alysha-brilla-press-fullBy Jon Farmer

For two-time Juno Award nominee Alysha Brilla, music is about creating community. Her latest album 'Womyn' mixes messages of inclusion and social equality with the jazz and reggae infused pop sound that has earned her two Juno nods. Brilla and band are bringing her songs to the stage of the Roxy Theatre in Owen Sound on Friday night. In the meantime, she and collaborator Gerima are sharing their message of inclusion in local schools.

Friday's concert is a partnership between the Georgian Bay Folk Society (GBFS) and the Roxy, part of the organizations' on-going efforts to promote music in the area. This is the second time the GBFS has brought Brilla to Owen Sound. She was a highlight of Summerfolk in 2014 and the feeling was mutual.


"Summerfolk was awesome", she said in an interview. "I had been to one festival that had a similar vibe – Mariposa Folk Festival – and I remember going there and thinking 'this is like some crazy fair from back in the day'. Everyone was camped out and happy and relaxed. I remember thinking that this was the most amazing thing of my life and I would never see this again. Then we came to Summerfolk and it was the same vibe".
Seven months after wowing Summerfolk audiences on the stages at Kelso Beach, Brilla's band still talks about it. "They'll still mention Summerfolk to me all the time," Brilla said. "That was an amazing festival, it was magical."


When asked where the magic came from, Brilla credits the people. "It was the Saturday night. Prior to that it was raining, it was very rainy. I thought 'no one is going to be at the gig tonight, everyone is going to want to chill at home' but Owen Sound brought it".


Brilla has a soft spot for organic support. Her latest albums come on the heels of a dissatisfying record deal and time living in L.A. Although she had a label's support and was workling with industry professionals, Brilla's artistic approach conflicted with the label's commercial focus. "For them everything was very formulaic and for me everything was very loose and free", she said. After recording 30 songs that were destined for dusty shelves, Brilla broke with the label and returned home to Kitchener, ON to make music the way she wanted to: with her friends.


"When I came back to Canada I called up all my friends and said 'we're going into the studio in one month, let's start jamming, I have all these songs I want to record'. And we recorded my first album". That first album 'in my head' earned Brilla her first Juno nomination for the Adult Contemporary Album of the Year in 2014. One year later, her follow up 'Womyn' earned the same nomination in a category alongside Canadian musical veterans Jan Arden and Sarah McLachlan – for the record McLachlan won.


When not performing her original music on stage, Brilla facilitates anti-opression workshops with friend and bandmate Gerima. The pair use theatre and music to challenge oppressive ideas and, in partnership with Mossy Gatherings, presented this week at Hillcrest Elementary and West Hill Secondary School in Owen Sound. Brilla will also lead a songwriting workshop for students at Peninsula Shores District School in Wiarton on Friday and is the keynote speaker at Mossy Gatherings' Spring Creative Symposium Saturday night.


Summerfolk Artistic Director James Keelaghan brought Brilla back to Owen Sound because of her mixture of music and message. "I find Alysha a very compelling artist; she has a lot to say but she's fun at the same time and sometimes that's a rare thing to have in combination", Keelaghan said over the phone while on tour in the Eastern United States.


Brilla described her own music as fun, high-spirited, and cheeky and lit up when she described the caliber of the musicians playing alongside her. "They're really, really good", she smiled. At the end of the day, for Brilla, music and art are about connection.


"At the shows I like to think that at least for that hour and a half, the room is a community and we're all kind of vibing on the same level".




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