Sonia Rutstein on Friday at the PiPaPo
April 11, 2019 Author: red / Image: Lea Morales
Bensheim. Sonia Rutstein is once again a guest at the PiPaPo-Kellertheater during her tour of Germany. Her concert on Friday (12th) starts at 8 pm, doors open at 7 pm.
Sonia Rutstein, who according to the promoters is a cousin of Bob Dylan, is a singer-songwriter from Baltimore (USA) who has been thrilling audiences worldwide with her songs for more than 30 years. Of her songs in Spanish, Hebrew, Arabic and English, Rutstein has sold over a million units.
The new CD "By My Silence" reflects the current worldwide shift towards the right and urges the listeners to raise their voices for a free world.
The announcement states, "The honesty of her songs touches the hearts and minds of people who all share the vision of a positive world. This voice, this guitar, captivating sound and wisdom in her songs, immediately capture the fans.” Red / Image: Lea Morales
Thursday, April 11, 2019
SONiA disappear fear - By My Silence
SONiA disappear fear
By My Silence
(A version of this review was published in the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin.)
Sisters Sonia Rutstein and Cindy Frank founded disappear fear as a folk-rock band whose material included a focus on social justice issues. Now working as a solo artist, Rutstein tours and records as SONiA disappear fear.
By My Silence, Sonia’s latest album, was inspired by the growing waves of anti-Semitism that she has observed and encountered in recent years.
Perhaps the most powerful of Sonia’s original songs on the album is “Wandering Jew,” a joyous, anthemic song in which she asserts her Jewish identity, recalls that her own ancestors were refugees and finds common cause with contemporary refugees. Another is “A Voice for Nudem Durak,” a song of solidarity, sung in both Kurdish and English, with a Sunni Muslim woman who was sentenced to 19.5 years in prison because she sang publicly in Kurdish in Turkey.
A couple of songs mark Jewish holidays. She wrote “Light in You” for a young neighbour disappointed that there were no Chanukah songs included in his school’s holiday concert while “Ahavnu (We Have Loved)” is her setting of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook’s words for a Yom Kippur prayer.
Sonia also includes compelling versions of “By My Silence,” a song by Nick Annis and Ellen Bukstelbased on the famous Holocaust-era poem by Reverend Martin Niemoller, and Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”
Also of note are her versions of Israeli folksongs “Elel Chamda Libi” and “Oseh Shalom,” sung in Hebrew, as is a stunningly beautiful version of “Hatikvah,” sung as a prayer-like meditation that reflects on the feelings of hope at the heart of the Israeli national anthem.
And in “Who I Am (say amen),” Sonia, a lesbian, seems to be in dialogues with her mother and with God about her sexuality. “Mom, is it OK if I am who I am,” she asks at the end of the first verse. She puts the question to God in the second verse along with a plea for God to say it’s OK. It is OK she concludes at the end of the song and says “Amen.”
Sonia and I chatted when we were both at the Folk Alliance International conference in Montreal in February. She told me that when she finished making this album on Friday, October 26, 2018, she then turned off her TV and all electronic devices for Shabbat. The next night, when she turned on the news, she learned of the massacre of 11 Jewish worshippers at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.
As the songs on By My Silence show, SONiA disappear fear is a convincing and truly fearless artist.
SONiA’s Big Year
Thirty years into her career, Baltimore folk singer Sonia Rutstein is busier than ever
FEBRUARY 6, 2019
BY CONNOR GRAHAM
AFTER RELEASING HER 19TH RECORD IN JANUARY, SONIA DISAPPEAR FEAR TOURS GERMANY THROUGH MOST OF THE SPRING. (DAVID STUCK)
Last year, Baltimore-based singer-songwriter Sonia Rutstein was on tour in Europe, driving from Germany to Poland, when she got word of a neo-Nazi rally taking place along her route. What was going to be a two-hour drive took six hours, plenty of time for Rutstein to consider the reason for the delay. Although she was shaken by the situation, there was a silver lining.
“There was a huge, enormous, gigantic backlash,” said Rutstein, 59. “Those people were saying to the world that they are not going to slip backwards into hate speech.”
Relieved as she was by the counterprotest, it wasn’t long before there was another brutal display of anti-Semitism. This time in the United States, and this time deadly, as 11 people were killed during Shabbat services at Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha synagogue in Pittsburgh on the morning of Oct. 27.
The series of hateful events, coming after Charlottesville, shocked Rutstein. Growing up in Pikesville, she existed in a “wonderful bubble” surrounded by fellow Jews, safe from the insidious prejudices against them, she said.
“I was aware of — but very protected from — anti-Semitism,” said Rutstein. “And now to see the world slipping backwards, with what we saw in Charlottesville and in Pittsburgh and in South Carolina and what I saw firsthand this summer in Europe, it hit me really, really hard, and I had to write about it.”
