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Mohawk College Music: Aisha Barrow

The R&B singer is creating a space in Hamilton for female artists to be heard.

Photo credit: Halle Hirota

After a childhood of moving countries, Aisha Barrow's family settled in Guelph.

"I was born in Saudi Arabia," said Aisha. "I was there until I was 3 years-old, then we moved to Gambia- where my family is from. We were there for 5 years, and then we moved to Canada. So I grew up here, I'm very much Canadian. We're not like normal people, we move continents instead of houses."

Aisha grew up in a culture full of musical expression.

Photo credit: Halle Hirota

"I didn't grow up in a particularly musical family, but it was always around me," said Aisha. "Us Africans, we tell our story and history through music. My mom would sing to us all the time- around the house, as we went to bed. So I've been singing my whole life. I grew up watching all these Disney movies and watching them sing, music has been a big part of my history. But I never wanted much to do with it because I grew up in an African household, where your only job options are lawyer or engineer, or basically a failure."

Growing up in Africa, Aisha was exposed to many different styles of music, both local and abroad.

"I listened to everything growing up. In Africa, you get what the radio gives you," said Aisha. "Besides your traditional Mandinka artists- which is the tribe that I'm from, we listened to a lot of pop music, because that's what we heard on the radio. So I listened to a bunch of 90s R&B, Spice Girls, stuff like that. Then as far as researching what I liked myself, I started listening to a lot more Janet Jackson, Earth, Wind & Fire, Michael Jackson- very performance based artists. I think I listened to Britney Spears' first album like thirty times when it first came out. I'm really big into dance and putting on a show, so that's what I gravitated towards."

"There hasn't been a day where music wasn't involved in my everyday life."

Aisha's passion came from being stuck in a program she hated.

"I didn't take music seriously until I was in University about six years ago," said Aisha. "I was in a program that I just really didn't like. It was classic studies, essays every day, just very research based and I'm not a research based person. I like being hands on and doing things myself. I found myself turning towards singing and music as solace, I got my Macbook Pro and I would just fiddle around with GarageBand, I bought a really crappy microphone and I would just sing and make my own loops and tracks, and I thought, 'Maybe there's something in this.' So I started looking at schools that offered these sort of programs and help me sort of step into music, and that's how I found Mohawk."

As she grew, Aisha looked for role models that she could relate to, and she found them in powerhouse female vocalists.

"My biggest inspirations vocally would definitely be Nina Simone and Carmen McRae, those jazz vocalists with a deeper and darker tone," said Aisha. "Growing up, I never really heard women who sang like me, it was always women who had really high, soprano-style voices. My sisters will tell you, I sounded like a man at 5. I always gravitated towards women who had deeper, richer tones in their voices, and those two women really stuck out for me- and Anita Baker also, those three women."

A 2018 Mohawk grad, you can still find Aisha around the Mohawk campus, working with current music students.

"Right now I'm heavily focused on Life and The Tribe, which is my band. Life is what my name means in Arabic, and The Tribe is the band," said Aisha. "I met them through Mohawk, which is why I'm such an advocate for making connections in these institutions, because that's going to be the people that you'll be playing with for the rest of your life. They were friends first- we'd hangout and jam, we'd start working on projects together, and just basically built a relationship and comradery. The closer the relationships, the greater the music sounds."

"The Mohawk Music program is so lovely, you feel so comfortable in this space and you make such a family that makes it hard to walk out these doors."

Aisha creates the base for her music, then her band adds the rest.

"So with Life and The Tribe, I write my original pieces, then I send it to them- and then they bring it to life on stage," said Aisha. "That's the act that I'm mainly focused on now, but I'm in a bunch of different bands- including this psychedelic/funk group Other Moons from Guelph."

Aisha calls herself a nomad. Although she plans on travelling, Hamilton will always be her base.

"Hamilton sort of feels like the underdog city. People aren't really asking what's going on here, but there's so much happening," said Aisha. "The artists are so into supporting each other, promoting shows, showing up to each other's gigs, and the venues are so easy to contact and will get back to you immediately. I find even being somebody new, getting gigs has been such a blessing because the music scene is getting somewhere really big, and it's so amazing to be a part of it and see the wheels turning. We're so lucky to be in the right place at the right time."

Aisha has big dreams- including having her name known in every continent in the world.

"They're pretty grandiose dreams- but for right now I'm mostly just thinking about the music that I put out and taking it one step at a time. I'm working on putting out an album right now, and it's a process. I'd love to travel the world and tour, so working on making my album the best it can be is very important," said Aisha. "I'd like to create a space where, women in particular, feel heard. That's the kind of work that I want to do. It gets old, having everything be, 'Look at me, listen to me, me me me.' So the work that I want to be doing is, 'Look at us, listen to us.' That's the end goal. To create a space where women are seen. We don't get seen or talked about enough, and we don't get enough credit for all of the things that we do. I want to create a body of work where I say, "Even if no one else does, I see you."

Promoting female power is one of Aisha's biggest goals.

"I went to two International Women's Day events, networking events, and talked to women artists in the industry," said Aisha. "Just talking about how they navigated this industry, how they've built an audience, and just learning from other women. I'm the type of person who can get in my head and think that I have all the answers, but the fact is is that there are many people in this industry who have more answers than I do. And, it's a humbling experience to say, 'I can learn from you, and not try to take anything from you, but just to sit here and listen.' So I want to be creating a space where our voices are amplified, and a space where I can amplify other voices."

"I have a show coming up at the end of April with Olivia Brown, and I had a past show with Viktoria Csik- just really trying to promote women in R&B. Everything is so male dominated, I'm trying to create shows to showcase and amplify women artists," said Aisha.

Upcoming gigs:

Apr. 28th 2019 w/ Olivia Brown, @ This Ain't Hollywood, 345 James St. North, Hamilton, ON.


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