Meet Rita Ora – A 21-year-old British recording artist signed to Jay-Z’s Roc Nation label. While the world first witnessed her in Drake’s music video for “Over,” the chanteuse of Kosovo-Albanian descent has quite a rich musical history despite her young age. In December, she teamed up with DJ Fresh for his new single “Hot Right Now” which has climbed to the top of the UK charts. As Ms. Ora shared with us, she believes in timing. Hence, it is more than right that she is currently finalizing debut album following the success of the drum & bass and dubstep-infused single. We sat down with her and talked out about her diverse background, her come up in the music industry, her move to Roc Nation, and much more.
Could you introduce yourself to our readers?
My name is Rita Ora and I am singer-songwriter, signed to Roc Nation. And I love music.
You were born in Kosovo, raised in the UK, and are signed to an U.S. label. Could you share some details behind your multicultural background?
I am from a little city called Pristina, which is the capital of Kosovo. Both my parents are from there. I moved to London when I was one and I have not left ever since, apart from going holidays. When I moved here, I obviously did not realize the struggle parents had to go through at first. They had to learn a new language, find jobs to support the family. It sure was not easy growing up, but it was very loving and caring as me and my family are really close. I speak Kosovan fluently since we communicated in that language at home. It helps me with my music because it makes me strive for the better and make it out of the council estate. I did not want my family to live out there anymore. Even though I haven’t done anything yet, it drives me, motivates me, and enhances my work ethic. There is also a lot of things to write about. If you have a perfect life, then you don’t have anything to write about.
So you have a lot of more stories to tell?
Uh-huh. You can definitely say that! (laughs)
Have your parents always been supportive of your career choice?
My mum has. As for my father, he always wanted me to follow my dream. Obviously, every parent wants their kid be happy with their life. My father, however, wanted me to take the more traditional route. My dad is a traditional Kosovo Albanian man. So is my mother, but they have different personalities. That’s why it works so well between them. My mum is more outgoing, open, loves to have fun whereas my dad prefers to follow the guidelines.
Do you translate any of your heritage in your music?
Yes. We are a very patriotic country. There are not a lot of us doing things, because we do not have too many opportunities. Our country is very small so we don’t really have chances to make it out of there. So if one of us does it, we have to hold the flag for everyone else.
Where does your musical influence come from? Is it like a best of both worlds type of thing?
Musically I was more influenced by British music. Kosovan music is also very good but it is more traditional. They have a vast variety of instruments they use. The same kind of melodic structure, same chords. It is an obvious trait that they use, so you know it is traditional Kosovo instrument. I hope I can incorporate it in my music but in reality, it is not my specialty really but I will try to infuse it as much since I am from there. You might hear bits and pieces of the language, like a word here and there. But since it is not the best of my abilities I do not want to try to do it. I will hold the flag by doing something that I know I can do very well.
How did the move to Roc Nation come about?
It is very low-key indeed. People think that I just jumped on this DJ Fresh track but truth is I have been signed to Roc Nation for nearly three years. I am 21 now and I signed when I turned 18. During these three years, I was finding myself. I have an amazing boss and people around me that have proven their smartness in the music industry, telling me to relax, to find myself and be patient. I was like, “What? I just want to release something. I just want to do something.” I didn’t even care what it would be, just have something out on the market. They were just like, “Hold yourself. Trust us.” And I did it. So I took these three years to develop, to go through stuff, and I have grown so now I feel like is the right time to release my music.
The deal with Roc Nation is my first record deal. Before I got introduced to Roc Nation I was singing a lot. When I was 14 I had a production deal with a man named Martin Teriffie who would just let me use the studio for free and see how I develop. A&R’s would go in and out, in and out. I made myself visible just so that they can see me and somebody would come up to me or something like that. Martin’s plan was obviously to produce and sign me to a label. That did not work out but I met a lot of people through that period. One of the people that I met was Brynee, who was an A&R for Universal at that time and she knew Jai Brown who works with Jay-Z. You know Jay-Z runs Roc with TyTy and Jai. Brynee was like, “There is this guy that I want you to meet.” She introduced me to Jai over the phone. That was at the time when Roc Nation just started. Once they settled all the paperwork with the label launch, he basically flew me over to New York City. I met all the guys and got my first record deal. It was just about timing at the end of the day. I really believe in timing, persistence and patience, and making the right decisions.
What is the status of your debut album? Is there a special concept or theme behind it?
Yes, there is a concept. It is all about feeling good. It is my first album and I don’t want people down because I don’t feel strong enough. I want people to enjoy my music. I want to make very honest music. So honesty is the main theme of the album. I am not talking metaphors but being honest with myself and lyrics. There is a track on my album called “Party & Bullshit” which is literally about party and bullshit (laughs). There is this amazing song called “R.I.P.” which was written by Drake. The song deals with girls taking their own and being honest with themselves and letting their men know what we are really about. Very female empowering. But my album is not all about that. I am also displaying my sensitive side and I also talk about me f*cking up my love life. Like I said, there is a lot of honesty on that album.
Any features on the album? And who handled the production?
I am so grateful about all the people that contributed to this album. Chase N’ Status, Stargate, The-Dream, Drake, Sia, we wrote tracks together which is amazing. There is a feature with Tinie Tempah. This song is really important to me since I do not want to forget about the UK just because I am a U.S. label. I am still rooted with the UK since I was raised here. My label also persisted in me staying connected with the UK although the whole album was recorded in the States.
You appeared in videos for Drake and Jay-Z. Can we expect some cameo appearances in your videos?
I hope so. Ultimately, the only cameo I really want in my video would be Jay-Z. In general, I am not that picky when it comes to that. Whoever wants to come and be in my video can come, depending on the theme of the video of course.
You also have a history in film. Have you been involved with some film projects lately?
No one knows about that! I don’t know how you did that. Great research! When I was 14 or 15, I was casted to play a little Albanian girl coming to London with her brother looking for their sister because their mother died. It was a great storyline. Chuck D was in it. A really funny guy. I love acting. But now I am really, really focused on my music. I have been working on this for three years, so my mind is in a music state of mind. But definitely down the line I want to further pursue this career.
Any final words?
Thanks for having me. My album will be out this year. I am aiming for a September release for my first album. My first single “R.I.P.” will be out in the next two months. You will see my story unfold really slowly because I took so long to record the album. It means a lot to me so it has to be right way or no way.
Interview: Petar Kujundzic & Ravi Sidhu
Photography: Ravi Sidhu