In a world where fame clouds the mind, Isabelle Fries uses her platform to be the voice of the unheard. Starting at a young age. Isabelle does everything from volunteering to founding a non-profit foundation— all while doing her already bustling music career with the interest of helping those who are in need.
Isabelle founded the Bulamu Community Foundation which introduces curriculums, along with sports and music – to Ugandan schools, promotes recycling, and educates about water safety. Isabelle was a serious competitive swimmer for 12 years and she is very passionate about water safety. Since drowning is the leading cause of death in Lake Bunyoni, she taught both children and adults how to swim. She focused on the adults in order to keep the training going and reduce the number of drowning fatalities.
Isabelle is also a board member and youth leader for Global Living Institute in Uganda which advocates the prevention of HIV and AIDS. To increase HIV awareness and give medical care, she played for over 20,000 people in rural Uganda with musicians all around the world as part of iKnow Concerts in the fall of 2017.
Isabelle Fries sits with GURUS to talk about her journey as a philanthropist and use her platform as a singer-songwriter to touch the lives of thousands of people. Catch the highlights of her Q&A below:
Gurus: Could you take me to the moment you decided to start Bulamu Community Foundation? What was the catalyst for this foundation?
Isabelle Fries: I decided to start Bulamu after I had been working with the GLI (Global Living Institute) in Uganda for a few years. The thing that really prompted me to start a community foundation was the community itself. The community and villages in Kable and Lake Bunyonyi are remarkable and the most important thing is that they do not need “saving”. A lot of the narrative around activism in Africa comes from the white saviourism concept and that was the exact thing I wanted to steer away from. This foundation is completely dedicated to those that are making that direct change on their own and in their own community. It gives them the support and platform to create change on their own that is sustainable. There are no better people to uplift or enact sustainable change in a community than the people that live there.
Gurus: Being a person who has a platform and a voice to inspire and change, what is it that you really want people to learn from you?
Isabelle Fries: I hope that people learn that you can use your platform in whatever way you want. I am not a typical singer and my goal has never been fame. I use my platform in a way that fits me and the things that I stand for. I stand for activism, education, community engagement and I want my platform to represent that and I want my music to play an authentic role in those things. So I hope people can get that from my platform and from what I do. And I hope people can see that you can have so many different aspects to your life and how you represent the things you are passionate about.
Gurus: How does being an artist affect your platform?
Isabelle Fries: Having the aspect of music in my platform gives it a different twist if you will. I get to use my passion for music and the arts to lift other causes and passions up. I can’t think of any better way to bring people together over a cause or an organization or a community than music. It’s universal love and everyone gets to experience it in their own way while being together. I have been singing my entire life and it’s a dream that I get to bring music and activism together.
Gurus: Other than Bulamu Community Foundation, what other humanitarian projects are you focused on?
Isabelle Fries: I am currently a special education teacher in Denver and that is my main focus right now. It’s more than a project, it’s my career right now and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. My true passion and calling is education and more specifically special education.
Gurus: I know that you’ve started your humanitarian and philanthropic projects at a very young age, how did these experiences help you?
Isabelle Fries: It has completely changed the trajectory of my life. My family was incredibly supportive and encouraging of me from a very young age to explore everything I was passionate about or interested in. They always were on board with me going to different countries and working and immersing myself in something different and unique. If it wasn’t for those experiences I wouldn’t have found Uganda or studied what I did in college. Nor would I be where I am today teaching and exploring all the other options I have for impact and change.
Gurus: In what ways do you want change to happen? How do you imagine yourself contributing to that change?
Isabelle Fries: I want change to happen from within. A lot of times we as a society see things or places or people as broken or needing fixing when in reality we need to change that narrative.
People need to be listened to and heard before any change can happen. If we do not listen to the people in the communities and places we want to impact, then no genuine impact can be made. The Global Livingston Institute stands by the motto “Listen. Think. Act.”. This is the motto in which change should be enacted and brought to life. I see myself supporting in the process of change. Change cannot come from one person but it takes one person to believe in it and bring others together to make it happen. That’s where I see myself.
Gurus: We hear that you are partnering with the charity Adopt The Arts for some incredible future endeavours. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Isabelle Fries: Of course. Adopt the Arts is an organization that brings music to public schools that have received budget cuts in their music programs. I recently met with Abby Berman who is the founder and we are planning to do some incredible initiatives that mix music and giving back. Adopt the Arts was also founded by Jane Lynch and Matt Sorum and it’s a dream of mine for one day to perform with them.
We are talking about some powerful exciting stuff with them like creating a “Lilith Fair type Tour/festival” under the umbrella of Adopt the Arts and some other amazing causes. The idea of a tour/festival that has a cause and charity behind it’s “literally” music to my ears. I also would love to create a “We are the world” type of song with seasoned and up and coming recording artists. I feel that we are at a time when everyone is creating so much art and content. I personally love how much creativity these uncertain times have created, but I also think that now more than ever art needs to have a cause and a purpose to help others.
Gurus: Tell us a little bit about your new single “Scrapbook” that’s coming out.
Isabelle Fries: Sure, “Scrapbook is a song that invites you to welcome all of life, even the painful memories that have caused so much heartache. It was written by the talented Seth Baer and produced by Rob Chiarelli. This song for me is about longing for the past and all the encompassing feelings of nostalgia and emotions we all experience. It’s also about wanting more for your life and knowing that you are capable and able, even if it means having to fight the demons in your head.
Gurus: Before we end the interview, is there anything you want to tell people who are also interested in doing humanitarian work?
Isabelle Fries: If someone is interested in humanitarian work I would say think before you act and most importantly listen before all else. Your help and your work are always needed but you always have to make sure you listen to those around you before you begin your work. If we don’t listen and think together then that work could be harmful. So listen to those around you, soak up all the information you can from all different sides, and think strategically, giving everyone a seat at the table to make an impact together.
Article Written by: Ley Calisang |Photographed by Grace Fries | Hair and makeup by Joel Sebastian | Creative Direction by Derek Warburton | Retouch by Alexander Silkin | Videography by Miguel Felix | Produced by Jorge Perez
For more on Isabelle Fries, check out www.isabelle-fries.com/