Rising Star in the East
East Africa that is, in the enchanting republic of Kenya, a country steeped in diversity from the topography to the human element.
The tropical mangrove swamps along the Indian Ocean coastline, rise into the vast plains along the equator through the central highlands toward Lake Victoria. In the west, the Kakamega and Mau Forests, cleaved by the Great Rift Valley, bulge north to south from Lake Turkana, past Mount Kenya, its altitudes sacred ground for her regnant distance runners. Kenya’s diversity of fauna is staggering; it’s diversity of culture is heartening.
From the Bantu tribes to the Nilotic Maasai to the Himatic peoples; from dozens of tribal cultures living with the land yet resonating through Nairobi and Mombasa, Kenyans celebrate mutual assistance rather than individualism, a concept cradled in the Bantu word, Harambee, meaning “to pull together.” Our western image of Kenya is primordial, yet before long one remarkable woman, Alisha Popat, will change that image.
Did I need to reach all the way to Kenya to touch a rising indie music talent? No, but you’ll be glad I did. I first noticed Alisha Popat singing a Rihanna cover in a video produced by Devin Graham with Lindsey Stirling, the violinist who collaborated with Peter Hollens on the Skyrim video. Peter was previously profiled here on The Indie Times.
Alisha graciously accepted my offer for an interview and thank goodness for Skype. Meeting with Alisha was more than a pleasant surprise; it was an awakening. Of course I expected her to be nice, but what I didn’t expect from this 25-year-old singer/songwriter was her wisdom, grounded in a realistic understanding of her art as a profession and the role of that profession in her future goals. She is an articulate, bright, charming professional with clear ideas and a perspective about the nature of her own country that usually attends age. She is also a committed humanitarian (more on that aspect later).
That Alisha is passionate about singing is apparent in her work ethic as well as the pure joy in her voice when she speaks of singing. She has a Master’s degree in journalism and speaks English, Kiswahili, French and understands Hindi (she is of Indian descent). She could easily launch an international writing career but focuses on singing. “My mum has always told me I was singing from the moment I could speak.”
Alisha sings in a higher range than one would suspect. Her mysterious beauty and dark elegance suggest a smokier voice, but like her country, Alisha is full of surprises. You simply cannot reconcile your western impressions with the Kenyan who steals your heart.
I asked her if it was fun growing up in Africa. “Oh, I can’t imagine a better upbringing. Although I want to get out of Kenya right now to expand my music and career, I definitely feel that when I have kids I want them to grow up as I did. I want them to grow up not knowing any sort of racial divide. I want them to grow up in a cosmopolitan setting which is what I think Africa is. I went to school, camped and played with black, white, Indian, Chinese; it never mattered.”
When Alisha was 15 she went off to a private girls’ boarding school in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, where she continued singing. “Myself and four friends began a small indie band that we called Soliloquy.” (Alisha is also a self-taught guitar player.) She attended the University of Cape Town where she earned her first degree in journalism, but this is also “where my passion for music came alive.”
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