A year later: Lira celebrates being the first African woman to be honoured with a Barbie doll in her likeness

Lira holding her Barbie doll.
Lira holding her Barbie doll.
Sharon Seretlo

This article previously appeared in the print edition of Drum Magazine.

It has been a year since she became the first African woman to have a doll made after her and she had to adjust to many life changes. “It’s not easy but having Mattel honour me with my very own Barbie doll has made the load so much easier”, Lira says.

“It is well,” she tells us. “I generally take whatever comes my way and I flow with it. That’s how I’m handling everything right now. I’ve just been reminded that life isn’t always beautiful, and I am embracing it all.”

The Rise Again singer has always been guarded about her personal life but she’s welcoming the winds of change, she tells DRUM. “I feel good about the choices I’ve made. I’m very proud of being brave in allowing change to happen to my life. “Nothing happens to me, everything happens for me, to make me a better person.\

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We’re catching up with Lira at The Munro Boutique Hotel in Houghton, Johannesburg, where the American toy company is unveiling the doll made in the singer’s image as part of Barbie’s 60th birthday celebrations.

It’s not often you can sing the lyrics “I’m a Barbie girl” and mean it but Lira certainly can. With her signature short natural ’do and delicious dark skin, the doll is a dead ringer for the stylish singer.

Lira Barbie is one of 50 dolls created by the toy giant to recognise diverse women they regard as inspirational role models for children.

It’s a recognition that couldn’t have come at a better time. Had she not been going through her separation and other life challenges “the doll wouldn’t be as meaningful”, Lira says.

“I’m so happy to be honoured for making a difference in people’s lives. To think I was once insecure about my dark skin and about being the tallest girl with the longest legs in my group of friends, for having a big, toothy smile and ngingapakanga (for having no curves).”

Lira has lived most of her life in the public eye and steadfastly cultivated a squeaky-clean image, steering clear of any controversy or scandal. “I’ve worked so hard to be where I am today,” she says, shedding a tear. “Everything I have done has come from a place of love and being truly and authentically me.”

She’s looking forward to what the future holds. “Change always excites me. I feel lighter. I am starting afresh and cleaning up. I feel bolder and fearless. It’s a new feeling that I had forgotten I had. A feeling of being renewed. I’m not fighting with life; I am flowing with it.

“I am truly in a happy place. I feel lighter, renewed, with a level of freshness.”

She’s feeling so good she’s started writing music again. “All of my songs have been me being vulnerable. I am not afraid of letting people learn from my experiences,” Lira says. “But I’m not sure when I’ll be releasing.”

Her Afrosoul music has always preached self-love. Learning to love yourself is a lesson she learnt from her mom, Buyi Molapo. When the Daveyton-born singer graduated from the Vaal University of Technology after completing her accounting studies, her mom was there to cheer her on. And when she quit her accounting job to pursue music, Buyi stood by Lira’s side.

“My mom is my biggest supporter,” she says. “She spent money sending me to university and when I realised after two years of working that’s not what I wanted to do, she gave me a chance to quit my job and pursue my dream of singing.

“My mom would lend me her car for gigs. When I lost my income, she’d give me only R100 a month because she wanted me to feel the consequences of having a dream. I commend her for that.

“With that discipline, my mom birthed a fighter in me.” It was while she was on a trip with her mom that she decided to take stock of her life. Lira and Buyi (62) went skydiving in Namibia recently, where she had the opportunity for some introspection. “That trip helped me to make serious decisions in my life,” she shares.

Buyi, a former banking insurance developer, has always inspired Lira and encouraged her to do what makes her happy.

“After my mom retired , she became a wellness champion. She jogs every morning and is a true inspiration of the kind of parent I would want to be one day.”

She doesn’t have children of her own, but Lira loves the kids in her life as if they are her own.

“I’m a parent to lots of children in my life. I’m a godmother and an extended aunt to many kids, and I am in no rush to have any children of my own,” she says. “I’m comfortable with working on my purpose which is to inspire others, make beautiful healing music and to truly represent the African child and show them their dreams are valid.”

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