Inspired by these events, Rutstein, who performs under the name SONiA disappear fear, released her 19th album, “By My Silence,” on Jan. 15. She will also tour Germany for most of the spring, premiere her first musical in March, and begin writing a book about her life and career once she returns home from her tour.
“I’m amazed. It allows me and encourages me to look back,” Rutstein said about her slew of projects. “So many people who have been in my life the last 30 years are still in it, and it’s really cool.”
The “disappear fear” part of Rutstein’s performing name comes from the band of the same name that she started in 1987 with her sister, Cindy, who ultimately gave up music for motherhood. But Rutstein kept the name when she went solo.
“All of my songs come under the mantra of that idea,” Rutstein said. “When you disappear fear between people, what you have is love and respect.”
Regarding the events that inspired her new album, Rutstein says she’s angry, an emotion that’s served as a creative catalyst throughout her career.
Most people, though, would not describe Rutstein as angry. In conversation, the singer is warm, curious, joking and reflective. Whether she’s geeking out about the specs of her signature series Santa Cruz Guitar Company acoustic guitar or comparing the ethos of punk rock and folk musicians, her enthusiasm, humor and confidence are contagious. It’s no surprise she’s doing big things.
‘By My Silence’
First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out,
Because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out,
Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out,
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.
“First they came …” a poem displayed in the permanent exhibition at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C., was written by Martin Niemöller, a prominent Lutheran pastor in Germany during World War II. Niemöller, who spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in a concentration camp for criticizing Adolf Hitler, wrote the poem to express guilt for not speaking out.
“By My Silence,” the title track from the new SONiA disappear fear album, is a cover of a 2008 folk song written by Ellen Busktel and Nick Annis that was inspired by Niemöller’s poem. In Rutstein’s rendition, the refrain “by my silence, I gave my consent” is delivered with a happy melody over a major chord resolution, making the guilty and heartbreaking sentiment all the more devastating.
The songs on “By My Silence” come across much more like feel-good popular music than the lyrics would suggest. Rutstein’s words, at once gutsy and disquieting, are often delivered through catchy hooks and toe-tapping rhythms. In “Wandering Jew,” the rootsy fourth track on the record, Rutstein sings, “With the rise of anti- Semitism/ not gonna build another wall or prison/ Buck that old, smelly system/ No blisters on my heart, tearing us apart/ The end can’t start, when smart does smart.” In Rutstein’s songs, her injustice-inspired anger is intrinsically attached to optimism for a better world.
In addition to the title track, “By My Silence” features five original songs by Rutstein, two Hebrew folk songs — one sung in Kurdish — the Israeli national anthem “Hatikvah” and a cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”
Rutstein doesn’t only sing about hope for a better world, she acts on it, playing festivals and attending rallies for many causes: LGBTQ rights, refugee rights, women’s equality, combating racism, combating anti-Semitism, accessibility for differently abled people and animal rights.
“The things they taught you in school about democracy, about writing letters to local representatives, those things actually do work,” said Rutstein. “You can get your five minutes in Ben Cardin’s office, or get time with Johnny O or Stephen Lafferty. They can do what you want them to do if you channel you anger and frustration into speaking. It’s satisfying because it does make a difference.”
RUTSTEIN AT BEIT TIKVAH IN 2017 (LARRY PINSKER)
Rutstein’s ability to channel that determination was even on display in synagogue performances.
Rabbi Larry Pinsker is the former spiritual leader at Congregation Beit Tikvah in Roland Park, where Rutstein was a member for 18 years. During his tenure, Pinsker saw great emotive power in Rutstein as a performer, and asked her to sing during High Holiday services. Rutstein’s cover of “Hallelujah,” which she sang during services, is one of Pinsker’s favorite versions of the song.
“Sonia is the only one that conveys the anger in that song. ‘Hallelujah’ is not a song about feeling mellow or feeling good. It’s a song about the contradictions of beliefs and the vulnerability of our different moods of anger and relief when things go either for us or against us,” Pinsker said. “I love many different singers’ versions of that song, but I have to say I think hers is extraordinary.”
Pinsker said her music “amplifies the meaning of the High Holidays.”
“Some of the songs were about social justice, which is now popularly known as tikkun olam. And a lot of it was about learning to see how rich and nurturing the liturgy is,” said Pinsker. “She has a song about her father helping her learn to ride a bicycle. I had her sing it as part of the yizkor service on Yom Kippur. And people were weeping.”
In describing what he called Rutstein’s “profound ethical foundation,” Pinsker explained that there are four levels of tikkun in Judaism.
