Lady Vendredi is no ordinary lady. Think Gaga’esque, think Grace Jones’ish, think Neneh Cherry – even if they were all rolled into one, the result would still not capture the explosive creative force that is Lady Vendredi. She embodies so many different styles and genres that she defies characterisation. Her music is an adventurous fusion of Haitian rhythms, Brazilian beats, jazz and even classical music and her style is punkish. Lady Vendredi is the alter ego of multidisciplinary performance artist Nwando Ebizie, but don’t confuse the two — they have very different personalities. Lady Vendredi has just released her new single ‘Papa Legaba’ and is about to take her show, ‘The Passion of Lady Vendredi’ to the Soho Theatre. We ask her about her latest ventures.
Your new single ‘Papa Legba’ seems to draw on a lot of influences, how would you describe it?
It’s about the desperate urge to resist drowning. It’s about asking to be allowed to cross a dimension of reality, turning back time, about ancestral home-coming and connecting a magical source. One of the musical influences is a Haitian rhythm called the Yanvalou – it has within it the undulation of waves, of the sea, of the cosmos. There is rage. There is beauty. There is a voice clamouring to break free.
What inspires, or motivates you?
I have lived too long in my imagination. There I have cultivated close personal gods and demons who drive me. Nick Cave and Poly Styrene light the way, my ancestors from Igboland and those taken across the middle passage to Haiti sustain and support me with rhythms, dances, poetry. I look to the skies and inwards and I find ideas about reality, perception, parallel dimensions, quantum physics. Angela Carter and Octavia Butler turn me around and I follow the path again. Along the way there is Baroque keyboard music, David Bowie, broken dreams, synthesisers, The Fall…
Your music is so original and unique, it defies categorisation, but you’ve been described as a ‘cult music icon’, ‘mythopoetic super heroine’ and ‘vodou priestess popstar’ are these terms you embrace or do you find them irksome?
Terms can only reduce huh? If I’m one thing, then in one breath, I’m not the other. There is a duality that is best described as multiplicity.
Would you say you’re a spiritual person?
No. The term as I believe it is understood, does not fit me. People do try and pin it to me though.
As well as being a musician, you have a background in theatre; you’re a writer, dancer, producer, DJ and probably lots more, how difficult is it combining all those different art forms?
Oh no — that’s Nwando.
Is there a point where you stop being Nwando Ebizie and Lady Vendredi takes over – or vice-versa?
Oh I see – you want to talk to Nwando — let me pass you over…
You’ve worked with other artists and writers so obviously enjoy collaborative work?
Hello – this is Nwando. Yes, I’ve always been somewhat of a split personality – portfolio-like. So I’ve loved working on contemporary classical music, theatre, performance art, dance, the club world. Lady Vendredi is completely a collaboration with a theatre director – Jonathan Grieve. From his world comes Polish experimental theatre, experimental industrial music, his fascination with 70s B movies. There is an inherent conflict I think when you collaborate, and you have to guide it and nurture it because it’s precious.
What can audiences expect from your show ‘The Passion of Lady Vendredi’? – Although ‘audience’ seems like such a passive word, are you hoping to evoke a specific response or involve the audience in some way?
You’re right – rather than a theatre audience, people can expect to come and experience an event. A mythic event. A story will unfold. Meanwhile a gig will be performed — so they’ll be like a crowd at a music gig. Meanwhile a ritual will take place around them. I mean ritual like a wedding is a bonding ritual. The audience/guests at that are watching something whilst actively taking part — their witness is essential. Put it this way, the audience are as important as the performers — not because of any active role they will take, but because of what we will experience together. We’re creating a movement that can grow out of the experience.
You’re innovative, original and multi-talented, do you think that’s what it takes nowadays to survive and thrive in the music industry?
I don’t know much about the music industry – and I don’t really follow artists’ journeys. I’m not interested in their personalities or their life histories, just the music.
You have the release of your new EP and the run of shows in London – then what’s next?
I’m going to do some research into a neurological condition called Palinopsia.
You’ve lived and performed all over the world, but is there one place where you retreat to, your sanctuary, to recharge the batteries? If so, where and why?
Yes! I’m actually Moorish – that’s a joke somebody told me to answer the annoying question of ‘where are you from?’ A part of me feels completely at home and exhilarated in the Saddleworth Moors. I can spend days climbing the hills, sitting in the heather and exploring the forests. I’m a wolf at heart.
And why the name ‘Lady Vendredi’?
She came to us.
The Passion of Lady Vendredi is live at the Soho Theatre from 12 April until 30 April, 2016.