Living in Cameroon’s tropical rainforest, part of the second largest in the world, can present its own set of unique challenges.
It took Calla Kinglit half a day to get to the village where she lived, driving along a bright red, dusty, dirt road that was flanked by the darkest greens imaginable.
The dust clung to her clothing and turned her skin a deep orange hue, she said.
On top of that she was one of the few outsiders around, and struggled with the local language, French, at first.
But despite the barriers, Kinglit said she emerged from her experience in the Central African country with a better understanding of herself.
“Cameroon is a pretty closed country and especially living in the rainforest, I stood out a lot,” she said.
“It made me feel very exposed all the time. Even when people were friendly, the feeling was there.
“But it was a life-changing experience, like a process of spiritual refinement.”
The 24-year-old Whitehorse resident spent almost 10 months there in 2011 as a researcher for her degree in international development studies.
Her work led her to examine how non-governmental organizations affect local power dynamics. She discovered that NGOs with significant funding do tend to affect the power hierarchy in a given region.
Her experiences inspired some of the songs that will be featured in her debut album, which she recently started recording.
The songwriter and poet placed second in the 2015 Emerging Artist Music Mentorship Program, a nationwide competition with a field of over 300 entries from Canadian musicians.
She received a cash prize of $7,000 and the opportunity to perform at the Canada Walk of Fame inductee ceremony and artist showcase at the end of September.
Now back in Whitehorse, she’s working on recording two pieces that she’ll eventually present to more established producers who can hopefully help her finish the rest of the tracks.
Introspection is a big part of Kinglit’s process as a musician, she said.
“Challenges force you to look at yourself – they make you ask questions like ‘Did my ego get in the way? Was I listening to the people around me?’” she said.
“These challenges make the process more painful but they’re also effective at making you learn how to be more humble, patient and open.”
Island in the Sea is a song about being grateful for who you are in the world and recognizing that despite not being at the centre of things, you play an important role, she explained.
“It has an uplifting feel to it with a bit of darkness – which is a common theme in my music,” she said.
“It’s sort of a cathartic darkness that you cross on your way up to the light.”
Kinglit plays a hollow-body electric guitar, which give her upper and lower tones more warmth than a solid-body guitar.
She calls the genre dark folk, but her music also features aspects of neo-folk, which contains some electronic elements.
Other songs on the album reflect the feelings she felt at different stages of her time in Cameroon, like when the culture shock began to wear off around the third month.
She also hopes to collaborate with two classical musicians she met while she was in Toronto last month.
“Ideally they could come up to record with me but also to experience what the Yukon is like,” she said.
“It’s a place that’s been a huge source of inspiration to me.”
Born in Cochrane, Ont., Kinglit’s family moved around a lot during her childhood.
When she was four they moved to Zimbabwe, then back to Peterborough, Ont. for a few years.
At the age of 14 they moved back to Africa, to Egypt this time, where they lived in a small village for a year.
Kinglit was enrolled in an international school in Cairo for the following two years, before going to university in Toronto.
“My parents are very adventurous and wanted to expose us to different cultures,” she said.
She hopes to have the pair of pieces completed by early 2016, she added.
Contact Myles Dolphin at