FYIG Chats With Singer/Songwriter Tamar Ilana

0
160

Tell us a little bit about yourself

I am a world music vocalist and flamenco dancer. I grew up on stage, performing around the Mediterranean and throughout North America, and I feel most comfortable on stage! I am of Jewish-Indigenous-Romanian-Scottish descent, born in Toronto. However, because of the amount of time spent as a child in Spain, I feel as at home in Kensington Market as in a small Spanish village. I also spent a lot of time in small Portuguese mountain villages with the Crypto-Jews and the Gypsies as a child, and I went to school in Toronto in French. As a result of all this, I speak English, Spanish, French and Portuguese fluently. I also sing in about 20 languages, including Ukrainian, Macedonian, Turkish, Greek, Arabic and Hebrew. I have played the Afro-Brazilian tradition of Maracatú for the past 12-13 years, and I have toured internationally with various Ukrainian theatre projects.

All of this contributes to the sound and feel of my music. Recently, I’ve started to collaborate with pop producers and songwriters, another fascinating exploration into new collaborations. I’m even writing songs in English.

Your mother Dr. Judith Cohen was an ethnomusicologist. How influential was that to your future music aspirations?

She’s still pretty influencing me!  I grew up accompanying her on many of her research trips, sometimes for months at a time. We would go from village to village recording old men and women singing songs before these songs died with their singers. Then we would learn them and perform them around Europe and NA. It also taught me how to question and observe when and why certain songs are sung at certain times and who sings them. I am always interested in the cultural context of music.  Music and traveling are the life I know.

You recorded your first album by the age of 5! How was that experience at such a young age?

It felt normal to me from what I remember. I mostly sat in the corner with a book and when it was time for me to sing, I would get up and sing my lines and then be quiet again. I remember there were my favorite candies in the recording studio in Madrid, so I was always excited to go.

At eight, you began studying flamenco dance with Esmeralda Enrique. What can you tell us about flamenco dance?

Flamenco dance is from Andalusia, in the South of Spain.  It has its roots in Roma music and dance that traversed the Mediterranean from India, across Europe and into the South of Spain over the course of various centuries, bringing along with them pieces of music and culture that they picked up along the way, eventually mixing what they brought with what already existed in Andalusia.

The latter included influences from the Moorish and Jewish people who had previously lived there for centuries, Spanish folklore, Phoenician, Tartessian, Celtic, North African and the Americas. All this combined to form what was first called “Flamenco” in 1852 and is still evolving as an art form today. To me, flamenco is everything: happiness, sorrow, ecstasy, suffering, art, music, dance, intelligence, intricate melodies, and rhythmic patterns, and deep history. It is a way of life. 

You started to pursue a degree in Biology and Human Evolution at the University of Toronto. In your third year, you did an international exchange at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona and that’s where you began singing flamenco. How instrumental was that to your growth as an artist?

I think it was a key turning point in my life and career. It brought me back to my musical upbringing and merged both my flamenco side and my singing side together.

Your current band is called Ventanas. How has the multi-cultural background of the members contributed to the diversity of your music?

Each member brings their cultural and musical background. This influences the sound of the music because their style of playing is influenced by their musical knowledge and experience. The influences include traditional Greek, Klezmer, Indian Classical, Western Classical, Jazz, Balkan, and of course Flamenco.

Your latest album is called, “Mistral”. What can audiences expect from this set of songs?

MISTRAL is a wind that traverses the Mediterranean Sea. Much of the music we do is from the Mediterranean, and the music we compose is heavily influenced by the music we play and know. Our music is a cross-pollination of traditions carried by this wind throughout the Mediterranean, reflecting themes of migration that are also relevant to many people today.

What’s the experience like at one of your live shows?

Very rich and full of music and dance. There are five musicians besides myself, providing a rich musical backdrop, with instruments that some people may never have seen or heard before. The band members are all virtuosic soloists yet blend together perfectly, and I wear multiple outfits and sing and dance. There are a lot of dynamics and at times it can be quite energetically high. At other times, the audience is drawn in and by the end, we have created a world in which the audience feels they have entered, learned, shared, absorbed and come out the other side full of music and experience.

What advice would you have for aspiring singers/songwriters?

Hustle and keep going. Only you will make it happen, everyone else is just along for the ride. DO IT!

What’s your life like outside of music?

A lot of admin that pertains to my live shows.  Most of my life is oriented around music, whether it be teaching dancing and singing, writing grants for tours or recordings, rehearsing or performing. Otherwise, you might find me at a show or on a jury panel for music or dance or listening to music! But I also like biking, swimming, hanging out with friends at the park and other non-music activities.

Let the readers know where to find you online.

Tamarilana.com

@tamarilana on IG and Twitter

Ventanas on Spotify and Apple Music