Alysha Brilla Blog

Passing Through

By Alysha Brilla



One day my body shall be returned to the earth
Every part of me will be used to create something new

Something new.

All of the pains of my life will be gone
All of the joys in my life will be gone

How sobering a thought to know that

the pain is temporary
the joy is fleeting

I need not become too attached to either

This body with which I navigate the world
is my friend
a part of me
a temporary shelter

I'm passing through 

We're all passing through


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Okanagan School Tour

By Alysha Brilla



"It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge." 
- Albert Einstein

I've been fortunate to have the opportunity to speak and perform 24 presentations in two weeks at middle and high schools in the Okanagan Valley/Kelowna district, B.C.

At these performances, we play three songs from my new album; "No More Violence", "Changing The World" and "Bigger Than That". I introduce each song with its story and the meaning behind the lyrics. I introduce myself and my background; the mixed family I was born into, how that has influenced my music and my life. I talk about my interest in music production from a young age and the fifteen year journey that has brought me here today. I try to distill nuanced concepts into memorable melodies and singable lyrics. I want to inspire the youth in seeing an adult who dealt with being severely bullied in school, oppressive experiences in the arts industry and now addresses bullying and inequality in our schools and societies on a larger platform. Given the recent tragedy of blatant racism, sexism and other isms within the impending American leadership sphere, now more than ever, going into these schools entails a large responsibility and a large opportunity as well.

When speakers would come into my school as a youth, one thing that always stood out to me was that they would often end up repeating the same line; "You are the future. You are the generation that will change the world". It always caused friction in my mind as I questioned what it was that was preventing the speaker from changing the world, also. "Well...what about you?" I would think. "Can't you do something, too?". The philosophy of delegating the ominous task of 'fixing our world' being put onto the shoulders of the younger generation just seemed so evasive and as a young girl, having an adult look at me, inferring my beacon-of-hope-ness seemed, well, altruistically insincere.

With that in mind, I acknowledge that each person in the room- myself, students and teachers alike, we all share a responsibility in the trajectory and shape of our society; whether in its microcosmic form as the school community, or in the larger outside world.


In 2016, with everything going on in the world, we cannot pretend we aren't preparing ourselves for big changes; ones which require all of our minds, young and old, to be well versed in critical thinking and open to radical new ideas; ideas which are actually often not new at all, but concepts which have been buried underneath our colonial history.

For all of the challenges I've had navigating my love for art with chronic auto-immune disease in a male-dominated, capitalist society,  I'm also incredibly fortunate. I'm able-bodied, cisgendered, not visibly queer, light-skinned (not empirically a 'good quality' by any means, but valued and given social capital in a world of white supremacy), I grew up in a middle class family without any drug or alcohol abuse and my mom always told me to follow my dreams. I've also had the one in a million chance of getting a major record deal and having it fall apart, but get up, dust my boots off and start again independently. 

One word I bring up a lot during these school performances is a term many scholars and non-academics alike have introduced me to, "intersectionality"; the theory by which we take into account the ways our identities offer us privilege or cause us to face obstacles in any given society. Examining the complexity of our identities, respecting the fact that we aren't 'all the same' and really seeing what it is that paints humanity with such a broad spectrum of colours... I think it is with these tools we begin to assemble a clearer idea of how to appreciate the things that we do have in common and how we can learn so much from the things that make us different. 

I don't have all of the answers. I don't believe one single human does. I am proud of my mistakes and my growth. It is a continuous cycle.

What I have to offer is my gift of song and communication. This I know to be a calling for me since I was a child. We all have a calling. You have one too. In these times I hope that the voices of those who have been historically silenced are given platforms to bring balance to the world. 

I am constantly learning. We all are. I just record my questions and lessons in song.

Now is the time for all of us to sing out, speak up and make our hearts shine.
Navigating the systems we are in, in whichever ways we can, while being brave enough to speak up and incite positive change.

Alysha Brilla


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Soft Heart Hard World

By Alysha Brilla




As someone who shares a lot about my life, I've found that folks will respond most quickly and emphatically to posts/photos/updates that are positive.

