Speaking with Canada’s own confident and beautiful Karen David, you would have a hard time believing she ever had so much as a bad hair day. However, the multi-talented singer, songwriter, and actress professes that she lived through years of insecurity—of wanting to be someone else.
Growing up in Canada, with a half Chinese, half Khasi mother and an Indian father, her rich heritage wasn’t always a source of pride. “I ran away from my roots,” she says, “I didn’t want to watch all of the Bollywood films, or know too much about my culture.”
From a young age, Karen idolized the fair, blond, blue-eyed looks of Olivia Newton John, Grace Kelly and Ava Gardner. On top of accepting the fair-means-beautiful ideology she was often exposed to, Karen was picked on by peers for looking different.
This combination of peer pressure and her own longing to look like the fair screen sirens she so admired was tough on Karen. She just wanted to blend in with her peers. “I would come home from school in tears. I just thought that it would be easier if I could say, ‘I’m just Canadian. I’m just like everyone else.’”
The 26-year-old singer, songwriter, and actress is hardly “just like everyone else.” She has been training and performing for over 20 years and with her lead role in this summer’s The Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior and her soon-to-be-released debut album, Me Versus Me, she has many industry experts speculating that this might be her breakout year.
Karen’s recent success may be a result of her newfound closeness with her heritage. She fell in love with mainstream pop at a young age and after immersing herself in her heritage, she decided that she wanted to combine the two genres. She calls this an east-meets-west combination: exotic pop. Think, Kylie Minogue with Bollywood instrumentals.
Fittingly, Me Versus Me was produced by Indian music legend, AH Rahman, at his studio in India. Had Karen not stopped running from her roots, this album may never have been born.
Still, after years of ignoring her heritage, the decision to embrace it did not come easily. After graduating from Berkeley, Karen was granted a scholarship to attend drama school in London, England. Immersing herself in different characters and roles, she realized the person she really needed to learn more about was herself. Soon after this realization, Karen’s world came to a screeching halt with the shock that two of her cousins had died in a tragic accident.
This loss pushed Karen to focus on what was really important to her and her roots took centre stage. “I needed to go back to the Himalayas,” she says, “and know where I come from and what I’m all about.” The result has been nothing but positive. “Embracing my roots,” she says, “has brought me a sense of calm and peace. I love my family, I love everything about my mixed culture.”
Throughout her career, Karen has learned the importance of “Being happy with who you are and not being ashamed of where you come from.” Looking back, she laughs at all of the names that she was called, which she says, “at the time, felt like the end of the world.”
Ultimately she credits her tumultuous early teenage experience for making her stronger and more grateful for her life now. Karen is extremely open about her life lessons and hopes others can learn from her mistakes. “There are more and more people that have wonderful, different ethnic backgrounds,” she says, “I always tell them ‘Hey, those are the things that you should be really proud of.’”