"WILL you look back on your life and say; "I wish I did.." or "I'm glad I did..?" I ask Nisha B during our final interview. The work schedule has been so hectic for the songwriter, assistant producer and lead female vocalist of Karma, her days crammed with photo shoots, interviews, dress fittings, rehearsals and fetes in these few weeks leading up to Carnival, that we had to conduct the interview in two parts. I could imagine that she's exhausted after the previous night's performance and that maybe she'd prefer to take a catnap as opposed to answering a writer's questions, but the tone of her voice suggests otherwise. It takes Nisha only a few seconds to respond.
"I'd say... I'm glad I did," she answers.
She's only in her late 20's but when Nisha Bissambhar popularly known as Nisha B looks back on her life thus far, there is little to regret and change. She's achieved more than she could have imagined. This year will make it 13 years since she broke out on the scene in 1999 with her smash hit "The Scorpion" which was remixed years later with Beenie Man. From then until now, Nisha has gone through an evolution and has come into her own. In that space of time, Nisha and her brothers have taken Karma and chutney soca to new heights performing in New York, Miami, Canada and Guyana and copping more than 30 titles along the way including several best female artiste awards for Nisha. Back in 2009.
Nisha, her brothers and late father were hailed as ambassadors of chutney by the State of New York. She is also the first solo chutney artiste to have collaborated with Jamaican artistes, Beenie Man and Busy Signal.
Singing has always been a major part of Nisha's family and life.
Nisha Bissambhar grew up in Sangre Grande with three siblings; one sister and two brothers. The importance of their East Indian heritage wasn't lost on this tight-knit family unit and as such, Indian classicals were the preferred choice of music that resonated throughout the halls of the Bissambhar family home. As a little girl, Nisha endeared herself to the unmistakable sounds of legendary Indian singers Kumar Sanu, Lata Mangeshkar and Alka Yagnik. She even had the opportunity to meet several of her favourite singers.
"I grew up by a band room where singers the likes of Sundar Popo used to come by and perform Indian classics so we were always exposed to that type of music from the start, it was always part of our lives. It was an amazing feeling to see people like Kumar Sanu, Alka Yagnik and Rajesh Khanna on television then actually get the chance to sit down and talk with them in person. It was a great experience meeting someone like Alka Yagnik who was the 'it' singer at that point. She taught me how to make a 'secret tea' which I still use today because it's very soothing for the throat,"says Nisha.
While Nisha knew she wanted to sing, performing on stage before hundreds of people would turn out to be the greatest challenge for her. Her shyness, she says, was a hurdle she had to overcome at first.
"You were shy?" I ask in disbelief as my mind flashes on a video clip of Nisha B dressed in a cleavage-baring sequined top, leggings and knee-high boots, gyrating while belting out the chorus of Lady Gaga's 'Poker Face'.
"Yes, I was very shy," she says before giving it some more thought.
"I think I'm still shy but just not as much as I was before. I've really come into my own on stage. I've found ways to speak to the crowd and to become more interactive."
Of course it does help that the band which travels to shows together on a bus, is very much a close family.
"Having Ravi B on stage does make it easier as well," she adds. Today, Nisha and her younger brother share a close bond. Together they host a nightly programme on Radio 90.5 from Mondays-Thursdays.
"He's one of my best friends. He's the first person I'll call when I'm having any problem and he will always have the answer. He doesn't behave like a boss to me. He's a good hearted person, very easy going and very comical... in fact, I've never once fought with my sister and brothers," she says.
Because of their closeness, Nisha says the legal problems her brother underwent following an incident which occurred at the 2011 Chutney Monarch finals struck a nerve with her entire family and herself. Late last year, Ravi B was reprimanded and then discharged for causing a crowd to hurl objects at the Chutney Monarch finals at Skinner Park, San Fernando on February 20, 2011. It was ruled that the entertainer will have no conviction recorded against his name.
"Every time he went to court, I went along with him. I knew he was scared. I was very sorry for him because I know that he is a good person. But he also understood where he went wrong. It did hurt me a lot as a sister to hear the rumours that were going around and people were calling me a lot,"she says.
"People thought as a band we would have been affected but last year was one of our most successful years, we were completely booked out and did more than 60 shows."
Nisha B is every bit a girly girl, she loves the glitz and glamour of fashion. There is, she admits, tremendous pressure for female entertainers to look 100 per cent at all times and to show up every Carnival season with something fresh and exciting year after year. While her outfits are best described as risque, she says she has the support and understanding of her mother, whom she calls her 'mentor'. Still, the best make-up artistes and hairstylists are sometimes no match for other elements, especially when Nisha B and Karma are performing.
"When you're on stage, you sweat a lot and that can mess up your hair and make-up!," she says laughing.
While she enjoys shopping and getting her hair and make-up done, she's found a way to turn her love for fashion into a business. She's vice president of Symphony Empires, a company her sister owns, in Miami. She plans to branch into jewelry and clothing and possibly a skin-care line. The talented singer says she gets a lot of inspiration from Fay-Ann Lyons-Alvarez who she claims has shown she's capable of balancing motherhood with a career as an entertainer while also pursuing law studies.
"Fay-Ann to me is the ultimate woman," says Nisha. If she can do it, anybody can. I don't want people to think that singing is all we could do. There are other things we're just as good at."
Nisha would also like to follow in Fay-Ann's footsteps and start a family of her own. While she is currently engaged, she says everybody is focusing on their careers.
From this weekend onward until the curtain closes on C2K13, it will be fete after fete after fete for Nisha B and the Karma crew with very little rest in between. She will also soon be releasing her video for "Wine Up Your Body". I ask her what she she thinks of criticism by those who say that chutney music glorifies alcohol.
"If you go back to the days of Sundar Popo and Sparrow - they sang about alcohol too, in a comical way. It's part of life and entertainment. We can't lime without a drink. It's reality and so it's obvious that it will get written into a song- you can't get away from it. In the end, it all boils down to personal responsibility. It's the person who decides whether to take a drink or not," she says.
While Nisha has made herself comfortable on stage, many may be surprised to know that she's actually a homebody and would prefer looking at her favourite shows on television rather than hittng the clubs.
But whatever your plans may be for this Carnival season, Nisha B has one bit of advice:
"Don't drink and drive. And if you must have a drink, please designate a driver. At the end of the day, you want to get home safely and remember the fun you had!"