"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.
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.
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