I suppose it's natural; we are drawn to and want to congratulate things that seem to be moving in an upward trajectory.

I just spent the last hour crying. Sobbing.

When I cry...I tend to laugh. I laugh-cry. I haven't really seen anyone else out there do it, but I know for sure they are others who do (I googled it.)

In a society that tends to ask of us the distillation of complex emotions into either happy or "chill", displaying sadness, even to ourselves, is often quite difficult.

Why was I crying? It doesn't matter. In my life, I've cried for many different reasons; some more serious than others. While I'm tempted to say "I wish I'd saved my tears for ___________", the point of this piece is to say that we should never feel as though our tears or time crying is a waste.

Congratulations...I'm human. I feel pain. I hurt. I hurt for myself. I hurt for the world. 

I feel pain and I metabolize it. Physically, emotionally, spiritually...I am a whole being.

In order to process pain, it must be felt and then released. Just like food...we take it in...we digest it and then...we release/get rid of what no longer serves us. There is an outlet. 

The thing about pain and sadness, however, is that we either hold it inside until it makes us sick/depressed or we release it through a more widely accepted emotion; anger.

Soft people in a hard world. I don't buy into the paradigm. 

I am just as much a part of this world as the hardness it's been labelled with. 

As soft as I will be with others when they need my compassion, I will absolutely be with myself. 

In addition to the obvious physiological benefits of releasing tears and emotions, the ability to forgive yourself for feeling so deeply and in fact rejoice in your sensitivity is, I think, revolutionary. 

I am still that three year old girl with the same sensitive heart beating in my chest. 

Anytime I do feel sad, I think of her and give her a hug. I tell her it's ok to feel. 

You're a soft person in a malleable world. 

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Yoga Vs. Cultural Appropriation

By Alysha Brilla



A few people have been sending me the article about the yoga class at University of Ottawa that has been cancelled because of implicit cultural appropriation. I'll start by saying that absolutely; yoga has been culturally appropriated.

I travelled to India to study yoga and receive my RYT 200 so that I could learn more deeply about its traditions at the source and also teach a practice that as someone with auto-immune issues, has healed me and continues to heal me in so many ways. Things that I noticed in India; being a registered yoga teacher is a NEW concept. Yogis would learn from gurus and spend years studying and then passing the information down. Your accreditation was energetic and spiritual, not written on a piece of paper. You don't really 'teach' yoga as much as you guide others through asana sequencing. The yoga the west knows and loves is also known as "yog asan" or "yoga asana" a.k.a physical yoga; the stretches, the poses, the bending and purifying of the body through movement. This is only one aspect of yoga. This is the aspect that has been commercialized and highly appropriated.

I met teacher trainees in my program who hadn’t done much yoga at all and I met ones who had been practicing for years and years. Both received their certifications. Becoming certified as a yoga teacher is not difficult. Even the certification process is now being capitalized on as a source of revenue. There are families in India for whom yoga has been practiced for generations; without a dollar exchanged. It’s an integral part of their culture, spirituality and sometimes, religious practices. I am part Indian. My background is a little complex.

My ancestors were in Tanzania for several hundred years and due to migration and colonialism, we don’t know the exact lineage or names of my great-great-great’s. We do know, however, that most were from Gujurat/Kutch region of India. It is in the languages that my dad speaks and the stories passed down. Though my father practices a different religion now, we know also that my ancestors were Hindus. This is a part of me that is diasporic, nomadic, but is there in my DNA. I met my half sister last year for the first time and had found out she is also a yoga teacher.

On one hand, I want yoga to be introduced to as many people in the world as possible. On the other hand, I want to continue to decolonize/appropriate it so that it holds on to its original intent, meaning and magic. This is a difficult subject for me to talk about because being mixed and culturally diasporic, I do feel as though parts of me are missing. I recognize the privilege that my light skin and half-whiteness has allotted me. I’m not oblivious to it. It holds no inherent value as a human being, but as far as cultural capital goes, in a world that has historically been dominated by colonial whiteness, there is an amount of privilege that comes along with being part white. Then again, the Indian part of me is very strong and has answered so many questions to my being. Yoga and Hinduism both being things that seem to really speak to my soul. Or maybe it is speaking to pieces of me, atomically.

