Thursday, August 17, 2017

Love in Need of Love Today: Greetings from Kitchener-Waterloo

The leap going on in our society has convinced me to turn my attention to my eleven-year-old blog as the main story I am trying to tell. Occasionally, I will post stories here that were originally published elsewhere. Last spring, I posted at some length about Janice Jo Lee and Alysha Brilla, two Kitchener-Waterloo musicians I first heard at the 2017 KC Folk Alliance Conference, "Forbidden Folk." Their music has been central to my year so far, and I did brief profile interviews on both of them for The People's Tribune. I'm reposting these below. 

Covering the stories of those entirely left out of the mainstream media and deepening the understanding of headline struggles through the stories of the real people fighting for our survival all over the U.S. and the world, the People's Tribune has been central to my grounded understanding of conditions in America since 1990. Check out the paper here--

If I have any artist or musician friends who would like to do a similar profile for this forum for everyday fighters' hopes, dreams, struggles and triumphs, please let me know. You can write me directly at

Alysha Brilla's New Album Envisions a Future Founded on Love, PT, May 2017

Editor’s note: Multi-instrumentalist songwriter Alysha Brilla’s new album, Human, has the power of a unifying manifesto. Inspired by singers Selena Perez, Amy Winehouse and Bob Marley, Brilla’s vocals are, at once, fun, soulful and exciting. The music she makes is every bit as remarkable as that mix. A Canadian of Tanzanian and Indian heritage, Brilla weaves a tapestry of sounds from every reach of the African diaspora. With eclectic hip hop-flavored mixes, R&B and jazz horns vamp off Indian tabla over reggae and African rhythms, creating a sound both inviting and invigorating. Thematically, Human climbs the walls people try to build between one another (“Bigger than That”), dreams of a future founded on love (“No More Violence”) and embraces the process of change before us (“Change the World”). In an interview with the People’s Tribune’s Danny Alexander, Brilla explains her vision, a brilliant counterpoint to that of our corporately-run government and media.

PT: When I first heard you sing “Bigger Than That,” I was in awe of how you could say so much so playfully. How do you remember music shaping your perspective as a child?
Brilla: Music was a huge life source for me as a child. I was always the odd one in my family and in general, so music became a language with which I could translate my thoughts and feelings, and one that people would respond to positively. My mom sang to me, making up lyrics, and my father played guitar on occasion. I was completely fascinated.
PT: How would you describe your approach?
Brilla: Growing up near Toronto, in a mixed household, I heard a lot of different music. I have always loved rhythm. Good rhythm. Good melody. Good lyrics. A song doesn’t need to be complicated. My love for pop music is that it embraces simplicity, as does most folk music around the world. It’s music for people to sing along to, and gather. It connects us to ourselves, each other and a greater unifying force.
PT: What is the story behind your decision to write “Human,” a song about being one of 7 billion others?
Brilla: I like the idea of objectivity. I like the idea of humans having a capacity to zoom out, over ourselves, and look from a bird’s eye view. To look at where we fit in our families, societies and in the world. I think there is nothing more important at this time in history than understanding ourselves and each other. It’s our only hope.
PT: You seem to be a part of a strong, nurturing community of musicians. How did that community and/or that approach develop?
Brilla: I was welcomed by different communities, especially in K-W (Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario). I have a friend and artist named Janice Lee [a wonderful musician herself] whose love for community always inspires me. Without community we feel empty.
PT: If you could change the world, what do you imagine that world might look like?
Brilla: It would look balanced because humanity would collectively be doing the work to ensure that voices formerly silenced now have a platform to express and teach us.It would be a lot greener, too. Borders wouldn’t be so strict because nationalism would be a dated value.

Without Justice There Can Be No Love, PT, June 2017

Editor's Note: Janice Jo Lee’s album, Sing Hey, begins with three deep breaths, as if she’s thinking through what she has to say before launching into a kind of slam-sung poem of tough self-talk. That opener, “All the Times You Were Silent,” kicks off a seamless and stunning mix of soulful folk, blues and hip hop about struggling to pay the bills, standing up for one’s self and fighting for justice and community. Known for her music, poetry and theatrical work in Kitchener, Ontario, Lee offered great insight into her work when she spoke with the People’s Tribune’s Danny Alexander.

PT: “Why do you focus on social justice?”
Janice Jo Lee: “When we talk about social justice, we are talking about society, which for me is made up of the relationships between people—friendships. I believe strongly in what Bell Hooks says, that without justice there can be no love. If you love me, and I love you, we must be dedicated to do the work to build bridges across our differences so that they do not become issues. This is what I write about in my music, the struggles of loving the people around you.”
PT: “And music’s role?”
Lee: “Music can transcend words because you feel music in your body, in your ears, in your head, in your heart, in your chest. There’s so much joy in music, and I think that’s necessary to prioritize as we build communities. To remember why we’re doing this. It is very celebratory.”
PT: “Many of our readers have suffered from the poisoning of their water supply, and you sing about this subject. What inspired it?”

Lee: “The song is called “Oil in the Grand.” It’s a new song.  It will be on my new album Ancestor Song. My song is directly tied to the oil spill in Michigan. There’s a pipeline that crosses the Grand River called line 9. It will be carrying diluted bitumen from the tar sands in Alberta all the way across Southern Ontario to Montreal. It crosses our watershed in Waterloo Region, the Grand River. It crosses Six Nations Treaty territory. And there has been a lot of organizing around stopping this pipeline and the reverse of its flow.”
PT: Your album begins with a kind of political toolbox, but climaxes with some gorgeous pop music, like the wonderful “40 km to Pickle Lake.” How did you see it fitting together?
Lee: My intention with the album was to put the songs I think are the most urgent at the front. Organizing, politics and education is the means, and living a fulfilled joyous wonderful life full of friendship is the ends.
“Pickle Lake” [a song Lee wrote about a time in her life when she had to walk all day to reach a store] ends with a sing-along on the oohs. I’m a folk musician. I want everyone to sing along always. It’s a love lullaby for friendship…
My art is embedded in my community. Building relationships takes time, building trust takes time. I think if we were able to communicate and not be afraid about what we feel, be patient and understanding with each other instead of suppressing our feelings, we could be so much closer.
Janice Jo Lee photo: Hannah Marie

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Final Note: Alysha Brilla has just finished recording a new album, Rooted, to be released at the end of September. Certainly more of what the world needs right now. Janice Jo Lee will also be playing the album release party.