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Blind Musician Lachi Opens Up On Coming Out Of The Disability Closet

By News Creatives Authors , in Business , at July 31, 2021

Today, visually impaired electronic dance musician Lachi uses her powerful vocal repertoire, not just to sing, but to shout from the rooftops about greater disability inclusion in the arts.

A songwriter, vocalist, voice actress and award-winning content creator, she has collaborated alongside the likes of Snoop Dogg and Markus Schulz, has been regularly speaking and performing at Disability Pride events since 2017 and advocates for disability inclusion within the Recording Academy.

Lachi recently played a central role in founding RAMPD, which stands for Recording Artists and Music Professionals with Disabilities and also helped mark the 31st anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act this week in a special way.

This was accomplished when she was seen hosting the pilot episode of Renegades – a PBS special exploring how people with disabilities helped shape modern-day America.

The episode focused on the extraordinary life of deaf stunt legend and speed racer Kitty O’Neil.

However, when she first emerged onto the music scene around a decade ago, Lachi, who was born with Coloboma of the retina and is progressively losing her sight, chose to conceal and downplay her vision loss as much as possible.  

Suffering in silence

Growing up as one of seven children of Nigerian immigrant parents in Raleigh, North Carolina, her traditional upbringing meant she was taught from a young age to keep her head down and not let her disability be seen as an imposition on others.

This resulted in trepidation about requesting ongoing adjustments at school and during her first job after university at the New York District’s United States Army Corps of Engineers.

“When I was at school, the teachers did not know how to handle students like me who were in general education with a disability,” says Lachi.

“A lot of the time I couldn’t see the board properly but my teachers just thought I was daydreaming and not paying attention and I was constantly disciplined for it.”

She was forced to endure similar misgivings from colleagues while carrying out her desk job in the Big Apple commenting, “Being a woman, it’s hard to be seen and heard. Being black, it’s hard to be respected and then being blind, it’s hard to be taken seriously.”

During a difficult early life, Lachi’s college years in the early 2000s at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and later, studying music at NYU had provided happier times.

She created an all-female A Capella group, joined the glee club and wowed her contemporaries with singing and piano performances in student bars and dormitories.

Increasingly frustrated at her desk job and hankering after the time in her life she had felt happiest, Lachi, whose stage name is derived from her middle name Ulachi, which means Ring of God in the Nigerian Igbo language, made a major life decision.

“I kept thinking to myself — ‘I’ve got to get out of here. I’ve got to go be a musician.’ Like, if I’m going to be miserable while I’m working — let me be miserable while I’m doing music,” she recalls.

Arriving on the scene

Her first big break was to come in 2010 after her band was spotted by a record label rep at the world-renowned SXSW festival in Austin Texas.

They were signed up to an imprint under EMI Records for a one-album deal.

The following years saw her featured on Oprah Radio, opening for Patti LaBelle at PrideFest (Milwaukee) and collaborating with Israeli World Music producer Zafrir Ifrach in 2016 on EDM track Dalale amongst many other highlights.

Last year, she was nominated in the Independent Music Awards for her A Capella arrangement of Cardi B’s “Money.”

Yet, throughout the early years of her music career, the burden of the past and the negative way her disability had been perceived by others weighed heavily on her shoulders.

“The first record labels I was with were so excited that I was blind and they wanted to leverage it,” says Lachi.

“But I didn’t really like the idea of putting myself out there as, ‘Hey, she’s a blind artist, come listen to her music.’ As if people should be donating something to me, rather than just wanting to buy a ticket.

“So, I wanted to snatch that disability narrative back and just speak about it as little as possible,” she says.

“At the same time, I was having trouble going to the studio and doing my job because I wasn’t requesting accommodations like asking for stuff to be magnified, or for people to warn me if there’s a step coming into the booth.

“People would say things like ‘Look at this waveform on the computer but I wasn’t able to see it.”

Disabled and proud

A vivacious and outspoken character, Lachi found herself cowed and quiet at industry networking events, unable to work the room and calculate when to approach the movers and shakers due to her sight loss.

Unwilling to continue to be haunted by her past, she realized it was high time to flip the script and start regaining control.

“I was done being these two different people — like, this shy person but then, one who’s really confident in her music.  I knew the only way to combat that would be to fully come out about my vision loss and stand in front of it,” says Lachi.

“At networking events, I’d start coming up to people and saying, ‘Hi, I’m Lachi. I’m a blind girl. I know I look good. Do you look good? If not, please move on!’ It was such an ice breaker and people just loved it!”

“Yes, I stopped getting into trouble for not waving back at the right people but more importantly, it was a reclaiming I had decided to do on my own terms.

“I wanted to make it part of my brand and I want other female musicians that are blind, or just anyone who has a disability that’s trying to be an artist or entertainer, to have somebody to look at and say, ‘Wow, she’s doing it. I want to be like that when I grow up.’

Though supporting blind and disabled talent to follow in her footsteps or indeed, those of the likes of Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles, is a key part of her mission statement, her advocacy is a lot more root and branch than that.

She campaigns on everything from digital accessibility on concert ticket websites and recording software to physical access at venues for fans and performers, as well as greater minority representation at boardroom level of record companies.

Though, now fully out of the closet and a dedicated foot soldier for disability pride, she continues to empathize with young performers who remain in a quandary over whether going public on their disability or health condition might damage their fledgeling careers.

“There’s a term I learned recently called able-passing,” says Lachi.

“It means disabled people trying to pass for being able-bodied and of course, I’m against it but I totally understand it and wouldn’t shame anyone for doing it. People have got to do what they’ve got to do. No one has to have access to everything about you.”

However, she has inspiring words for young disabled artists wondering if they have the talent to conquer the road blocks and barriers society’s endemic ableism has put in front of them.

Her war cry extols, “Always remember that the gift that we’ve been given as folks with disabilities is that we know how to solve a maze with no solution. We are always about the Option C that no one else considers. So, what’s your Option C?”

“Let’s start thinking outside the box because we’re already not in the box. Folks with disabilities should celebrate the fact that we’re the disruptors. We have disruptive ability, and that’s what the dis stands for. We’re the blue butterflies in a sea of red butterflies.”

Be it not forgotten, she adds, “You might have to play the video game of life on hard but then you get to win and feel that pride.”


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