“The value that I think permeates all of her music is tikkun atzmi — the healing, repairing of fixing of yourself and the wounds you’ve received, the trauma you’ve received,” said Pinsker. “Her coming out as a lesbian to her own family, and the recognition of how difficult, at that time she was growing up, that acknowledgment and coming to grips with her identity was, that’s tikkun atzmi — when you learn that you can help yourself heal and channel those resources in ways that will make a difference.”
‘At Peace with yourself’
Jody Nusholtz, a communications arts professor at Carroll Community College, met Rutstein at one of her shows in the 1980s. Nusholtz was back in Baltimore after finishing graduate school and trying her hand at writing reviews. Although a story never materialized, a long-term friendship did.
Rutstein and Nusholtz hadn’t collaborated until recently when the pair wrote a musical called “Small House, No Secrets.” After several years of revisions and concert readings of the script, the musical, a production of the Baltimore Playwrights Festival, debuts at the Fells Point Corner Theatre in Baltimore in March.
The play’s protagonist is Liz, a 30-something advertiser in a heterosexual relationship that, by all appearances, is healthy and stable. When Liz and her boyfriend go to a Thanksgiving dinner, the host invites a friend who happens to be her ex-lesbian lover from college.
SONIA PERFORMS IN 2010 AROUND THE RELEASE OF HER “BLOOD, BONES & BALTIMORE” ALBUM. ( DANIEL BIHN)
Nusholtz and Rutstein are both gay and Jewish, but the play doesn’t necessarily touch on Jewish themes or characters — the protagonist Liz is Catholic — nor does it make specific references the writers’ own coming-out stories. Nusholtz believes the play is more about common characteristics of the human condition.
“This happens to be a gay story, but we all have secrets and they weigh on us until we deal with them,” said Nusholtz. “That’s probably the most universal interpretation of what the play is about.”
Nusholtz is a self-proclaimed genre-hopper who now calls herself “a poet who writes plays.” It’s likely that her expertise working in the rhythmic, metered medium lent itself to writing lines suited for a musical.
“The question you ask yourself when you’re writing songs for a musical is, ‘Does it sing?’” said Rutstein. “We looked at the overall script and said, ‘absolutely, this will sing.’”
To help arrange the songs, Rutstein enlisted the help of Tony Correlli, a musician and recording engineer at Deep End Studio, where Rutstein recorded her album “Blood, Bones & Baltimore” in 2010. Although Rutstein and Correlli are experienced in songwriting and arrangement, preparing the songs for a musical proved to be a new challenge. The songs, mostly written on guitar, needed to work with minimal instrumentation. In the upcoming performances, Correlli will be the only instrumentalist, accompanying the actors on piano.
“Sometimes the tempo or key needed to be changed to make the song work on piano instead of guitar,” Correlli said. “We had to consider which parts would be sung by male vocalists or the younger female vocalist or an older female vocalist. We had to consider their voices rather than just what sounded good for Sonia in the moment.”
Whether collaborating for an album or musical, Correlli said working around Rutstein’s lyrics is always a pleasure.
“It’s always fun recording her songs because you never know what she’s going to say. Her lyrics can be unpredictable, playful, surprising, funny, provocative and insightful,” said Correlli. “The same is true in the musical. She’s telling a story and sometimes she’ll surprise you with a line or a phrase that will stick with you for the rest of the song.”
Though the story Nusholtz and Rutstein tell is not autobiographical, it is insightful. Without mentioning tikkun atzmi, Rutstein practically confirmed Pinsker’s assertion that her art is about healing oneself before healing the world.
“It’s a question about being able to be at peace with yourself and move forward. Liz is not at peace with herself about being who she is sexually. It bothers her,” Rutstein said. “There are elements of it that are incredibly personal in that it is a journey to be OK. For me, and for Liz, to make peace with yourself and with God definitely resonates.”
While SONiA disappear fear is a solo musical endeavor, Rutstein won’t claim that she could have done this all on her own. Her website features a thank-you page, where she says, “I have tremendous gratitude for the many enormously generous folks who have lifted me out of my wanna be doldrums and onto their stage or their house… PS: At some point I will write a memoir but until then this will suffice, I hope.”
Rutstein hopes that point will be later this year, when she’ll begin interviews with the many musicians and friends who have been a part of her 30-year career. Rutstein doesn’t plan to be the only voice in her memoir.
“It’s going to be a lot of interviews, hearing things from their points of view,” said Rutstein. “There might even be parts of the book that are their personal reflections, which I think would make it a better book, because their perspectives are so different from mine.”
With a busy few months ahead, Rutstein maintains an even keel — not too stressed, nor overly excited. Her description of her mental state is exactly the kind of imagery meant for a memoir.
“What I thought my career would be, crashing into what my career actually is, it’s like when a wave crashes, then recedes and it’s so pretty,” said Rutstein. “It’s just flat on the sand and there’s the reflection, and it’s so smooth and perfect.”
