Alysha Brilla is In Your (and My) Head

It’s not often one hears Lorde and Outkast on the same night. By the same artist. On a djembe. But that’s exactly what Alysha Brilla did. In addition to playing songs from her debut album In My Head, Brilla also covered, with her two bandmates, R&B/Hip-hop and “mainstream” pop music. The instrumentation consists of piano, acoustic guitar and either djembe or regular drum kit, yet Brilla is anything but your average singer-songwriter. This Tanzanain-Canadian from Kitchener-Waterloo weaves an infusion of Afro-Caribbean/Afro-Brazilian, reggae, fado, modern jazz and folk. She cites Joni Mitchell and Bonnie Raitt as her two biggest influences.

But she is so much more than a cultural fusionist; she involves the audience in every aspect of the show, and even occasionally takes a back seat while she lets her bandmates have the spotlight for a song or two. Both of them are excellent singers and musicians, and complement Brilla’s vocal style quite nicely.

I also find Brilla to be very personable. During our chat, she was enjoying some of Vancouver’s famous sushi, and even invited me to sit with the band after our interview was over; she was one of the guys – chillaxing and having a good time before funking out a set at the Railway Club.

Music video for “Nobody” which one the Ibiza Music Video Festival Fan Choice Award in 2013.

She is also a member of an increasingly widening subset of artists – those who forgo signing with a record label and strike out on their own. In that way, she reminds me of Alexz Johnson, another great Canadian songstress who is doing everything herself. Brilla was signed at one point; she hated it to put it mildly. She did not enjoy men in suits who knew very little about music behind her. Who could blame her really? In my opinion, that is why the traditional music industry is failing and record labels are closing; the fats cats who run those joints are adamantly opposed to change and their solution is to charge more money. Although to their credit, there are some labels that are embracing the new technological generation. Fueled By Ramen comes to mind. That is also my favourite name for a record label.

Brilla’s set was very cozy and intimate. Part of this was the fact that the Railway Club is quite small, but also shows Brilla’s ability to connect with a crowd who may or may not be familiar with her music (I know I wasn’t). She jokes around a lot, tells story – rather than being a musician, singer or artist, she describes herself as a storyteller – and in general just has a lot of fun. I love the djembe so I was into it from the get-go. Besides that though, Brilla has a style and a sound that’s all her own. At one point, she asked for and was granted a whiskey sour. Every artist has their drink. I’m boring in that sense. I don’t drink when I’m reviewing; I don’t really drink at all anymore, but if I do, it’s every Irishman’s favourite – beer. Even sans alcohol, it was a lovely show. My personal favourite song was “Two Shots”

Two Shots

“In My Head” – Brilla’s first full-length album, was released in the summer of 2013.
Earlier this year, it was nominated for a Juno for “Contemporary Album of the Year”

1) Which member of Queen was born in Tanzania?
2) The djembe originated with which West African tribe?
3) On which long-running Canadian drama series did Brilla’s music recently appear?


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