Historically Australia has always been suspiciously short of R&B singers in the spotlight. In the early 2000s, we had the likes of pop-leaning singers like Paulini, Guy Sebastian and Jessica Mauboy bursting into the spotlight, but few have achieved the level of stardom that R&B singers from the U.S. have globally – for the last 25 years, artists like TLC, Ashanti, Ciara, Beyoncé, Justin Timberlake, Alicia Keys, Bruno Mars, Usher and Ne-Yo have been inescapable, even while they’ve experimented with their styles (Beyoncé is definitely not R&B anymore).
But in 2020, there are finally hopes of that changing. As Australia’s rap and hip hop scenes prosper, so too are the voices bringing soul, pop, jazz and hip hop together. Alongside the likes of Kaiit, Kymie, DVNA and more, 19-year-old Lara Andallo is about to storm the scene with her distinctly nostalgic but modern take on R&B. As she releases her first mixtape, For Her, it’s obvious that Lara’s crystalline voice is here to stay.
The Sydney-born artist is a force to be reckoned with in many ways – starting out playing 10 years of classical violin (“my mum never forgave me for quitting that!”), sax, drums, guitar and piano, she then moved her focus into professional dance. But as fate would have it, she faced multiple surgeries to her ankle that threatened her career on stage; she had to learn to walk again, and she needed to find another career gameplan before she was even 16.
“I started violin when I was like, three, so I was an instrumentalist before dancing. But I didn't ever write music. It was just people give me music and I play it. I played violin, sax, drums, guitar, piano.
“I started dancing when I was 11 and that's when I started listening to hip hop music and R&B music because I was like, dancing hip hop. Then I had two ankle surgeries where I had to learn to walk again, and that kind of left me with a lot of free time as a full time dancer, dancing like 50 hours a week,” Lara explains.
An only child and home-schooled from Year 9 so she could complete a Certificate IV in dance, Lara’s plan to become a commercial dancer was turned on its head at 15 when she discovered she was born with an extra bone in her ankle and had “joints and ligaments and tendons that were just a bit messed up” that affected her when she danced ballet.
“A lot of people have it, but it's only when you’re a dancer really that you notice because we're doing those movements every day … when I rise and point my feet or jump, that's when I really feel it, but when it comes to looser kinds of genres like hip hop, it’s okay.
“It was like, ‘Oh, it's the end of the world.’ But everything happens for a reason. And I wouldn't be here if the surgeries worked,” Lara admits truthfully.
Putting her energy – and recovery time – into songwriting in her bedroom, Lara found that writing songs was a huge catharsis for her.
“It was through dance that I was like, ‘this is a thing that you can creatively express yourself through.” And that's when I leaned onto music too, especially when I had my first surgery, I was like, ‘well, I can't move my body. It was the only outlet, so I leaned on it like a crutch.’ I would wobble to my piano in my room when I couldn't walk yet, I literally needed [music]. I couldn't do anything else. Yeah so it’s definitely a huge part of expressing myself.
“Even with the process of writing my debut mixtape, For Her, it was like I was subconsciously writing all these songs to empower myself.”
She admits that when she was in school, she was “a full blown nerd”. Now, she looks like the coolest chick on your Insta feed, dripping in the freshest streetwear looks and flicking her uber-long Ariana-esque high ponytail in a variety of dance videos.
“I went to gifted and talented camp, I was the only girl in the robotics stream, I was in the championship chess team, I did fencing. It was like a full Filo [Filipino] thing,” she laughs.
“R&B females, at least for me growing up, were like this cool girl, you know what I mean? I feel like I definitely don't fit into that category. I'm definitely a nerd. Through dancing I found that confidence and that voice so when people see me on Instagram, I’m sure they have that initial cool girl thought, but I'm definitely a nerd at heart.”
Her Filipino heritage meant that telling her parents she wanted to quit regular schooling to focus on her craft was challenging, but worth it.
“Dancing was one of the first things that I really felt passionate or good at; it was the first thing that I really felt like I excelled at. So I was like, I just want to keep doing it. And it was a bit of a stretch for my parents from an Asian background to really [hear me] be like, ‘Hey, I don't want to go to a normal school.’ And I'm an only child!” Lara exclaims.
Music – and in particular, singing – is a huge part of the Filipino cultural experience, so Lara was listening to jazz, R&B and “‘80s and ‘90s karaoke like Barry Manilow” as a seven-year-old. She feels like her love of R&B was undeniable.
“R&B I think was always in my veins. Once I started dancing I got my artist and musical influences the most I think, from people like Kehlani. She is one of my biggest influences as a person and as an artist. Ciara too, especially with the dancing, she was a massive one! It's funny because I was born in the 2000s, so when I discovered the early 2000s of music, like TLC, I was a teenager.
“Locally, I feel like right now it's really the time for R&B - it's really thriving now. And I think that over the next few years, Australia is really going to establish it locally. I feel like over in the States and internationally, it is such a big thing. So I'm glad that it's starting to trickle in Australia and hopefully we can really represent internationally as well.”