Interview with singer songwriter Alysha Brilla

“2015 Juno Nominee and U.K Songwriting Contest winner Alysha Brilla is a critically acclaimed singer, songwriter, producer and yoga instructor. She is Tanzanian-Canadian of the Indian diaspora. Her second full length album "Womyn" was released Sept 2014 and the title track was CBC Radio Song Of The Week. She plays guitar, piano and djembe, creating a unique original soul-folk sound which has been featured on stages internationally.

Female Arts’ Yvette caught up with Alysha to find out how it’s all been going.

When and how did your journey as a musician begin?”

My journey as a musician began when I was about 7 years old- my grandparents gifted my family a keyboard and I taught myself how to play and began writing songs. I would produce little songs on my two track tape recorded...overdubbing beats and harmonies. I was addicted.

What’s behind your new single: Two Shots?

"Two Shots" is a song about having my heart broken whilst performing this gig I used to do at a Jazz bar in Toronto. Every week I'd get all dressed up and put on a show, but inside I was just...super sad. So I'd resort to two shots (a tradition my sax player Alison and I would partake in). The lyrics are an exact narrative of how I was feeling and what was going on in my life.

Who has inspired this record?

So many people. All of my songs are autobiographical, so I write about things I have experienced personally...but I suppose anyone who interacts with me somehow affects/leaves an impression. I'm a sensitive person. As far as musical influences...Amy Winehouse, Bob Marley, Nneka...those are a few artists I haven't stopped listening to since I first heard their music.

You’ve gained several accolades on the back of your musical talent - congratulations! What do you believe is unique about you as an artist, that has captured people's attention?

Thank you! I'm very grateful for the awards I've received lately- it means a lot to have the support of an organized group who loves music.

I think people pay attention when something is different- something they haven't seen or heard before. I suppose my approach to music is pretty organic and my background...being mixed and pulling from different cultural influences creates this unique sound.

Which artists inspire you?

Amy Winehouse, Bob Marley, Nneka, Sia, India Arie, Nina Simone, Billie Holiday...

You often use social media to talk about wider issues. Is your music a way to facilitate these discussions?

Absolutely. I believe art is a prime catalyst for social change. What goes on in every human's mind is always a mix of personal issues and wider, existential questioning. So naturally, I write about love, but I also write about things like intersectional feminism and xenophobia. Though the subject matter may be political or complex, my music is upbeat and I think that delivers the messages more effectively. We can party consciously.

What role do you think gender plays in the music industry?

I think gender dictates quite a bit in any industry at the moment. Although it has gotten better over the past 100 years, we are still behind the ideological times.

Most of anyone I've met in a higher paid, position of power within the entertainment industry has always been male. Women have been the 'performers', 'assistants', 'social lubricants', but not the cheque-writers or the bosses. Of course there are some women who do it, but it's a very evident divide. This is why I'm independent. I work with a lot of women, I work with a lot of men, but I am conscious of how this plays into it.

You’ve been called a female activist and have launched ‘Womyn’ as a branded, feminist, philosophy. Tell us a little more about it.

I believe in the value of intersectional feminism; the basic idea looks at privilege and oppression. Who benefits in our society and at the expense of whom? It looks at things like gender, sexuality, race, age, ability and sees how specific societies are built to facilitate for certain identities than others. In a capitalist society where we all pay taxes, ideally, everyone's needs are met. I am a bit of a socialist, ideologically. As far as how it plays into my brand, my new album was called "Womyn". The title alone has been a conversation piece for so many and the flint to start discussing these ideas. At shows, I will usually make a little bit of commentary...and I am so in love with all of my fans; women, men, alternatively-gender identified people...they all come out and just want to listen to good music that they know is coming from a band who believes in equality, truly.
What has been your most treasured experience, as an artist, to date?

One that sticks out in my mind would have to be my last Canadian tour...I just have so much fun travelling with my band and performing for new audiences...I just love live performance.

What are your plans for the future?

I'm really excited about the future...I just got back from a three month trip in India, England and Tanzania...so I am hanging out in Canada for the next few months- playing some festivals and teaching yoga. I believe I will be headed to the U.K. sometime this autumn so I am really looking forward to performing there!

World tours. Political activism. The whole bit. :)

Alysha is currently touring, and you can find out more about her work at: www.alyshabrilla.com or @alyshabrilla

(c) Yvette Flower 2015

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