Understanding Lulu Ilanda and her sonic sorcery

Lulu at her beloved piano, which has now been relocated to Hibernian House. Photo: Mauricio De La Rocha.

This Blue Mountains-born artist has been contributing to our vibrant Sydney culture in multitudinous ways. The Sentinel‘s Youth Editor, Corin Shearston, had a chat with her.

To exist as a model, singer and musician amidst Sydney’s modern urbanity, Lulu Levins-Skehill (AKA Lulu Ilanda) is learning to balance a busy city lifestyle with the healing nature of her native Blue Mountains. She currently dwells in the legendary Hibernian House in Surry Hills, a multi-apartment, graffiti-filled complex home to transient and established creative types. Although the tangled origins of the building can be traced back to the 1920s, the concrete labyrinth is now home to the likes of designers, hairdressers and multi-genre musicians.

While Lulu still finds joy in the rat race, she recently escaped Sydney for ten days to the sublime open atmosphere of the upper Blue Mountains, where her Katoomba family, some old friends and her music group Sonori reside. 

In the earlier stages of her life, Lulu attended Leura Public School and worked in retail and hospitality from the ages of 16 to 18, before a fellow bohemian friend encouraged her to try her hand at life modelling, posing nude as a subject for the paintings and sketches of art groups. Reminiscing on this milestone chapter, Lulu tells the Sentinel, “I knew that I wanted to be creative in my life … I just decided to give it a go … as a young woman there was a sense of liberation.”

Lulu has now been earning money as a life model for the past six years, but she has also earned a redefined sense of self-awareness. In grounding her mind through the meditative stillness of the work, while accepting the features of her natural physical self, life modelling has developed the young artist in many surprising ways.

“It’s permission for me to shut off my self consciousness”, states Lulu reflectively.

Lulu poses in a model shot. Photo: Susan L’Estrange.

One of the institutions hosting Lulu as a life model is Chippendale’s Peach Black Gallery, which held a three day concert series in mid-October last year, called The Spring Collective. The festival was organised by gallery owner Matteo Bernasconi in collaboration with his partner Anna Griffiths, founder of events agency Cadencia Productions, who primarily showcase musicians from South America.

Known in the creative world as Lulu Ilanda, a golden opportunity arose when Lulu was invited to open the festival on 16 October through performing an intimate alt-folk set with Brazilian guitarist Victor Jesus. As one highlight in a universally turbulent year, the formerly silent model suddenly had a chance to amaze new friends with her cosmically soaring singing voice. 

Following her desired path of music, Lulu started recording a debut solo EP with Victor Jesus at Homebush’s Arthur Street Studios in September, who have kindly been offering reduced rates to emerging artists. Lulu now hopes to release a few original singles later in 2021. Her last release as Lulu Ilanda was a surprising cover of Nirvana’s ‘Heart Shaped Box’ in August 2020, classically arranged by film composer Emma Greenhill.

Additionally, Lulu still fronts her longtime musical group Sonori, a psychedelic electronic act with cello and programmed drums, while her twin sister Gigi Ray sings in the electronic duo HumUmbra. Sonori released one self-titled EP in 2017 before proceeding to do such things as playing support to The Church’s Steve Kilbey in Katoomba and receiving praise from The Music and The AU Review

The back of the home of Lulu’s extended family in Katoomba. Photo: Lulu Levins-Skehill.

Summing up her current position in life, Lulu explains, “I’m trying to find a balance … I need to be a part of other passions as well, to feed my music.” 

While Lulu Ilanda and her visual art, Lulu Illanda Art, are accessible on Facebook, she mainly keeps busy on Instagram, where she also prefers contact through the public @luluilanda.sounds or the seperate @lulu.ilanda.model account.