The idiosyncratic Canadian art pop chanteuse Jane Siberry was born in Toronto, Ontario on October 12, 1955; after taking up the piano as a child, she began absorbing the classical and operatic inspirations that later distinguished her professional work. While earning a degree in microbiology, Siberry began performing at the local coffeehouse where she also worked as a waitress; ultimately, she used her tip money to fund her 1981 self-titled debut LP, a Spartan offering spotlighting her ethereal vocal navigations through the eccentric rhythm changes and dramatic mood shifts that ornamented her abstract, atmospheric sound.
Three years later, Siberry resurfaced with No Borders Here, a more assured, cinematic collection highlighted by "Mimi on the Beach," an underground Canadian hit. The critical and commercial success of 1985's evocative The Speckless Sky brought her to the attention of Warner/Reprise for 1988's The Walking, a bold major-label bow comprising dense, epic-length soundscapes and subtle, intricate melodies. Despite considerable media acclaim, the album failed to dent the charts, and consequently Siberry's next record, 1989's Bound by the Beauty, reflected more commercial concerns, focusing on more direct production and succinct songwriting.
Siberry's next release was a 1992 career overview titled Summer in the Yukon; while primarily comprising older material, one new cut -- a drastic remix of Bound by the Beauty's "The Life Is the Red Wagon" -- proved revelatory, its painless transformation into a club-ready dance track revealing the true elasticity of the singer's music. As a result, 1993's When I Was a Boy, produced in part by Brian Eno and Michael Brook, emerged as her most eclectic and ambitious work yet, while 1995's Maria found the singer recording with a jazz quintet.
After growing disenchanted with the compromises of remaining on a major label, in May 1996 Siberry formed her own record company, dubbed Sheeba; Teenager, her first self-released effort, followed a month later. A live trilogy -- Christmas: Music for the Christmas Season, Trees: Music for Films and Forests, and Lips: Music for Saying It -- captured three nights at the Bottom Line in New York and finally saw the light of day in 1999. The melodically beautiful Hush appeared the next year, showcasing a brilliant collection of traditional American and Celtic compositions. City (2001) marked rare material and collaborations with the likes of Joe Jackson, Nigel Kennedy, Ghostland, and others. Rhino issued a double-disc retrospective called Love Is Everything: The Jane Siberry Anthology the following year, and in 2003 Siberry released another typically esoteric holiday album, Shushan the Palace: Hymns of Earth, which saw her taking on Christmas liturgical hymns by classical composers.
In 2006 Siberry underwent a bit of a sea change, selling off nearly all of her possessions and changing her name to Issa, the feminine variant of Isaiah. She explained that all of her previous works would still be associated with Jane Siberry, but that all future material would be credited to Issa. Part one in a planned trilogy called Three Queens, 2008's Dragon Dreams would be the first set of material released under the moniker. Arriving in 2009, With What Shall I Keep Warm? was credited to both Issa and Jane Siberry, as the artist had decided midway through recording that the name change had "run its course" -- 2011's Meshach Dreams Back, which completed the cycle, would be the first proper "Jane Siberry" album in eight years. Reported to be her "last formal record," the crowdfunded Ulysses' Purse was released in 2016. ~ Jason Ankeny