Being a singer is a natural gift. It means I’m using to the highest degree possible the gift that God gave me to use. I’m happy with that. — Aretha Franklin
Belinda Brady knows the power of voice. A two time Juno Nominee for her hit singles “Flex” and “Gifted Man” she has also won the Canadian Urban Music Award for “Too Late” (1999) for best R&B single. The singer-songwriter has proven to be a woman who has designed her own course. Presently, the world’s the stage as far as Belinda is concerned, and she is ready and able to deliver her music onto a global platform.
Born in Kingston, Jamaica, her artistry was influenced right from the start by parents who were deeply involved in the music business.
“My father, Carl Brady, was one of the founding members of a very famous calypso soca band by the name of Byron Lee and the Dragonaires,” Belinda states. “So I grew up being around the band and around the music. My mom was actually a dancer and traveled across the Caribbean and all across the world with them. Her name was Madame Wasp. My parents inspired me tremendously in terms of wanting to be a recording artist and wanting to be involved in the music business. I just loved the excitement and loved going up on stage seeing my mom and dad. I was always in awe when I saw my dad performing.”
Belinda eventually joined the Jamaica Musical Theatre Company where she was able to hone her craft as a singer, dancer and as an actress.
“I learned a lot from the theatre, but my first professional gig was with soca queen Denyse Plummer from Trinidad,” Belinda recalls. “I think I was seventeen years old at the time, and she asked me to come and sing and dance with her. That was really fascinating. The first show I did was one of the biggest festivals in Jamaica called Reggae Sunsplash. They’re no longer around, but it was one of the most prestigious festivals, and I had the opportunity to perform there.”
Her career beginning to blossom, Belinda graduated from Hillel Academy, an international school in Jamaica. “That was another great experience. At school we had a lot of foreign students, and it was a very diverse environment. We were interacting with people from all over the world, so that alone was setting up the stage for my launch outside of Jamaica.”
As Belinda explains, her mother also made a pivotal decision at that time — a choice that catapulted Belinda into a new world. “I’m the youngest out of eight. So wherever my mom went, I thought ‘I’ve gotta go.’ She decided to move to Canada to start a new life, and after I graduated from Hillel I decided to go there.” Belinda remarks how she wanted to get her OEC as well as attend York University. “I had it all planned out.”
But life, Belinda muses, doesn’t always go exactly as intended. To her surprise, new doors began to open. “You have to just go with the flow or with the path that has chosen you as opposed to the path that you’ve chosen. I was offered an opportunity to work with a very famous recording artist by the name of Shaggy. I traveled the world with him — to Asia, to the UK, and we did promotional shows in the States.”
Belinda remembers her travels with Shaggy vividly. “I’d be dancing on the stage in front of 10,000 people, telling them to wave their hands left to right. It was such a powerful, inspiring and enlightening experience. And I never forgot how that was an Aha moment in my life — about the power that one has in front of all those people and what you can do with that power, good or bad.”
Along with the ecstatic moments, Belinda has faced her own struggles as a musician. Like many female artists, she’s encountered difficulties in an industry that is still male-oriented and tends to package female singers by sexualizing them. Belinda clearly recognized the pitfalls and relates how she had to make some life-changing decisions in order to steer clear of the “sex object” trap.
“I must say that in the beginning, I had no clue. I was so naïve, and everything was being handed to me on a silver platter until the point that I decided to leave the Shaggy core to become a solo artist.” With a strong desire to strike out on her own, Belinda envisioned herself making it to the top, performing in Spain and Paris and many of the places she had previously visited with Shaggy. “Unfortunately, that wasn’t the reality. I had a lot of challenges as a female with wanting producers to take me seriously. I’m not saying with all of them, but with many. In Jamaica, unfortunately, the music industry is very male-dominated.”
Some producers Belinda encountered didn’t toe the professional line, but instead wanted to pursue a relationship. “It became like you work with me, but we also have to get involved intimately, and that wasn’t the direction I wanted to take. My parents showed me a life where I didn’t need to make that choice, so I walked away. I walked away from many opportunities.”
