Lira opens fab new chapter in life at 40

Singer Lira has become the first African woman to be honoured with her own Barbie doll. / Veli Nhlapo
Singer Lira has become the first African woman to be honoured with her own Barbie doll. / Veli Nhlapo

It's been two weeks of fresh starts for songbird Lira.

First she separated from Robin Kohl, her husband of almost 10 years, late last month and then on Tuesday she became the first African woman to have a Barbie doll made in her image.

Lira, real name Lerato Molapo, is also opening a new chapter in her life having just turned 40.

"Turning 40 means new beginnings. There is nothing to be ashamed of. It means new achievements as well," she says.

"I like my life and how I look. I like how I feel and what's happening in my life. I just feel great."

Three months ago Lira received a life-changing phone call when Barbie's parent company Mattel contacted her.

It was a secret she had to guard with her life, even keeping it from her mother until the morning of the announcement on Tuesday.

Growing up in the streets of Daveyton, an East Rand township, such a history-making feat was never a possibility.

Lira held her very first Barbie at age 10. Even then it was not purchased specifically for her, it was a second-hand gift.

"I didn't grow up in that kind of environment. Barbies were out of reach for us," she recalls.

"I was given a Barbie when I went with my aunt to her workplace and the boss's daughter gave me one of her Barbie dolls.

"She gave me a Barbie that was white. She had so many. Every girl dreamed of one, but it wasn't affordable for us."

Fast forward 30 years later and Lira was on a plane to Mattel headquarters in LA where the one-of-a-kind doll was manufactured.

"Part of me almost didn't believe it's happening because it's so big for me," she says.

"But I realise that I deserve it because of the values that I have."

Lira was part of the design process. It was very important in terms of beauty standards and representation that Lira's Barbie rocks her signature natural short hair.

"When you have short hair you don't imagine that anyone will make a doll with short hair," she observes.

"They developed a technology that made sure that the hair was reflective of me and African girls.

"They used fibres and they do it in a dark room. There is a department that just deals with hair and I met all these ladies.

"They do this by hand and they are passionate about it. You think it's a doll [and] they could have just painted the hair, but they took care to create hair that was soft."

The doll also dons an Ankara print top created by local fashion designer Sello Medupe.

The oversized earrings are from local online store Nondi's Handcrafted Jewellery and they were a gift to her.

"I don't think I've seen a Barbie doll wearing an Ankara fabric. This is also an opportunity to celebrate being African," she says.

"It gives me pride that it's not just my moment but I get to take other young entrepreneurs with me."

The spirit of the #MoreRoleModels campaign that was launched as part of the number one fashion doll's 60th anniversary is something that has always resonated with Lira.

Inspiring the limitless potential in girls is something close to her heart.

Barbie has already honoured diverse role models across the globe, from filmmaker Ava DuVernay to tennis star Naomi Osaka.

"I think it will bring certain dreams a little closer for young girls," she opines.

This historic moment reminds Lira of when she kicked off her illustrious music career and became the second African woman to perform at Italy's Teatro del Drago.

"When they introduced me they said the last time an African performed in this theatre it was Miriam Makeba.

"I had to pause and realise I'm making my own history. So Miriam paved the way for me then, just like I'm paving the way with this."

She has done it all, from judging The Voice SA to winning awards, featuring on the cover of international magazines and touring the world... the list is endless. What's next?

"New music is coming. My desire was to release in the US, but the market is so tight," she shares. "So I have decided to put it out here at home...

"The material is ready. I want to tour the world, performing in large arenas, maybe win a Grammy or two," she adds.

X