Season 5

#127. Fresh in Montreal w/ Zyra Lee Vanity

66 minutes

Released: May 10, 2021
Recorded: March 17, 2021

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On this episode of WEBurlesque The Podcast, Viktor talks to Canadian artist, producer, and performer Zyra Lee Vanity.

Like many of us, Zyra originally believed lockdown would only last a few short weeks which would give her the opportunity to work on projects at home which she hadn’t gotten to yet. As the past year has shown, that was obviously not the case:

ZLV: (7:00) “I was super productive. This was my chance to work on costumes and get these things done and catch up on this. And then, you know, the two weeks turned into two months and that turned into a year and as the time went by I found myself being just less and less productive and just started being more leisurely. Or just depressed.”

Still, while Zyra may consider herself to have been unproductive during the pandemic, she has so far managed to feature in over 50 online shows over the course of the past year thanks to her unique and captivating style of burlesque that follows her personal philosophy:

ZLV: (21:55) “It’s not about me simply existing but it’s me existing in this way that’s very glamorous and very in your face and very unapologetic…I want to not only show you I exist, but that black women can be all of these things at the same time.”

Perhaps the act she is most known for is a tribute to 90’s sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. In the piece, the signature garment of the act is a luxe Catherine D’Lish robe which she actually painted over in the style of graffiti art from that era:

ZLV: (38:45) “For starters, the fabric itself is actually a mixture of spray paint and hand painting. As I mentioned before, I went to a visual arts highschool where I did a lot of street art and painting and then I rested it for a bit. When it came time to do that act I was asking around seeing if I can get some professionals to do the painting for me but it just wasn’t in my budget so I said screw it I’m just gonna do it myself.”

It is this kind of aesthetic and attention to detail that is truly the cornerstone of Zyra’s work. For her, it’s not just the music that matters or the story she is trying to tell, ultimately it comes down to the overall image and giving the audience a moving piece of art they can feast upon with their eyes:

ZLV: (50:00) “When I was a little kid I used to draw and scribble on everything and so one day my mom said ‘I’m putting you in a special visual arts highschool’ and that was that….and now visual arts in a sense has influenced my work because I care so much about the visual…and what visuals I’m bringing to the stage…although the visuals don’t always come first, it’s still the thing I tend to put the most focus on in the end.”

Zyra Lee Vanity joins Viktor Devonne for this episode after winning the Triple Crown Clothes Horse Award at the Silver Tusks 2021, in honor of her extraordinary fashion.  A visual artist, Zyra Lee struggled during the pandemic without stages but inevitably triumphed while rebranding for the digital age.  We go over her start in burlesque, inspirations, and her signature Fresh Prince of Bel Air and Mother Africa acts. They headlined the Panama Burlesque Festival in May of 2021.

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