Let’s get one thing straight. Yes, Lola Lennox is the oldest daughter of legendary singer Annie Lennox and Israeli film and record producer Uri Fructmann. But her sound is distinctly her own. “I love soul and jazz like Etta James and Dusty Springfield, and I try to encompass it with great pop songs that you can sing along to,” she explains. “I don’t even have my mom’s music on my Spotify list!”
The London-reared singer-songwriter, 29, gets to stand on her own in the new BBC/Discovery Channel nature docuseries Serengeti (premiering Sunday, August 4). Providing the ethereal vocals to five tracks including the theme, Lennox is the musical voice of this real-life version of The Lion King. (The six-episode series, created by veteran music producer and manager Simon Fuller, also boasts a score composed and produced by Will Gregory of Goldfrapp; Lennox co-wrote the tunes with him.) “As a viewer, you’ll be able to appreciate the beauty of these animals in Africa,” she says. “We’re living in a time when we need to think about them.”
Come fall, Lennox will release her debut single “In the Wild” and raves that she’s excited about performing her work live. But first, she talks about her new project, her musical roots and more with Billboard.
What’s the process of writing and performing music for this kind of TV series?
I had to connect to the animals; feelings and make up stories to make the music fit. For “The Hyena Song,” there was drama with the hyena. The mom sacrifices her life for her daughter. Will explained the background to me. We’re so used to seeing them as the baddies because of The Lion King, right? But I had to sympathize with them and see them as individuals and recognize their stories of survival.
Since you mentioned it, was The Lion King a source of inspiration?
I love that movie. But you have to make something unique. This is more orchestral and cinematic and not a traditional film score. There are elements of African choral singing in there, but it’s not from me.
You’re 29 but just about to release your first single. What took so long?
I’ve wanted to make music since I was eight. There wasn’t an "Oh, I wanna be a singer!" moment, but it made me happy. I wanted to learn by myself and find my own sound independently of my mom. I studied classical singing at the Royal Academy of Music but I dropped out after six months because it wasn’t me. I wanted to write and make my own music. Still, it was important for me to develop as a writer and an artist and singer before I started putting things out. I wanted to feel really steady and strong in my art so it could have an impact.
What did your parents think when you dropped out of school?
They were surprised I even went because it didn’t seem like my kind of world. Ironically my mom also went to the Royal Academy for flute in the 1970s. She dropped out as well. She has always encouraged me. Her advice was to go for it and enjoy the process and love it. And work really hard.
When you look back at your childhood, which musical memories come to mind?
We’ve actually got home videos of my mom singing lullabies to me and my sister model and artist Tali, 24]. It’s cute! And I remember taking off school holidays to go on the tour bus all around the United States and Europe. That was super-fun. It also inspired my passion for music because every other night I’d watch these incredible musicians playing these wonderful songs.
Do you have a favorite?
I like “Why.” I like “Walking on Broken Glass.” I like “Sisters Are Doing It for Themselves].” It depends on what mood you’re in. There’s such a range of emotions on her music.
What did you think when you first saw that androgynous look in that classic 1983 music video for “Sweet Dreams Are Made of This]”?
I don’t remember the first time I saw it, but it’s an amazing piece of art. When I look at it now, it doesn’t feel like my mom. It feels like Annie Lennox is putting on a performance. It’s timeless, though.
There are a lot of second-generation rockers, but many of them are men with famous fathers. Does the gender-reversal mean anything to you?
I never thought of it that way. In my family, we were all entertainment people doing our own thing. My mom obviously has strong affiliations with women’s rights and global feminism and that was inspiring to me just to know that I should find my passion. You don’t have to compare yourself with other men. Just be you and have fun with it.