford that?” I’m like, “I don’t know, I found a good price.” And then they’d come and visit like, “Uhm, this is Queens.” “Yeah, sorry. I forgot to tell you that part.” (laughs)
Wheeler: I know that along with singing you also do acting. How did you break into that?
Lachi: I do. I was told I’ve got a great speaking voice and to look into voiceover acting. I shopped my voiceover reel, and started booking voiceover gigs. A lot of my VoiceOver focus is corporate and narrative, accompanying in-house informationals. I would love to break into animation, for sure. That just hasn’t happened yet. But that is definitely one of my goals.
In terms of speaking or being on a panels, ever since I started being open about my disability, the speaking on that topic was a natural next step. I’m so ensconced in the music industry right now, and I’m seeing how empty it is of people with disabilities. It’s not purposeful, they just have no idea. So I receive a lot of: “Hey, Lachi, you’re the only person I know with a disability. Can you tell us more about your experience?”
Wheeler: It sounds like you just take advantage of the opportunities in front of you..
Lachi: It’s kind of a “yes/and” sort of lifestyle, which I sometimes just can’t help.
Wheeler: What kinds of advocacy have you done? What kinds of spheres of influence have you been able to advocate in?
Lachi: I focus a lot on disability advocacy, but with a focus on representation in entertainment and media. One of my favorite things to do is guest-speak or moderate a panel in front of mainstream audiences that would otherwise not be familiar with the disability sphere. For example, I recently moderated a panel for an organization called Women in Music — an international organization filled with major label executives, top-tier agents, and award-winning artists. It’s a nonprofit, so they aim to remain educated and informed, and allow each other to rise up in the industry. It’s a very powerful network.
They had a diversity discussion a few weeks back, and I approached them and said, “Your diversity discussion did not include disability. It seemed highly favored towards gender, race, and religion but not disability.” They said, “Hey, you know what? We want to have a disability-specific panel and we would like for you to moderate it.” It was a high-visibility spot for women in music who have a disability, so I am very honored to have brought that about and been a part.
Wheeler: Is it something that will be online and people can watch? How would someone go about seeing it?
Lachi: Yes. It is online for people to watch. I’ve done and am doing many others on the same topic.
Wheeler: What have I not touched on that you would want readers to know about?
Lachi: I work in electronic dance music as a vocalist. Anyone who read my previous article in ABILITY knows that I started out in the alternative pop arena. But I’ve found the dance scene to be a really great place for me to express myself.
Also the EDM recording industry it’s very remote. A producer can create a track in his studio and a singer can create his or her topline in their studio and fly it back to the producer. This method of project managing has been very useful. When COVID hit, my life didn’t change much.
Wheeler: And you just put out an album, didn’t you?
Lachi: I’ve put out a single called “Bigger Plans,” with Swutch Records, a very uplifting tune. Not all of my songs focus on self-empowerment, but they are definitely about being a confident badass. (laughs)
And another project I’ve recently released is “Genius” originally by LSD (Labrinth, Sia, and Diplo). I arranged an a cappella cover of the pop song and had Mezzo, a female a cappella group, perform the arrangement. They did a really great job. The song is a mash-up with Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. A nod to Sia and Beethoven, two huge influences in my life. That song came out September and I appear as a featured artist rapping in there somewhere.
Wheeler: Where is it at?
Lachi: It’s released online at Spotify, SoundCloud, Apple, Amazon.
Wheeler: What do you see yourself doing in the next year, the next couple of years?
Lachi: I’m passionate about advocacy, whether it be music advocacy, advocating for artists, women in music, people with disabilities in music or in entertainment in general, or just advocating for people with disabilities, period. I will always be a musician at heart, and I will always continue to excel in my music career. I hope to continue to work with great names and put out bigger and bolder music. But just about a month ago, I got the amazing opportunity to meet with Senator Schumer’s and Congresswoman Maloney’s offices, to talk about passing some of the legislative acts that are specific to musicians. Such opportunities are the most fulfilling. I get into that flow state when you’re doing something you just know God wants you to do. (laughs)
Of course, music is my bread and butter, the fuel for everything I do. I would always love to excel in music. But advocacy has been my calling, and I will continue to grow and rise in that aspect as well.
Wheeler: You want to get into animation, too?
Lachi: At the end of the day, I am a huge, very talented personality with a lot to say, not to toot my own horn. (laughs) It’s kind of like, recognize that I’m a great force for good when it comes to showcasing disability talent.
Wheeler: Before I let you go, I’ll just rapid-fire some random questions.
Wheeler: Favorite vacation spot?
Lachi: St. Petersburg, Russia.
Wheeler: Have you been to the church with the golden dome?
Lachi: Yes! I have!
Wheeler: When I was there, I got to go inside that church, and they gave me a tactile tour. I got to touch all the 3D models.
Lachi: Oh, nice!
Wheeler: I can’t believe you said St. Petersburg, Russia.
Lachi: It’s my favorite place ever as globe-trotter.
Wheeler: Favorite memory?
Lachi: Oh, wow! Yikes! I did a song with Markus Schulz. He’s big in Trance Music. On a cruise ship concert, he played a set and randomly started playing the song we did, and said, “Lachi, come up!” So I came up, despite vertigo, and we sang the song in front of the cruise ship crowd with a really cool Manhattan backdrop. A super fun recent memory.
Wheeler: What are your hobbies?
Lachi: I would consider arranging a cappella a hobby of mine, though I do it professionally too. I love to write novels as as well.
Wheeler: What’s your favorite snack food?
Lachi: I like to eat almonds draped with a melted layer of Firefly Farm’s Bloom Breeze cheese.
Wheeler: Are you a morning person or a night owl?
Lachi: Both. I don’t sleep. I wake up at 6:30 a.m. and I go to sleep at 2:00 a.m. I’m pretty sure that’s not good.
Wheeler: I would assume you’re a heavy coffee drinker, then? What’s your favorite coffee?
Lachi: I have Caribou that I use with my Keurig.
Wheeler: What are three things that you would say are on the bucket list of your life that you have yet to accomplish?. For me, I want to go skydiving and/or drive a Formula One car.
Lachi: (laughs) Yes! I would love to win a Grammy. I’ve always wanted to do something crazy like swim across the Niagara. You know? They’d be like, “Blind woman swims across the Niagara.” I’d be like, “That was me! I did that!” (laughs)
On my backlog-bucket list? I’d love to be a DJ. It doesn’t quite fit anywhere in my current life plan.
Wheeler: Hey, maybe it will some day. You never know. Who are some of the most interesting people you’ve had a chance to record with?
Lachi: I have a song with Snoop Dogg. My trance song was heavily supported by Armin van Buuren, another huge name in trance. I’ve opened for Patti LaBelle, QuestLove of The Roots.
I have one last thing I want to mention. My recent release “Duality” with Psyrus, Convex and Jeff Franzel. It’s a song I wrote about how we’re all in cognitive dissonance — I was raised white but I am Black. I’m a tomboy, but I’m a woman. I was raised non-disabled, but I’m legally blind. So I wrote a song called “Duality.” My manager, Gary, was obsessed with the song once I showed him. We started to make the moves to release it, since he was in love with it, in love with it, in love with it—and then he passed away. “Duality” came out September 25th and it’s dedicated to him.
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