She released her first full length album In My Head — a record she produced on her own — last year to acclaim. It's nominated for a Juno Award for Adult Contemporary Album of the Year.
"I was able to start my own little independent music company and release the album," she tells Our Toronto's Marivel Taruc. "Now the first full length record I've released has gotten a Juno nomination. It's more than I expected."
Brilla discovered her love of music growing up in Brampton, Ont. But it was when she moved to Kitchener, Ont., in her teens that her music flourished.
"So I hear this live music and it's on a patio. It was at a place called the Still. There was a six-piece blues band and they had a sign up sheet to go up and sing," she recalls. "At this point it was still kind of a foreign concept for me to get up and do that but I put my name on the list and I got up and I sang."
From there on in her focus was music. A few years ago Brilla signed with a record label and moved to LosAngeles. She calls it an eye-opening experience.
"Being female in the industry is kind of tough because people have a lot of assumptions that you don't know how to play instruments, you're just a singer or you might not know how to produce," she says. "So when you have an opinion on your own music as a female — at least as I experienced in L.A. — a lot of producers didn't like that too much."
It's that emotional connection to her music that makes her stand out, but can also be a struggle. She recalls playing her song Two Shots at the Reservoir Lounge downtown.
"As I was singing there, I actually had just broken up with my ex-boyfriend. So even though I was singing in my party dress and I had to look all happy, inside my heart was breaking. The Two Shots were sort of the temporary remedy for that, so that's what the song's about."
Her music — she sings in singing in Swahili at times — also reflects the diversity of her upbringing. She grew up in Brampton, her mother is European and her father is Tanzanian.
"My dad coming to Canada, immigrating from Tanzania, I've just heard so many stories about how beautiful Tanzania is, how warm it is, it's by the ocean and I can hear in his voice he would love to go back," she says. "It's influenced me because the music there is very diverse and the people there are pretty diverse."