Yoga is not Lululemon. Yoga is not “one hour express”. Yoga is greater than all of the reductive things it has been turned into.I think it’s brilliant to practice and be interested in it. I also think it is important that yoga establishments that are run or operated by non-Indian folks take extra care to make their studios and practices holistic in yogic philosophy and history. It’s something that as a “Desi”, I am always working on.

Here is a great video that speaks more about Yoga and cultural appropriation:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3OoBaDt9cvQ

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Bare With Us

By Alysha Brilla


Photo courtesy of The Record, Annie Sakkab.

"I want to start by acknowledging that we are on first nations land and give thanks to the earth for providing beautiful life to us everyday. I also want to acknowledge that August 1st, emancipation day, commemorates the slavery abolition act.

I also want us to recognize that we all participate in systems of privilege and oppression. I believe that as ever evolving conscious beings, it is our job to strive towards acknowledging these flawed systems and working on creating harmony in our humanity. Thank you to everyone who recognizes these intersections and are working daily on addressing the little ways in which each moment, for better or worse, we are affecting and changing the world.

This is about much more than women's autonomy legally and socially over how we dress.

This is about the chronic and epidemic oppression and violence women face every single day, across this planet. 

This is about the blame women are given when this violence happens to us because we were 'dressing immodestly' or 'asking for it'.

This is about the fallacy of ascribing the value of women to the percentage of fabric material covering her body.

This is about a culture where women are being told that our bodies illicit harassment, instead of putting the onus on the person doing the harassing. 

No human being, regardless of gender our outward presentation, should be subject to harassment, violence or assault.

This violence is internalized.

This oppression has a long history.

It has diseased societies for far too long.

It's symptoms are not always easily identifiable, but because of history and this internalization, we see it come out in the different way women and men are paid for doing the exact same work, the high rates of domestic violence against women and a lack of representation by women's voices in everything from leadership, to education and justice.

On the surface, Kitchener-Waterloo is a beautiful place to live.

However, women in Kitchener-Waterloo are making only 66% of what our male counterparts make and we have one of the highest rates of domestic violence against women in Canada.

On the evening of July 24th, my sisters and I were on a peaceful bike ride. We were stopped and bothered and lied to by an officer for doing what Gwen Jacob bravely fought for equality on 25 years earlier.

Now we are receiving very many comments and messages saying that we should have violent things done to our bodies. I'm not talking one or two messages or comments. I'm talking hundreds.

Why are the peaceful and autonomous actions of women met with such violent reactions? ***

What does this say about our society? What does this say about the changes we need to make today, right now?

Yes there are many important issues to be discussed in the world right now, but if one half of the world's population is unable to voice themselves and have equal input into how this world is operating, how can we begin to expect peace on earth, in our societies, in our communities and in our homes?

This is about women being able to wear as much or as little clothing as their male counterparts are able to, without being shamed or harassed.

This is about unlearning to objectify and hyper sexualize women’s
bodies.

This is about replacing the violence directed towards women with peace for everybody.

This is about every human having access to the same rights and humanity, regardless of their gender."

Alysha Brilla- Bare With Us Rally- August 1st, 2015

Photos by Candance Cobbing, 570 News.

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Immigrant

By Alysha Brilla

I wrote a song called "Immigrant" based on my father's experiences and stories I've heard over the years from my uncle and other Indo-Tanzanian family members who have immigrated to Canada.

An anti-xenophobia organization in the U.K. has just launched a campaign called "I am an Immigrant", which aims to put perspective on the currently often racist dialogue and processes of immigration there.

Unless you are aboriginal Canadian, you have descended from immigrants within the past few generations.

It's that question second/third generation POC people will get "Where are you from?"

"I'm from Canada"

"No, where are you REALLY from?"

