Sonia Aimiuwu: Taking the stage from Nigeria to Toronto via Italy
12 August 2011 No Comments
By Anya Wassenberg
Sonia ‘Aimy’ Aimiuwu may be new to Toronto but she’s hardly new to the stage. Her long resumé spans three continents along with several languages and artistic disciplines.
Born in Nigeria, Sonia began singing as a child in a gospel group in Benin City, fueling an early interest in traditional music and song that was also linked to storytelling, dance and theatre. She began her training in Nigeria and continued after immigrating to Italy. “I moved there when I was 19,” she recalls, “and trained in acting, jazz and choreography. I played in jazz bands for four or five years while I was going to school.”
Once out of school, she began a varied professional career that encompassed the cultures of both her native and adopted homelands. She’s worked as an actress, choreographer, dancer and singer with the Teatro di Roma and Teatro Stabile of Turin among others, was the Artistic Director of the African Theatre of Turin, and has helped train others in collaboration with the National Theatre of Nigeria. While she played the club scene in Italy as a student, as a professional she focused on broader projects. “When I started performing professionally, it was in festivals, theatres and events.”
Some of those events were ones she helped organize, including those that promoted African culture in Italy. She’s done multicultural radio programming and worked on youth projects with the Council of Europe and other European agencies, and she’s even starred in Italian films. Music, though, always seems to be at the core of her work, and her background has led to a fusion of styles. “How I would describe it? It’s a mixture. I’d define it as Afrojazz.”
She points out that she’s worked with many different artists of many different stripes, and adds the varied political climates of Africa and the West as part of her artistic baggage. She lists a number of musical influences, including King Sunny Adé, Miriam Makeba, Michael Jackson and Bob Marley, among others. Her voice is strong and expressive, and the music – which she writes – defies easy categorization. Afrojazz will do.
Though she’s only been in Toronto since April of this year, she hit the ground running, and has played at the Gladstone Hotel as part of their World Music series along with taking the stage at Afrofest. She’s concentrating her energies on music at the moment. “I’m still exploring Toronto,” she says. “My focus is really to work with the new band. “ Sonia speaks warmly of the wonderful musicians she’s found in the city.
As a lyricist, she’s often inspired simply by what surrounds her – a storyteller at heart. “It depends,” she says of her inspiration. “Sometimes it’s based on what’s around me, what is happening to people I know. There is one song in particular – I was inspired by a Ghanaian homeless guy. He lived in the train station. I used to give him money. One day, I started talking to him, and he told me his story.” His tale of coming to Italy in hopes of making his fortune and ending up on the street became a song. “It depends on what is happening around me,” she notes. For a memorial event dedicated to the late Miriam Makeba, she was moved to write about racism. “When we get to heaven, nobody is going to judge your skin colour, or whether you’re rich or poor. You’re going to be judged by your soul.” The result was her song “No Colour”.
While she’s still settling in, Sonia seems determined to leave her mark on the city’s stages starting right now. You can catch her smooth vocals and compelling presence performing as part of the Toronto African Dance Festival on August 13 and 14.
Check out Sonia Aimy’s YouTube channel to see her in action.