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Mishka translates youthful freedom into anthems of positivity

A young songsmith born free

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Mishka forges a Caribbean answer to Jack Johnson's easy-going beach-borne sound. Both artists share a love of soul-pop. In Mishka's case, it's filtered through a reggae lilt and blended with a strummy singer/songwriter aesthetic. A large part of the appeal of both artists lies in the positive spirit at the core of their music.

Mishka and his two sisters — singer/songwriter older sister Heather Nova and a middle sister — were home-schooled until high school while growing up in Bermuda. In truth, they spent most of their time at sea on a Catamaran with their parents. Without a television or anyone else to play with, he and his sisters would listen to their parents' music obsessively, discovering artists like Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, and James Taylor.

Whereas most kids had bikes, Mishka had a windsail on which he'd surf around wherever they were anchored. It was a childhood that featured freedom most of us can only dream of. Like Johnson, Mishka would become good enough to compete professionally before dropping out to pursue music. That upbringing has given him a unique, almost outsider perspective.

"Definitely, I think most people are insane," he says with surprising earnest. "I relate best to musicians because music is always seeking freedom. It's such a primal thing. It's your heartbeat. In that sense, music takes people to other realms. So I always dig other musicians, whatever genre it is. They're people with open minds that are trying to explore the realms of humanity."

During the 1990s, Heather enjoyed some success, particularly overseas, and she introduces her brother to Creation Records (Oasis, Primal Scream) founder Alan McGee, who was dating a friend of hers. McGee signed Mishka to a deal in 1999, and he released a critically lauded self-titled debut soon after. But he was dropped when Sony bought Creation, and he struggled for years to find new backing.

In 2005, Mishka released One Tree on Skunk Records subsidiary Cornerstone R.A.S. Then he found a believer and benefactor in actor Matthew McConaughey, who signed him to his new label, j.k. livin'. The label struggled to leverage his connections, though, and McConaughey eventually lost interest in the project. (The label's since closed.)

"The fact is that the music industry and the film industry are not as synonymous as people might think, or as much as I thought and was led to believe," Mishka says. "Some limelight was brought to the music, but the capabilities of the label weren't really there as far as promoting it and getting music around the world."

Mishka released two studio albums on McConaughey's label, 2009's Above the Bones and 2010's Talk About. He's releasing his own music these days, including a new six-song EP titled Anything, Anytime, Anywhere.

The new disc features a reggae-fied take on Neil Young's "Hey Hey My My," which modifies the original sentiment that it's "better to burn out than it is to fade away" to "it's better to give thanks, give thanks and pray." It keeps with Mishka's ongoing positive attitude and musical spirit. That doesn't blind him to the ways of the world, but is part of a personal choice of avoiding negativity.

"I'm not as naïve as people think," Mishka says. "I understand there's a lot of work that has to be done, but on a vibrational level, what I'm putting out there is a message of positivity. So you keep on the positive vibrations, and that is the best things humans can do — create a positive feeling in a very sarcastic, cynical world. I could stand up there and cuss about all the things that are bad in my life or the world. But if I focus on that, it just begets more of that. So I focus on Jah love all the time and change and finding balance and equality among my brothers and sisters."

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