I'm Lyla Illing &
This is my Story...
I live in a world where an appetite for the arts bubbled over into a blossoming career in entertainment & radio in South Africa, but in 2017 I threw a backpack and guitar over my shoulder and moved to New York to see if the grass really is greener, on the other side.
A couple of “New York Minutes” into my new venture, I've left a few of my own marks on the Big Apple one bite at a time, singing at venues in all corners of Manhattan, and in 2017, securing a weekly residency with the organization “The Set NYC” and NPO, Freedom Ladder, at a popular music venue on the infamous 42nd Street, Times Square.
I have been featured in 50+ articles since my move to the states and have performed for 7 charities including Ubuntu Pathways & Musicians On Call. I have been the headlining act for the last two years at “Victims’ Rights Week” in New York, opening and closing the annual concert that honors sexual violence survivors.
I've been making friends on the busking scene, performing at popular landmarks in the city like Central Park and in the subways, too.
In October 2017, I caught the attention of the media back home after a video of me, leading the South African National Anthem at an expat braai under the Brooklyn Bridge went viral. The story was featured on 947, Jacaranda FM, SA People and other popular websites. In 2018, I was invited to sing the anthem for The Springboks when they faced Wales in Washington, DC on June 2nd, 2018. The match which took place at the 48 000-seater RFK stadium, was broadcast internationally.
In 2013, back home in Johannesburg, my love for music unexpectedly detoured me into the field of radio. For two years, I spent my early mornings as a keen-bean, wet-behind-the-ears radio producer, for Joburg’s Hottest Breakfast on HOT 919 FM, with Darren Scott & Jeremy Mansfield. Whilst working for the station, I was interviewed for my musical talents on-air and the HOT 919 team still supports my journey today. My signed guitar hangs on the wall at the station and my acoustic cover of R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts” was debuted on the station to.
As "a new kid on the block" singer-songwriter, I've enjoyed support from live venues across Johannesburg & New York and have been signed to the record label SugaRushed in the past. I am currently recording music independently whilst honing my craft in front of New York audiences. I've been a regular face in annual competitions such as Battle of the Bands and Idols, and also tried out for America’s Got Talent in 2017. I've had the honor of sharing the stage with popular South African acts Ard Matthews, Justin Serrao and WONDERboom.
In 2020, as the pandemic hit New York City, the isolation took me back to all the times my parents neglectfully left me by myself for days on end. I decided to grab onto the memories and feelings with both hands and finally deal with them. I turned my closet into a recording booth and vowed to finally produce and record the songs I wrote as a teenager but did not have the means to finish when I was younger. The angsty lyrics and cries for love and help took me back to being that kid who slept on everyone’s couch, with nothing but a few bucks in my pocket and the music in my heart. The content of the songs center around my feelings and experiences following being abandoned at the age of fifteen. Producing these songs inspired me to write new songs on topics such as choosing responsible procreation as an adult and also validation of being abused and gaslighted as a child. These songs come from a place of hope that if a youngster is in doubt about how they are being treated, that through these songs they will understand the difference between healthy discipline versus being abused by parents, and also be empowered to break the cycle. In addition to the songs, I hosted talks over zoom around these topics and also released a poetry album “Abandonment, reimagined as freedom to grow.”
As New York City started reopening as covid-19 vaccinations became available, I did not have to think twice about how I would spend my summer. In order to come full circle with the inner-work I did through my art - giving younger me a voice and a chance to be heard, I knew that “younger me” still needed one more thing. I needed to actually give myself the childhood I never I had, to have experiences I felt I was robbed of. So I spent twelve weeks living somewhat of a double life - 28 year old Lyla, and 15 year old Lyla - went on the adventure of a lifetime, attending concerts of 20 of my childhood inspirations. Concerts were something I never got to do as a kid. So I decided to be a teenager for the summer of 2021. I cried a lot, screamed my throat sore, made friends, and pushed people back who pushed me around in mosh pits. It was thrilling and I laughed joyfully, high on this lightheartedness - many times.
It was at a Mod Sun concert that my inner child was finally a happy girl, and at peace. I knew there and then that I was ready to be the 28 year old adult me, who never again has to look back on my childhood feeling like I was shortchanged. I filmed an 8 episode vlog of this adventure, documenting the highs and lows, lessons and new aspirations that came to me during this time. It is available to watch on YouTube here: https://bit.ly/3wN2Vks
When I'm not writing or performing my songs about heartbreak and the learning-curves of life, you can find me in the most unexpected corners of New York, chewing on a pencil, whilst blogging or writing poetry about the latest thought-provoking adventure I've been on.
In 2018, I hosted a weekly podcast that aired on Radio Today in South Africa, with 11 episodes available. “The New York Minute” was a weekly podcast I created, a platform to interact & network with New Yorkers working in various industries, or people whom could give insight on trends and culture in New York. I started the podcast in a desperate attempt to claw my way out of an identity crisis after moving to the richest neighborhood in America, Scarsdale. My surroundings left me feeling pressured to let go of my Zululand-girl roots, and I wasn't ready to.
I found my feet after performing the anthem for my country and moving into an apartment in lower Manhattan where I had the time and space to catch my breath after the big move abroad. I decided to celebrate my 26th birthday in isolation, stuffed my mouth with pizza & cupcake while watching Eat Pray Love, danced around in my underwear in front of the TV, until the ah-ha moment I had been waiting for, finally arrived. "I NEED TO WRITE A BOOK" I exclaimed loudly to the four walls surrounding me. And I did. I spent the first 7 months of 2019 locked in my skyscraper room and couldn't rest until I had that very first copy in my hands. A book launch party followed and I had the special opportunity to read from my memoir in front of a small NYC audience. Relying on the Kindness of Strangers is available on Amazon worldwide, and Exclusive Books South Africa.
My self-published music is available on iTunes, Spotify, Deezer, Soundcloud and YouTube - described as “deep and very personal” by a legend in the South African music industry, Benjy Mudie.