Jazz singer Sophia Perlman will honour her South African roots when she performs African and world jazz at a benefit concert for the Stephen Lewis Foundation at Hugh’s Room in Toronto on Jan.16.
The Stephen Lewis Foundation launched the Grandmothers to Grandmothers campaign in 2006, in response to the emerging crises faced by African grandmothers.
“My South African grandmother, Ina Perlman, was a member of the Black Sash – working against apartheid,” Perlman, 28, says. “She was also the founder of a group called Operation Hunger. She would get in her station wagon with supplies and drive for days to distribute food and help women in outlying areas create their own subsistence programs so that they could support themselves.
“She would say to me, ‘It’s great to sit around and talk about policy, but sometimes you just have to get in the car and you have to drive and actually do something.’”
Perlman is looking forward to playing with Bruce Cassidy, a Toronto jazz trumpet player and arranger, who has lately immersed himself in South African culture.
“I always wished and hoped that I would get the chance to sing with him one day. The music will be heavily influenced by South African music, which is a music that has been part of my growing up. One of my favourite singers when I was little was Miriam Makeba.” Makeba, or Mama Africa, was a Grammy-Award winning singer and civil rights activist who died in 2008.
“This benefit will be a way to honour the things that my grandmother instilled in me,” Perlman says.
Perlman grew up in Toronto’s Kensington Market area. Her skill as an improviser has made her a featured singer with some of the top ensembles and musicians in the country, and she has become a fixture of the Ontario jazz and blues scene.
“I remember while growing up I listened to klezmer music and went to lots of festivals and parades. Being exposed to that type of music at a really young age set the stage for me,” Perlman said.
“I started singing when I was a little kid, and I did lots of theatre and sang in choirs. Music is something that I’ve always done; it’s been part of my life one way or the other and my parents really supported it. They are both musical people and are involved in the music community. They gave me lots of opportunities to explore and figure out my own voice, and what I wanted to do with it. My dad plays guitar and writes songs and my mom plays piano. As a singer, my musical tastes are pretty eclectic. I like songs that are meant for singing,” said Perlman.
Early choral training and a knack for picking out harmony nurtured in Perlman a deep love for singing with others.
“I studied early childhood music at the Royal Conservatory of Music. I was a member of the Canadian Children’s Opera Company from the time that I was seven years old right up until the end of my second year of college. That was my foundation for my vocal training. I completed the jazz program at Humber College in the spring of 2007 and have been working as a musician ever since.”
In addition to performing and touring with her own quartet, Perlman is collaborating with numerous artists and ensembles, including husband, Adrean Farrugia, who plays piano. Her most recent recording is one she did with him, Alive at Musideum.
Sophia Perlman will be performing at Hugh’s Room, 2261 Dundas St. W., Toronto on Jan.16. at 8 p.m. For tickets call 416-531-6604 or visit hughsroom.com.