Twice Juno-nominated Alysha Brilla's latest album Human is clearly a passion project, both rhythmically and politically.
The Kitchener-based performer drew on her Tanzanian and Indian family heritage, and used the passion and rhythms of East African and India for what is becoming her trademark sound.
"I had gone to India, Tanzania and England to explore my ancestry and the history of my parents," Brilla says.
"Growing up, there was a lot of classical Indian music and African music and it influences me now more than it used to.
"And all of this influenced the album; I've been looking at what has been happening politically, how we have been teaching each other more about colonization. I'm looking at cultures that are now being brought to the surface. All of that made its way to my music."
Brilla performs at the Maury Young Arts Centre (MYAC) on Friday, March 3, at 8 p.m. as part of Arts Whistler Live! Tickets are 19-plus, $22.50 for members and $25 for non-members.
This is her first-ever Whistler performance, and is part of year of cross-Canada and international shows and festivals."It will be fun," she says.
"When I play live, I bring Sammy Duke, who can play several instruments at once. It's not your typical show."
This year, Human didn't gain a Juno nomination and Brilla is not afraid to say that she believes the status quo did not favour her politics or style, with artists like The Weeknd, Drake and Shawn Mendes leading 2017 nominations when they were announced a week ago.
"Actually, very few women were nominated this time. There was definitely a gender skew," she says.
"Being a female producer in this male-dominated industry means it's really hard to get votes when most of the voters are men themselves.
"This album is a little more political than my previous two. I have a song called 'Gender Roles' and it does not surprise me that an album that had a commentary like mine would not be voted in."
Yet, public response to "Gender Roles" has been strong, with Brilla saying fans have reached out to her to say it has given them hope in tough times.
Her music has also been compared with musicians as diverse as Bob Marley and Amy Winehouse. She is flattered when I draw a comparison to Bruce Cockburn songs such as "If I Had a Rocket Launcher" in terms of unabashedly fusing political criticism to danceable rhythms.
"Besides the Junos, Human has gotten a really good response," Brilla says, adding that the songs came to her organically.
"It was what was going on in my head at the time. Some were written in India and some in Tanzania, the rest back in Canada."
Human yielded her biggest hit to date, with "No More Violence" reaching No. 3 on the CBC Radio music charts.
"I loved recording that one and I really love playing it live. It's upbeat and I feel passionate about it. I think it is brave to say that you're not OK with the way the world functions," Brilla says.
"Violence isn't a necessarily human response. It's more of a conditioned response to things... with evolution comes new ways of conflict resolution, and now is the time to start exploring those ways with each other."
Brilla has decided to share her skills as a producer — something she has been doing since the age of 14 (she is now 28). She uses a small studio she runs at home to mentor up-and-coming female music talent."I'm facilitating recording for other women, to give them an experience that I didn't have," she says.
So far, Brilla has worked with pop-noir musician Wølffe, and Manitoulin Island-raised indigenous singer-songwriter Jessica Estelle.
"These girls actually find me because they hear I'm producing and they want to work with a female producer," Brilla says.
"Producing is something I've always been interested in, and while some people think that this is because of some of the negative experiences I have had in studios, it's more that I just really enjoy doing it.
"It's so different from producing my own music. Wølffe's music is very different from mine; she has so many ideas and together we make it. I may not be telling my stories in the songs, but I'm help someone tell her stories."
For more information and to purchase tickets, visit www.artswhistler.com.