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Santilli a scintillating solo
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By Aaron St. John
At 24, Ivana Santilli is quickly becoming a major presence on the Canadian music scene, but it hasn't been easy.
Born and raised in Toronto, the young singer describes her family as very musical, with her father and sister both pursuing music.
She started playing piano at the age of eight and picked up the trumpet while in high school. It was only during her time with Juno-winning funk trio Bass Is Base that Santilli discovered she could sing. "I'd be harmonizing and they'd be like, 'Why don't you get on the mic?'" she recalls.
She's since parlayed all of these talents into Brown, her successful debut solo record. Although Santilli's experiences with the Canadian music scene extend back to her time with Bass Is Base, she notes there's still many changes which need to occur within the genre in order for it to be successful.
"The Canadian scene has opened up to R&B and hip-hop, but radio is still behind," she says. "There's no future here so a lot of groups just leave." That said, Santilli herself never considered picking up and leaving Canada. "This is my home. I figured I would start here and go elsewhere."
Santilli says it took her several months of soul-searching before she finally decided she had nothing to lose by going solo. "We were three strong entities that worked well together at one point, but then it seemed like none of our ideas coincided," she says of her hugely successful former group.
Brown became Santilli's opportunity to flex her musical muscles and it shows. The album represents the culmination of her efforts to become a better songwriter and musician, as it opens an opportunity to move in the direction she wanted to go but couldn't while involved with Bass Is Base.
The record displays a dizzying array of styles, each with fantastic musicianship and smooth production. Santilli describes her music as belonging in the circle of soul. "It's warm music based on groove. It's very live it involves the vibrations of real human beings."
The album's unique and distinctive sound is one which sets Santilli apart from the rest of the musical pack and that's okay with Santilli. "Pop music is very sad right now," she sighs. "I listen to the radio a lot and it's just boring. There's a lot of interesting production, but not much artistry. Radio is really behind."
Having played with a litany of great R&B and hip-hop groups (Jamiroquai, The Brand New Heavies and The Roots) over the last few years, Santilli is no stranger to touring. She says live shows are her best route to get music out to the masses.
Although constantly touring is sometimes difficult, Santilli says it's something she loves to do, especially with her new lineup. "It's a show in the old school definition of a live show with real musicians on stage," she enthuses. "You get your 10 to 15 dollars worth. We give it everything we have."
In addition to her current tour, Santilli is also getting prepped to do a February show with Latin Jazz legend Tito Puente in Toronto, a gig she describes as a career highlight. The singer is also commencing plans for her second album and is writing new material in an attempt to determine how she wants it to sound.
Regardless of how that album turns out, it's sure to be a refreshing change from what the rest of the pop music world is offering.
Santilli plays tomorrow night at the Embassy.