Often times in Canada, 'white-European' people aren't asked that question because being 'white-canadian' has been normalized (by history, by the system, by parliamentary), whereas looking ethnic and being Canadian automatically makes one think of immigration or migration when in truth, the ancestors of 'white-Canadians' also immigrated here.

So humans have been moving around this planet for a long time. Sometimes for adventure, but more often than not, in search of better opportunity and hope.

It's a complex subject, but one in which there is no room for racism.

As for the conservative/racist older white (mostly) males who comprise the British National Party, perhaps a history lesson in British colonization will help offer perspective on what it really means to 'intrude' a country.


What do you think?

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Best Dressed Brilla

By Alysha Brilla



"The Award for best Red Carpet look goes to Tanzanian-Canadian singer/songwriter Alysha Brilla"
- The Toronto Metro

This year my sophomore album, WOMYN, was nominated for a 2015 Juno Award.

An honour, indeed, to share categorical space with artists such as Sarah McLachlan and Jann Arden. Being my second consecutive nomination, I was extremely happy and proud when it was announced, as I worked very hard producing this record and the efforts of everyone involved were heavy as well.

*Spoiler alert*

I didn't win the Juno; to be honest, the second I found out that Sarah McLachlan was in my category, I intuitively knew that she would win.

Nevertheless, I knew that JUNO weekend entailed many interviews, appearances and red carpets for me....so I still had a lot to look forward to. 

My music is an eclectic mix of pop, jazz and reggae beats. I suppose my image, like my music, reflects that colourful and quirky combination.

If someone were to tell me when I was 15 that I would win "Best Dressed" at The Junos one day, I would have been excited, but probably would have laughed.

Throughout my childhood, I used to watch fashion television. One for the boobs...how non-sexualized they were in the context of high fashion (as opposed to how obsessed society was with them otherwise) and secondly, I really did have a strong interest in the cultural value and expression of...clothing. Clothing; the quickest metric for a geographic place or time period.

I never wanted to be a model, watching those shows. I actually wanted to be either Jeanne Beker or the designers. They got to travel around the world, be creative, wear interesting things...I remember getting in trouble for showing my belly in school. The white-Canadian teachers telling me it was innapropriate and my culturally-sensitive white-Canadian mother coming to my defence and talking about how in India, women bare their bellies almost daily in their Sari's. This was the beginning of my fashion and cultural awareness.

Flash forward to me as a teenager, just entering the music industry. I often have to discern for people; I've been playing and writing music since I was...born. Honestly- I can't remember not songwriting...whether it was about playtime or broken hearts, I've always been composing and playing piano and guitar and beat boxing...and mouth trumpeting.

Trying to make a business of it, however, started when I was about 15. That's when I started performing live, entering music contests and seeking the coveted record deal (which I eventually got and then rejected).

During this time, I was quite serious about my music carrying messages of substance and I didn't want those messages to be diffused by a strong emphasis on my appearance. With that, I wore jeans and a t-shirt almost everyday, arguing that most popular male artists at the time only had to wear those things and become famous and make millions. (There was one equally quiet girl who sat across from me in German class and always wore some AMAZING outfits. I remember having a crush on her for several reasons...she stood out and now she does fashion design and photography in New York.) It was the women who had to 'be creative' with their image and parade around in uncomfortable outfits that someone else told them was 'trendy'. I suppose the feminist values I had made me feel like fashion belittled women.

So I rebelled, so to speak. I was as plain-jane as a part-Indian-African-Jewish-European girl could be. I tried to make myself look...invisible.

I got a record deal, moved to L.A....and that's when things got even more homogenous. Everyone was making the same kind of music, saying the same things, wearing the same things...

I'd go to the thrift shops there and buy things...bring them back and sometimes people would say "that's weird" or "ugly", "not in style"....but I'd wear them anyway.

In my early 20's, I began noticing that I'd get compliments on a lot of pieces I'd buy. "But it was $3", I'd think. I couldn't shop at malls because everything looked the same to me, so it was always thrift stores...looking for cotton pieces and sometimes altering them myself, or taking them to friends to fix. I  met a local woman who designed clothing, Kerri Mercer, and I would bring her fabrics, tell her the design I had in mind, and she would piece it together for me. I loved creating outfits. They were always colourful, heavily patterned and a bit funky.

