Leela James has an undeniable grit and power. Since first letting us know that a “Change Is Gonna Come,” we have been spellbound by her larger-than-life voice and lioness mane. When Leela sings, we take note – transfixed by her rich and textured vocals. Bring her name up in any sister girl circle and the conversation is sure to turn to her hair. She made a statement before natural hair was a “movement”. And, it matched her soulful voice: raw, edgy and free.
With the release of her sixth studio album, Did It For Love, earlier this year, we saw a more grown and sexier side of the soul diva. This Leela is also more intentional, more focused about playing down the comparisons between her voice and hair. (Is that even possible? Cue India.Arie’s I Am Not My Hair).
We caught up with the songstress to talk about her album, what it feels like to have hair be such a main part of her identity and why she covered it up on her album cover.
— Stephenetta (isis) Harmon
Hype Hair: It’s been more than 10 years since we first introduced to you and your amazing sound — and glorious mane. To this day, when someone says your name, the conversation is bound to turn toward hair. How does that feel?
Leela James: I never really realized it would turn into what it turned into. [My look] basically came about out because I am very lazy when it comes to hair. I don’t like fussing over hair. I don’t like combing hair, so it’s kind of funny that people got so into my look.
HH: Why do you think we, as Black women, still find such power in it?
LJ: I think it’s reminiscent of a time when women — Black women, in particular — were expressing ourselves and being rebellious to what society deemed as beautiful in terms of hair. Not to mention, [my natural hair] is a very bold look to have because some people might feel like, ‘Oh no, you’re going to walk around with your hair untamed,’ if you will. Yeah, you’re right. Absolutely, I am.
HH: I remember reading that you have always been natural. Is that true?
LJ: I’ve never had a relaxer. Even as a child, I wore braids or my mother pressed my hair.
HH: That’s amazing! I know hair isn’t the focal point for you, but our readers would definitely love to know how you keep your mane healthy.
LJ: I don’t really have a regimen. Honestly, I’m very lazy. I just plait it up. I get it washed. I oil my scalp.
HH: What kind of products do you use?
LJ: I like to use Dr. Miracle’s products and a lot natural, olive oil and grapeseed oils. Pretty much that’s it. I like to have my edge control gel. Those edges can get real stubborn and ignorant, sometimes, so you gotta have something to control them! [Laughs]