Belinda also notes she confronted similar issues even in Canada — producers and other music business professionals who did not want to speak to the artist directly, and in the case of female musicians, who wanted to strike up a more intimate relationship with them while working. “That was always the issue. There was no longevity in terms of doing a project from start to finish.”
What Belinda describes is quite a common experience for female artists. Many still deal with outdated concepts about which instruments are acceptable for them to play. They still confront not being taken as seriously as their male counterparts. And, big surprise, they’re still portrayed as sex objects.
So the next step, as Belinda describes, was to take matters into her own hands. “At this point in my career, I decided I’m not going to knock on a producer’s or a manager’s door and ask him to work with me. As an independent artist, I’m going to fund my own projects.” Belinda conveys a strong stance. “You have to take control of your situation as opposed to allowing other people to take it for you or to bring you to the finishing line, because if you do, you’ll be waiting forever.”
Belinda also gives credit to her former manager, Canadian Idol judge Farley Flex, for ushering her to the next plateau in her career. “Although he’s no longer my manager, he took me to a level where I developed the strength within to say, ‘You know, I’ve done some great work.’ He gave me the platform to be myself, which is a diverse artist.”
Independent and steering her own path, Belinda found investing in herself key to her professional development. “That’s one thing I’d like to put out there for any artist. This is a business, and you’ve got to invest in your craft. And yes, you will lose but you will also win. There’s fulfillment within it if you plan it right. So now here I am as an independent artist, and as a woman, feeling very fulfilled with the choices that I’ve made and the team that I’ve created around me.”
Belinda’s unique vision also includes being true to herself with regard to her musical style. She flows easily between the genres — Rock, Pop, R&B, Folk and Reggae — influenced by artists such as Bob Marley, Joni Mitchell, Led Zeppelin, India Arie and Alanis Morissette. Her musical canvas is broad, and Belinda likes it that way. As she notes, being eclectic provides her the freedom to connect to a wide audience.
“I think I write for everybody,” Belinda states, “and it’s from the heart. Coming from Jamaica, people think, ‘Oh she’s just reggae, just reggae.’ But no, the first song that I wrote was a folk song. I was in England . . . and I wrote a folk song! I didn’t even know how to write reggae, and I had to be trained how to do that. I loved heavy metal, and I also loved Salt-N-Pepa.”
A versatile artist, Belinda’s music doesn’t lend itself to being neatly categorized. “The album I had done with Farley Flex was very diverse. I had reggae on it. I had rock and folk, and I had R&B. Unfortunately, the music industry had no idea what to do with it,” she reflects. “It’s about the marketing and the target market, and they don’t believe that certain markets can cross over. But I think they’re absolutely wrong because there are artists out there that have done it. What I think they’re saying is that you have to be established in the beginning and grow a fan base and then you can cross over like, for example, Shania Twain or Whitney Houston. So I was always the artist that was developing and they were always saying Stay here, no stay here.”
But Belinda was not about to stay here for too long. She enjoys diversity. It’s who she is. “I think I was ahead of myself, so they say,” Belinda reflects, “at least in theory.”
But perhaps she’s no longer ahead of her time, but right on game. What the music industry could not wrap its collective head around in the past may be what will change it for the better today. A little renovation is due. It may be time to alter the music scene, change the playing field if you will, so musicians, women as well as men, can express their art without being bound by the same old rules. Could adding more women leaders to the music industry make a difference?
“I think we need more role models — women who are successful in the music business — to inspire the younger generation, to help them understand that there are different ways other than getting intimate with a producer or selling your body to do this. You can use your mind and educate yourself. That’s why role models are important. We can go out and we can educate the younger generation to feel inspired, to know that as a recording artist you can be respected, and as a business professional in the music industry you can be successful. We can also let them know there are other avenues within the industry where you can actually make a good income as well.”
As Belinda moves forward, performing at forums such as Amazing Woman’s Day and more recently on International Women’s Day as well as at the UN Women Canada event at CBC, Progress of the World’s Women, she highlights her commitment to humanitarian issues, including women’s empowerment.