It began to become a way for me to express the cultural identity that I was still coming to terms with, being a bit of a mixed bag ethnically. So I could pick up African and Indian textiles and mix them up to make something no one had seen before. I really honed in on what it was that I liked to wear...and it was pretty eclectic.

So when I got my first Juno Nomination, I was offered by a few big stores to borrow or have a dress...some of them were designers. I tried on a lot of dresses. Some were $700. It felt like I was getting married...but everything was too shiny. It was too 'fancy', too common even. I wanted something more...'me'.

As luck would have it, I somehow ran into African-Canadian designer ZNA.K and our connection has been a truly serendipitous one. The second I saw the clothing she makes, I knew we would get along smashingly.

She has since produced several red carpet looks for me; based on her own style and also her interpretation of mine.

The red carpet dress she made for me this year was an olive green/cream & maroon coloured short, poofy, long-sleeved, whimsical Africa-meets-Oktoberfest number. Yes...I know the description is a bit funny, but so is the dress, which is why I like it. The clothing is all beautiful, but carries a lightness...a playfulness...almost a sense of humour...of fun.

So when I went to ZNA's house a week before the award ceremony and she showed it to me, I thought "holy moly...I ^%&$ing love it" and then I thought "holy moly...certain people are going to &%*^ing hate it".

 

Such is the case with anything strange or unique. But I was excited. I remember the odd looks it received from the few people who saw it before I actually wore it. Apprehension...doubt...

But like with many things in my life (and perhaps the only reason I've made it as far as I have), I don't really give a fuck what people think or say to me anymore. This is the result of many years of being bullied, being in an industry full of people with 'opinions', and generally being a woman. I actually wrote a song a few years ago called "I don't give a fuck". It's an upbeat sing-along diddy. Maybe it'll be on the next album!

So the big day came...the Juno broadcast...time for the big red carpet. I woke up very tired from having done a lot the night before, so we had breakfast, and then I took a nap. I slept on the make-shift bun I'd put my hair into when I woke up earlier.

When my girlfriend and band-mates arrived, we put on our dresses and I looked in the mirror. I liked my messy, slept-in hair, and any fantasy of curling or styling it was thrown away. So the same hair you see in the photos is truly what I woke up in.

I felt so beautiful and awesome and confidant and happy. I think the moral of this blog is that, while I give enormous credit to ZNA.K for designing what I think was the most interesting outfit on the red carpet, the reason that the photos turned out is because I felt very comfortable. I felt happy and comfortable and confidant.

There is no 'trending style' that will make you feel that way; we should all be allowed to wear what we feel happy in. Whether it's jeans and a t-shirt, a sari, a suit, a ball gown, or a cotton poofy dress.

The only pulse I keep my finger on, when it comes to fashion, is my own.

Sincerely,

Alysha A.K.A "Best Dressed Brilla"

 

 

Having fun on the red carpet.

- The Examiner article can be read HERE




More fun comments can be read HERE

 

 

Fitting the dress a week before, with designer ZNA.K 

 

 

 

 

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What's your background!?

By Alysha Brilla

Photo by Dwayne Larson

 

Where do I begin?

I wish I could begin at the very beginning, but if I could, I’d probably win the Nobel Peace Prize for solving humanity’s age-old question; “Where do we come from?”.

I can trace the umbilical chord back as far as a few generations on either side of my bloodline. The small answers I’m given equate big affirmations and I’m made to feel a sense of connectedness with the more about my history that I know.

People often ask me “What’s your background?”. Growing up, I knew that ‘culturally’ speaking, generally, my dad was Indian and my mom was ‘white’. So…I’d say “I’m half white, half Indian”. 

It wasn’t until I was 6 or 7 that I realized my father was actually born in Africa. “Oh” I thought “That’s interesting…hmmm…looks like there are many Indians in Africa. I wonder how that happened.”

