Big Interview - April 2011 - Lisa Caleb jazz singer

BRITTA STONES explores the moving story of a young woman who found faith in the most trying of circumstances

Jazz singer Elisa Caleb learnt early on that life is precious – and that’s helped her to focus on what’s most important.

When, aged 18, she found a lump in her breast, Elisa became one of the youngest people ever to be diagnosed with breast cancer. She left behind her carefree student life in Sheffield for aggressive treatments of chemotherapy and radiotherapy at the Royal Marsden in London, where she was surrounded by family and friends.

Elisa’s time in and out of hospital was filled with questions as she desperately sought to find some meaning in her illness.
“It was a very scary time,” Elisa remembers 10 years on, “But it made me address questions which I think we all need to ask such as, ‘Does God exist?’ and ‘Can I find him?’”

As a child, Elisa had attended church with her Barbadian father, Filipino mother and three siblings but admits that she stopped going in her teens, though she still called herself a Christian. The shock of being diagnosed with breast cancer, however, meant that for Elisa issues of life and death suddenly loomed large, and she found herself reaching for her Bible for the first time in years.

“I thought to myself, ‘I am asking these questions about whether God exists, and I need to really think about it,’” the 29-year-old mother-of-one recalls. “It made me start to search the Scriptures and I began reading the Bible seriously.”
Elisa began attending a friend’s church where she learnt more about Jesus. Then, 18 months after finishing her hospital treatment, and the cancer going into remission, Elisa gave her life to Christ.

“I finally made the decision to get baptised when I realised my complete need for God,” she explains emphatically. “We can spend our lives constantly looking at what’s going on around us instead of realising that God is here and he wants to have a relationship with us. Going through cancer started my faith journey, and I am grateful for that.”

Having a second shot at life has helped Elisa to focus on what’s most important – and number one on her priority list is family.

“I want to spend my time with the people I love,” she explains and especially enjoys going to a local park with her husband and fellow-musician Jo and their 3-year-old daughter Liya, or listening to music together.

Elisa sung in school choirs and church as a child, and discovered her love for jazz music as a teenager, but she never once considered becoming a singer. In fact, it was Jo’s encouragement that got Elisa performing on a stage for the first time. The reception she got was so positive, she says, that it suddenly occurred to her, “Perhaps I can do this!”

Since then Elisa has wowed audiences in the UK and abroad with a voice that has been compared to that of jazz legend Ella Fitzgerald – a comparison that has left Elisa feeling “astounded and honoured”.

Having studied law and later theology before going into singing relatively late in life, Elisa has now found what she wants to do professionally.

“I praise God for giving me the desire and ability to sing,” she says with a smile. “I think God wants us to do whatever we are doing wholeheartedly and it’s much easier to do that if you love what you do!”

In 2009 Elisa recorded and released her debut album, Carry me home. It features the beautiful single, The Wind, which was written by Jo about Elisa’s time in hospital, when he was by her side. Other tracks, such as Swing Low and Who Can I Turn To, carry clear spiritual messages.

Elisa loves to touch people with her music and hopes to inspire others through what she does.

“I want people to know that I am a Christian through my music and to help them to draw closer to God,” she explains.

Looking back, Elisa says it was getting through her illness that gave her the courage to pursue singing professionally. “It can be a scary thing, being self-employed,” she explains. “But going through cancer made me realise that I want to spend my life, however long I have, doing something that I really enjoy and hopefully making a positive impact on other people’s lives.”

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