“Well, I have to tell you that my life changed when I performed at Amazing Woman’s Day when I saw three hundred women standing up, crying and clapping and feeling so inspired. I thought, ‘This is the reason why my God wants me to do this. I need to be here on this earth to inspire people, and not just women. I am a vehicle, and as a vehicle I’m going to spread a positive message. I’m going to touch the soul.’ And I touched souls that day. I realized that is my path, that is my purpose, and that is my journey. So when I was invited by UN Women Canada to sing, I said ‘Absolutely, yes. I would love to be a part of your forum.’ I would love to serve my purpose — as a woman, as a messenger, and as a vehicle through song.”
And there’s no doubt that Belinda is definitely inspiring women to feel their own sense of power.
“I really feel that when I perform, I’m helping women feel empowered and know that they can do whatever they want to do. When it comes to the message I bring and the words I sing, I really want them to feel it. I want them to hear it. I want them to know that they can live it,” Belinda asserts. “I want to hit home for people and help them feel empowered and enlightened and know that they have the strength within to accomplish whatever dream they may have — whether that’s to be happy, whether it’s to find the right career, or whether it’s to live this life with contentment. My goal is to touch them so they can feel the light within.”
Yet, as many of us know, being in touch with that light is only part of the journey. Belinda offers some words of encouragement about pursuing your dreams and being yourself, no matter what.
“I think it all starts with self and I had to learn that,” she relates. “I went to self-development courses. I read A New Earth and The Power of Now (by Eckhart Tolle) and also Tony Robbins’ work. I hadn’t the confidence in myself to know that I could have this internal strength, that I could see the light and be enlightened as to what my purpose was on this earth. So it all starts in the core with finding the truth of who you are, accepting that truth, feeling joy, and moving on from the joy to executing what you truly want in this life.”
Listening to Belinda, one can’t help but feel her enthusiasm. She not only talks the talk but is determined to go the distance, expressing excitement about the new album she’s currently developing. “FACTOR (The Foundation Assisting Canadian Talent on Recordings) is an agency that allows Canadian artists to pursue their dreams and they funded me. My project manager, Aisha Wickham Thomas, wrote a grant proposal, and we received a grant to do the album as well as to execute a marketing plan. So because of the funding assistance from this organization, I’m in the position to go into the studio to do a pop-electro album. It’s going to be really exciting because of all the positive things that are going to come out of it. I can’t wait to share it with the world. I really can’t.”
And just what are the themes that are moving Belinda’s music these days?
“I’m in a place where I don’t want to write about negativity,” Belinda states matter-of-factly. “I think this album’s direction should be about enlightenment and empowerment. It doesn’t matter through what type of music – it could be reggae, it could be folk – I’ve chosen pop-electro for this one. The message will be parallel in every song. It’s going to be positive and it’s going to be powerful. How do you feel within? It’s going to drive that light from inside. I’m so excited just talking about it. I’m going to be writing a lot this year, and that will be the common thread — positive music, positive lyrics.”
Belinda mentions a particular song she wrote, You’re So Amazing, that highlights her own state of mind as well as connects to the sense of inner power she wishes to evoke in her audience. “I was inspired by my mother who is my hero. To see how she’s gone through her challenges and her triumphs in life just inspired me to write this song. Here’s a few lines I wanted to share that a lot of women can relate to:
She’s a mother, a teacher, a healer too.
She’s not perfect, but she’s always true.
She’s a hero I see in you.
The higher she climbs, the further she soars . . .
“You see,” Belinda mentions, “the higher she climbs, the further she soars. That is the life of my mother. And a lot of women can absolutely relate to that. The higher you climb, the further you soar. Just don’t give up.”
Traveling her own path as a singer and songwriter, Belinda has chosen not to take the easy road to success, and giving up was never an option. Along the way, she’s recognized that to be truly clear about your purpose, a woman has to discover her authentic self.
“Go back to the core and really work on that,” Belinda emphasizes. “If it’s through inspirational books or inspirational tapes, if it’s by praying and giving total gratitude to a higher power, whoever your higher power is, you’ll find the answer. I promise you that. When we continually give gratitude for even the little opportunities in life, it will erase the fear. It will open the door to the light for us to understand our true self.”
And, as Belinda affirms,”We can then plan an enlightened life, an empowered life. That is the message.”
All photos used by permission.