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Raised in California, based in Paris, and just wrapping her tour of the Congo, Jamaican-American singer Shola Adisa-Farrar is the kind of artist that traverses cultures with a special kind of versatility that comes from being a citizen of the world.
She spent time in Congo’s capital city of Brazzaville, performing a series of concerts and leading master classes with the local community as part of the U.S. Embassy’s cultural initiative. This trip marks her fifth performance series with the Embassy in the past three years.
“I am interested in education through cultural exchange, music, arts, and travel. They are the best ways for me to educate myself, and also others. I really get to know people and leave with a sense of community. It’s also important for me to be intentional about bringing Black American musicians with me to Africa, so there could be other images of Americans going to Africa other than the usual white American missionary projects. I think it’s important to show Black Americans traveling to and being interested in exchanging with Africa, to educate ourselves about its diversity,” Adisa-Farrar tells NBC News.
Having performed internationally in countries such as Botswana, Mauritius, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, and her mother’s homeland of Jamaica, Adisa-Farrar is accustomed to unifying borders through music. Her international life, along with her travels, helps her to access a global sound.
“Even though I lived in NYC for 8 years, living in Paris exposes me to different kinds of music, which are more diverse. Here, I am more directly exposed to Africa, and to all the different countries in Europe. I am able to embrace all of these types of music, and incorporate it into my own,” Adisa-Farrar says.
Her first album, 2016’s “Lost Myself,” is reflective of Adisa-Farrar’s worldly view. In collaboration with Parisian pianist Florian Pellissier, the album combines modern jazz, New York’s hard-bop aesthetics, and reggae-inspired elements together to refresh classic songs while bringing original compositions to life.
A week into the album’s launch, “Lost Myself” was named the #1 selling jazz album on iTunes France. Her single, “Evolution,” has recently been handpicked by Director Spike Lee to appear on his Netflix series, “She’s Gotta Have It,” which debuts this Fall.
Born to an immigrant mother who is both a professor and a writer, Adisa-Farrar says that her upbringing gave her a sense of adventure and courage. “There aren’t many things that I am afraid of. I was lucky to have come from parents who were daring. [They showed me that] you can try something outside of where you were born, and flourish there. This ideal is something I was born into,” Adisa-Farrar says.
Today, this influence stays with her as she travels the world with the intent to inspire possibility in others, especially those who share her background.
“Travel is extremely important to me, and [I believe] it’s important for everyone. When you decide to explore outside of where you are from, possibilities can change for you. I want to inspire people that there is life outside of where they call home right now, and that it can be positive and fulfilling,” Adisa-Farrar says.
Much like the experience of Black American artists like James Baldwin and Josephine Baker who moved to Paris and thrived, Adisa-Farrar is enjoying a special kind of freedom in France that she doesn’t always experience in the United States.
“In the States I never actually felt American - there was always a prefix to it (ie. Jamaican-American). But here, because of the history of African-American creativity in France, people greet me with great expectations, and it makes me want to rise to the occasion," says Adisa-Farrar. "In [American] media, we are taught that we are ‘less than,’ but in places like Paris, they have a really positive viewpoint of Black Americans.”
As an American artist who toured Africa with the U.S. Embassy, Adisa-Farrar indeed, is excersing possibilities through her cross-cultural musical voyage.