Meet Raissa, a clear-eyed, silver-tongued, independent musical force. A singer who says her voice is like an adventure - you're not sure what's going to happen next - and who says her music is like the shipping forecast inside her head. It's pop but not as we know it. She's an instant-recall songwriter and hypnotic vocalist but, more than that, she makes you feel like you're shipwrecked with her. It's this and the performing style she describes as "music for deaf people" that has won her fans (Brett from Suede made a special request for her to support his band, and Cypress Hill have remixed her).
One listen to her album Believer and you'll hear why. Raissa dares to be eclectic: stretching and warping her music from the string-laden atmospherics of Step On Up to the sing-along pop of Walk Right Through; from Strange World's faraway nursery rhyming to the swooney drama of How Long Do I Get. The lyrics are oblique but accessible, The tunes immediate and memorable, the music textural, unusual. Her two collaborators - Dan Birch and Paul Sandrone - bring obscure hip-hop beats and Italian-mod guitar riffs to the mix: no Britpop insularity here. Reference points? We might mention Björk, The Cocteau Twins, Portishead, Joni Mitchell, the soundtrack to Paris Texas. Raissa herself mentions Prince and Bowie as heroes. "In Britain it's easier to get away by having attitude and something to say, but in America, if you can't play, you won't make it," she says, musicainly.
Raissa grew up in seventies and eighties South London; her determinedly international outlook arose from her mixed roots - a mixture of Chinese, Indian, Mexican and Russian. Her parents would take her and her brother out of school to go travelling; at twelve she trekked the length of India, six years later she'd covered the whole of Europe and America. By thirteen, Raissa was busking in Covent garden - "Busking answered a lot of questions about living; where to go, how to make money". On leaving school, she combined this with her love of travel to make her way round Europe, headlining a festival in Budapest at the age of 18. She draws on this for her album's imagery; and her experiences abroad filter into her music, which is too spirited and strange to be purely British. Such travels, though, fostered a feeling of alienation - "I was an outsider at school. I was always on my own" - and this, too, can be heard, or perhaps felt, at the lonely heart of the album.
After these adventures, Raissa decided to get down to business by enrolling herself on a music course at Bristol. During this time she became involved in the bubbling local music scene where she found her future partners. She met Paul at a party and pestered him to work with her; he in turn introduced her to computer programmer Dan who had his own studio, and the three set about writing. Of her Bristol learning curve, Raissa says: "You can only improvise and access emotion if you've got enough confidence and experience and learning behind you. These two people gave me that." Now she, Dan and Paul can create the broken perfection of Strange World in a first-take seven minutes.
Four years in Bristol and Raissa wanted out; she had the songs - so she went to London and got the deal. Her first LP (Meantime in 1996) brought critical attention and the support slot with Suede. Then Believer, a giant leap forward, which showed her vocal maturity and the songwriting skills that only come when musicians are truly attuned to one another. There was another factor: Raissa's baby Finn had just arrived so all studio work was necessarily quick and concentrated. He woke up halfway through the recording of Strange World; if you listen hard, you can just hear him crying.
A year of promotion saw television appearances on TFI Friday, T4, Big Breakfast and VH1 amongst others. The single 'How Long Do I Get was play-listed at Radio 1 and Raissa was interviewed for Woman's Hour on Radio 4. There were more gigs, including a second Suede Tour, Camden's Dingwalls and Shepherd's Bush Empire and a European Tour.
In 2002 Raissa hooked up with LHB, supporting Kylie on her 'Fever' tour. She is currently collaborating on their forthcoming album 'Learn To Love The Music Machine'.
Raissa says: "I got into music because I was into big ideas. I was searching for the unifying theory, and music affects everyone, regardless of who they are or where they're from in the world".
Big ideas. Big aims. Big talent. Don't settle for the namby-pambies of this girly world. Try a woman with a true, travelling ambition.