Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1089

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Elisa Caleb: A breath of fresh air

Elisa Caleb
Elisa Caleb Elisa Caleb Elisa Caleb Elisa Caleb

Born in March 1981 to Barbadian and Filipino parents, Elisa Caleb began singing at a young age at church before - as a teenager - becoming introduced to jazz through listening to such iconic vocalists as Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday.

However, it was not until the autumn of 2005 - upon the encouragement of her husband and fellow musician Jo Caleb - that she finally made the decision to pursue music professionally. Since which time she has performed to considerable acclaim in Paris, Moscow, Barbados, Belgium and Italy, in addition to numerous venues across London and the UK.

Elisaâs subtly shuffling, acoustic guitar-flavoured single âThe Windâ meanwhile currently precedes her forthcoming debut album âCarry Me Homeâ. A sophisticated and charming fusion of classic jazz, folk and gospel, said set finds her crystal-clear, gentle vibrato charismatically delivering a range of material ranging from standards like Rodgers & Hartâs âMy Funny Valentineâ, Rodgers & Hammersteinâs âThe Surrey With The Fringe On Topâ and Cole Porterâs âEvery Time We Say Goodbyeâ; to the swinging opener âBring Back Springâ and aforementioned âThe Windâ (both penned by her aforementioned spouse Jo Caleb). Meanwhile, with instrumental accompaniment emanating from pianist Ivo Neame, bassist Larry Bartley and drummer Troy Miller, production in turn comes courtesy of seasoned, one-time Amy Winehouse musical director Femi Temowo.

All of which a chatty Ms. Caleb discusses in an informative introductory chat with Pete Lewis.

PETE: How would you break down your debut LP âCarry Me Homeâ musically?

ELISA: âIt is quite a jazzy record and there are a lot of covers on there. But, at the same time, itâs not strictly straight-ahead jazz - simply because that wouldnât reflect all that Iâm about. For example, with me coming from a church background, weâve done like a soul-y/gospel take on (the old gospel classic) âSwing Lowâ. Then thereâs âThe Windâ, which is more like an acoustic folk song which was written by my husband about me. So yeah, the album definitely doesnât neatly sit in just one specific category. Because - as I said - I wanted to do something which was reflective of all the things I like, while also producing a record that people could connect with, listen to and enjoy.â

PETE: So what was the background to your husband Jo writing your current single âThe Windâ about you?

ELISA: âThatâs something I only found out about in August of last year. You know, when I recorded the album I didnât actually know âThe Windâ was ABOUT me! Because, at the time he wrote, it, Jo was in a folk band - and so Iâd assumed heâd just written it for them to do at their gigs! But then last August we were doing a charity gig. And, as I was announcing the song and telling everyone heâd written it for this band heâd been playing in, Jo - who was behind me - suddenly said âNo, I actually wrote that one for YOU!â!... So then, when I tried to sing it at that gig, I actually ended up CRYING! Because, when I thought about the lyrics, it suddenly came to me what the whole song was ABOUT - which was the process weâd gone through when Iâd been diagnosed with cancer a few years back. So yeah, it was quite hard that night for me to then sing it. Because I was like âOh my goodness, this is DEEP!â!â

PETE: Letâs talk about your early musical background

ELISA: âI was born here in the UK, and then I moved to Barbados when I was a baby. And I do think that me growing up in church in The Caribbean definitely has a big effect on my singing. Because there the churches are GREAT - everybody claps their hands, everyoneâs dancing, the whole congregation - as opposed to just the people at the front - sing the harmonies to all the hymns... But then, having said that, moving back to London as a teenager was ALSO great. Because it was only after Iâd come here that I started listening to JAZZ! You know, in Barbados you never HEARD any jazz on the radio. Basically there itâs just Caribbean music like calypso, plus major pop acts like Michael Jackson and Madonna. So in that sense it was definitely London that introduced me to jazz. Because, as soon as I got there and I got my first stereo, straightaway I started tuning in to different radio stations and scrolling for something that I liked the sound of... And that was how my love for jazz began!â

PETE: How did you first become a professional jazz singer?

ELISA: âIâd never actually planned to have a music career. In fact, when Jo and I got married in 2003, I was actually studying Theology! But then, one day in August 2005, he and I headed down to a jam session to meet some of our friends - you know, they were all going to be playing. So I went along to hear the music⦠But then, when the band-leader called the musicians to come to the band-stand, I hadnât realised heâd put my name on the list as WELL! So I got called up to sing, and it just kinda started from there really! That was actually my first public performance singing jazz.â

PETE: So how did it then turn into a full-time career?

ELISA: âThe following month - September 2005 - Jo was doing a gig in Russia. Heâd booked the musicians for it - two singers and a whole rhythm section. But then one of the singers wasnât able to have her visa approved, because of where her passport was from. So he needed to get another singer to get a visa processed that same day and to fly out the FOLLOWING day. So he was like âElisa, I need someone with a British passport. Youâre gonna have to come and do this gig!â!... And, because I hadnât really performed before, at first I thought he was having a laugh! I mean, this was a gig that involved singing at this prestigious private party alongside the singer whoâd opened The Olympic Games in Australia! So I had visions of having my passport taken away and being in prison somewhere in Russia rotting for the rest of my life! But, because he was so desperate, I eventually ended up doing it ANYWAY. And, even though I felt like an imposter for the whole flight out, once Iâd sung everyone at the party actually seemed to love what I DID! You know, a lot of people came up to me afterwards telling me how much they liked my voice! So I think from that moment I suddenly thought âWow! Maybe I could DO this!â... And thatâs really when I started thinking seriously about singing as a career. So shortly after that I stopped studying Theology and started singing professionally... And I guess the rest is history!â

Elisa performs at the following London venues: The Green Note, Camden (January 20); The Vortex Jazz Club, Dalston (February 22); Pizza On The Park, Knightsbridge (March 12)

Elisaâs single âThe Windâ is out now. Her album âCarry Me Homeâ will follow on March 8, both through JTR

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