I can only speculate based on the general history of Indians in Africa, but what I do know is that sometime in the 1800’s, a ship was commissioned by the British to take a large number of Indians from Gujurat (where my Indian ancestry resides) to Tanganyika/Zanzibar (Now Tanzania). Truthfully, most indentured labourers had almost no records kept of their existence (my dads last name was even changed); they became a number to the system and to themselves. Why keep record of such an unglorified existence? They were just…alive. Surviving. The social hierarchy at the time, for all intensive purposes, placed whites at the top, browns in the middle and blacks at the bottom. My dad still tells me about "white only" clubs that existed when he was growing up, many years later.

Chances are they began working on the railroad, or performing other manual labour and began their life in Tanzania. Some returned to India upon completion of their ‘contracts’, while most stayed.

My dad looks pretty Indian. I mean…almost entirely. Except…he has very curly hair. When he was younger, too, it was even tighter and curlier. My mom used to postulate with me when I was younger that he probably had some ‘black blood’ in him. I had no idea. How was I supposed to know? My dad didn’t know much about his history. How was I supposed to?

My sister recently took one of those “ancestry DNA tests” via Fed-Exing her saliva to some Jetsons lab, which through a process of DNA extraction and then isolation/comparison to other samples they have, determines approximately the percentage of ethno-geographical ancestry in different parts of the world.

Given that my sisters and I share DNA (same parents), I can assume that my ancestry is pretty close to theirs. Although technically, there can be slight differences, generally, my genetic lineage is as follows:

83% European/East Indian
13% Sub-Saharan Africa
4% Indigenous American
0% East Asian


I’m almost certain that the indigenous American blood would be from my maternal grandfather, who was adopted and whose biological parents we aren’t yet certain about. He has very dark, black hair and pretty high cheekbones. Perhaps his parent or grandparent was aboriginal Canadian.


The Sub-Saharan African really…affirms something I’ve wondered about and felt for a long time. I felt as though I had a great-great-grandparent who was black African; who one of my Indian ancestors must have married when they came to Africa. So now I wonder…who were they? I’ve spent a bit of time Sherlock-ing my way around my Indian relatives; probing and asking about their African upbringing and ancestors. I do know that my maternal great grandmother only liked to speak Swahili (Tanzania’s main language) and that her best friend was a black African woman. (Which may sound redundant, but for the sake of context, I'll use.)

I could write a book. A book on just how moved I am by human lineage and the notion of ancestry. Since the age of 3, I remember having ‘conversations’ with spirits and have always felt like I’ve been guided by my foremothers and fathers. Their presence, if only a memory from past lives, permeates my thoughts and sentiments daily.

With that, going to Tanzania feels like completing some kind of spiritual circuitry.

I don’t know what to expect; besides amazing music, people and an experience of a lifetime…I mean…I don’t know how much information I will get on that great-great-grandparent. People were pretty hush-hush about intermarriage back then. I hope I will receive some more clues, though.

My first few days will be spent with SASCO/CWEF; an organization that helps educate (mostly) orphaned children in various parts of Tanzania. CWEF sponsors their education from primary all through university. It’s an amazing cause. We held a fundraiser for CWEF in Kitchener in November. I’ll try to document as much as I can the program and the music that will likely happen between myself, the children and the founder (who has a band!).

On the 7th, I’ll be meeting up with Bryan Adkins of Socially responsible Safaris, who will be co-guiding a group with me through the Serengeti and ultimately to Zanzibar for Sauti Za Busara (East Africa’s largest Jazz music festival). It’s going to be incredible, I know it.

My last week in Tanzania will be spent in Dar Es Salaam with my father, visiting the sites of his childhood. Discovering what it was like to grow up there and learning more about the Indian-Tanzania culture which runs through my blood.

I have so many questions…I’m sure I will spend a lifetime finding answers to them and then developing more.

In just a few days I will be leaving London, headed to the land it is thought that all humans originate from. A land I’ve heard my mom and dad tell stories about and has produced some of my favourite music.

I’m going to Tanzania!



My paternal great-grandmother



My individually beautiful parents in Tanzania.

 

 

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