Vanessa Ferraro sits across from me at Tequila Bookworm’s outside patio sipping Pinot Grigio. Our table is clothed in red, a perfect pairing to her signature pigment lips. The fence lined patio with freshly painted street art offsets her glowing face.
Prior to our interview she asked me to take her photo in front of Chilean artist Fiya Bruxa
‘s painting and later during the conversation I understand more clearly why, as she shares with me her new found love of inspirational women and the importance of empowering them.
With only a week before her video release party she seems ‘chill’. However, I know otherwise. She has been working for months, collaborating with all different people to create a new website, single release, music video, recruiting local talent for her show, organizing rehearsals and now preparing for her upcoming birthday event that will showcase all that she has been working towards.
Ferraro’s earliest memories of music were very Spanish. With her family roots in, Chile, Italy and Ecuador, her grandmother, Teresa León Paredes is a published Chilean poet. Both her grandmother and mother write poetry and she continues to follow their footsteps in her own personal song writing journey.
“I was 5 years old sitting in my grandmother’s kitchen colouring on the floor and my grandfather would come into the house and put Argentinian tango on. He had a very strong baritone voice and he would sing along. My grandmother would be cooking and he would come in…he would try to get her to dance with him. She would pretend that she didn’t want to dance with him and I knew it was a game, because she would always end up dancing with him (laughs). So finally she would put down her apron and wooden spoon and she would get into frame with him and they would dance all over the kitchen and into the house”.
Ferraro began singing as a little girl. “At a very young age it was clear what I wanted to do and how I wanted to do it…I had a plan”.
That plan was singing dancing and acting. She had her heart set on attending Etobicoke School of Arts (ESA), a stepping stone that would later bring her to her future goals at the time of attending the Julliard School Of Performing Arts and Dance in New York. After landing her audition with ESA, her dreams were shattered when the final paperwork was received past the deadline. Although her audition went well, this minor detail was the pinnacle to her not gaining admittance.
Devastated, she found herself without focus, feeling isolated from her friends and community she became the rebellious teen and stopped singing entirely. Subsequently at the age of 15, she dropped out of high school and took a job at Second Cup and she has been in the workforce ever since.
What was the turning point in your life that made you go back to singing?
At 22, Ferraro started to sing again. She had been teaching Latin and ballroom dance, singing karaoke on occasion, but it wasn’t until she decided to attend a Leadership Program in New York. “That’s when everything shifted, when I realized that singing was what I was born to do and the fact that I wasn’t doing it was killing me”. It was in New York during the program that a guest speaker inspired her.
“I remember this man, he was one of the top breast cancer surgeons in the US, and he asked a question of us leaders, “out of all the possibilities that exist in the world, who are you as a possibility?” “Fulfilling your dreams this lifetime and not the next, thats who I am as a possibility. Then I was hit immediately after that thought of how much of a hypocrite I was because I wasn’t going after my dreams at all (my singing)…if I want to be that possibility for other people, I have to be it for myself, so I went back to Toronto with a clear vision that somewhere somehow I have to pursue this dream.”
“Theres a difference between a musician an artist and a performer…if I had to pick one I am a performer and an artist and a musician last…I literally am just feeling everything”
When did you start singing and performing again?
On a random Tuesday night I went to a restaurant patio Kensington Market to meet up with some friends and there I met visual artist Jimmy Chiale.
My friends were encouraging me and finally Jimmy said “sing something”. I sang Adele’s ‘Someone Like You’. The owner of the restaurant came outside and was really impressed and that is how I got my first gig.
If it wasn’t for the leadership course that I took, I wouldn’t have had the courage to say yes to him, and because I said yes, I knew I had to do it.
Without any material and no formal musical training, (Ferraro doesn’t play any instruments), she enlisted Tyson Froese (Rebel Hero) and initiated the next level of her singing success. From here, she performed at KOS, El Mocambo, Saviari, Mother’s Rock at Nathan Phillips Square, weddings, events and shows.
“Part of this game is knowing who you are as an artist. Sometimes you get caught up in what sells more than what is authentic to yourself. What was great about my past experiences was that
I am definitely an RnB Soul, Funk, Neo-Soul, Hip Hop rooted girl who loves ballads and love songs. My Strength is connecting with people. I love people. I love getting to know people. I know that if I’m vulnerable with people, in my life then I can make a connection”.
“When I sing I leave my heart on the stage”
What kind of music did you listen to growing up?
I grew up listening to Celine Dion, Whitney Houston, Alanis Morrisette, TLC, Aaliyah, Destiny’s Child and Lauryn Hill and later, artists like Jill Scott, Amy Winehouse, Adele became Vanessa’s sources of inspiration.
Right now I am actually going backwards and revisiting music I wasn’t paying attention to before, jazz and blues and those earliest memories of music were always spanish. The Tango, mi longas, artists like Selena and Shakira just to name a few.
How do you connect with people?
I look people in the eye. If I connect with someone on stage I go for it so that person feels like I am singing just to them and the whole room will feel it…you have to be present to what you are saying, have fun… its just about feeling which isn’t always awesome, because sometimes you can feel too much.
She mentions the late Amy Winehouse being a huge influence.
“She used to feel to much and thats why she did all the drugs and drinking…I’ve been known to be a bit of a drama queen, but I had to own up to that. When I’m singing a heartbreaking love song, you know I am thinking of all of my 3 ex boyfriends. I am being straight about it”.
“Instead of carrying that heartbreak with me to bed when I go to sleep at night, I can leave it on the stage and thats where its stays”.
Tell me about the music video.
The Music Video was directed by Andrew Shorsel and was filmed at Proper Reserve
on Queen St. featuring Mark Sparks
as the lead Actor. It will be launched on May 14th on www.vanessaferraro.com
The single is called “Painters Pain” which was also written at Proper Barbers featuring Jimmy Chiales art, and Escency jewellery her make up was done my Diana Meja
and hair by Chris Gomes.
Will include Ferraro singing originals for the first time and incorporating other talent such as, Tyson Ferose of Rebel Hero
, Deena Lexis and Jimmy Chiale
. A custom made ‘Vanessa Ferraro Bracelet’ will be available to purchase at the show and will also be available online at Esency
What type of Legacy will you Leave?
I want to connect people. I want to create more songs that empower women. Empowering artists of every genre, whether thats in fashion, jewellery, musicians, producers and or visual artists. This event isn’t about me anymore its about everyone involved succeeding. I’m inspired that where I’m going to find myself truly is in other people’s dreams.
Ferraro’s eyes glisten with un-fallen tears as she reminisces her mother. “My mother is my best friend…she’s a dreamer. In the cynical world that we live in thank God there is someone like her. She’s always about other people”.
She recalls her mother when she was a young girl embarrassed at times when she was outspoken with strangers on the subway. Complimenting a lady on how she liked her dress and how beautiful she was or acknowledging a cute couple. “She would talk to people about their dreams”.
“I’m not embarrassed by her anymore, If anything I am like just her now (mother) and that is why I wanted to take my picture in front of this specific piece, (she points to the fence)”.
I start to connect the dots, the painting’s significance to her is about strong women and honouring Chile.
I encourage you to come down to Moskito Bite this Tuesday May 14th and meet the one and only Vanessa Ferraro.