WORLD 🌎 NEWS
-interview in NO DEPRESSION AMERICANA MUSIC MAG USA
SONiA wins the Spirit of Folk Award at Folk Alliance
congratulations to all the winners Bruce Coburn, Molly Tuttle and all...
Rhythms Magazine Live at Maximal - TOP TEN ALBUMS
Angus Gibson reviews By My Silence by SONiA disappear fear, the long-running project from Baltimore singer/songwriter Sonia Rutstein. The album is out now on disappear records.
SONiA disappear fear knows the political power of a pop-tinged chorus. These days, the art of the protest song is often pigeon-holed as the domain of sombre bearded men in jumpers. Yet the conga-led groove of By My Silence’s opener, ‘A Voice for Nudem Durak’, shatters this perception, as does the remainder of the eclectic-yet-melodic album.
‘A Voice for Nudem Durak’ calls for the release of a Sunni Muslim imprisoned for singing in Kurdish, a subject matter that brings to mind the murder of Chilean folk singer Víctor Jara by the Pinochet regime in 1973. The song’s eight lines sway from reggae verse to anthemic chorus with surprising ease.
SONiA’s cover of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah grasps what many don’t; that the song is angry, that ‘love is not a victory march’. By My Silence inherits much of Cohen’s Jewish tradition, from SONiA’s vocal delivery, to the string arrangements and two Hebrew hymn-like folk songs ‘Hatikva’ and ‘Oseh Shalom’.
The record is centered on the relationship between Judaism, refugees and political responses to sexuality (much like Ezra Furman’s recent effort, Transangelic Exodus). SONiA relates the experience of refugees in Germany today to Jewish people throughout history with refreshing compassion. Meanwhile, she fears the reconciliation of her faith and love, asking if coming out as gay will be ‘ok with God and our mothers?’
Photo by Lea Morales.
By My Silence confronts incredibly serious issues, but it does so in 30 minutes of world rhythms, pop choruses and luscious strings. It’s very listenable, which provides its ultimate potency. As SONiA says, ‘through the power of music we can create great civil awareness so that Nudem Durak be set free.’
"We are a community of people who are invested in generating
positivity and enthusiasm for the Art's in Adelaide"
An American and an Aussie walk into a Church...
January 27, 2018
Music Gig Review
SONiA (Disappear Fear) took to the stage and showed every bit of why she was the headline act. SONiA is a singer/song-writer from Baltimore, Maryland, the setting for the excellent TV Show The Wire. SONiA continued where Zac Eden left of and intricately wove a set full of meaning, heart and passion. Her songs, music and sheer presence held the audience in total captivation. It was clear that each song held personal significance. Theme and lyrics came across as mission statements that we all could and should live by.
Video: SONiA (Disappear Fear) live at Trinity Session. Credit to Arty Records for the footage
SONiA could not be faulted in anyway, she was rather faultless. The brilliant acoustics were such that you could just swear that the chords lingered in the air, each crisply played. In actual fact the skill with which the guitar was played was a mere after thought. SONiA's most endearing quality was her ability to paint a picture with wit, humour and humility. She created a context for her songs that allowed her fans to imagine that they themselves were going on a journey and the subject of the songs. When delving into the world of politically influenced song writing, the importance of connecting with your audience can't be understated. SONiA was a master at this!
Picture: SONiA (Disappear Fear) at Trinity Sessions
People, at the Trinity, were content to just sit and process what they had just experienced, almost with an element of awe and shock. I was half expecting an emergency medical response team to burst through the doors and take us all to hospital for observation! However, this wasn't to be the end. SONiA felt inspired to unplug her guitar and lead us in a sing along version of 'Imagine' by John Lennon. It was the perfect finish and one of those musical memories that I will treasure for as long as I remember it! Check out my sneaky footage below...
SONiA disappear fear
Wauchope Arts and Mid North Coast Refugee Support Group will host a very special concert this month, to raise funds for Sanctuary Australia’s Refugee Support Programs. Baltimore based singer-songwriter SONiA diappear fear (Sonia Rutstein) and local performer Helen Mottee will present a show to remember… We chat to both Sonia and Krissa Wilkinson from Wauchope Arts ahead of the December 8 performance…
Hi Krissa. What’s the aim of the show on December 8, featuring SONiA disappear fear and Helen Mottee – where will funds raised go?
Historically, music has successfully shaped the world, raising awareness during campaigns for civil rights, social justice, women’s rights and peace.
Sonia Rutstein and local support artist Helen Mottee use their musical talents as singer songwriters to raise concerns about injustice, human rights and the plight of refugees.
Helen is a much-loved local performer, who pens heartfelt tunes that she will play on the grand piano. Some say she is our local Carol King!
The aim of this event is to cultivate compassion and encourage generosity. This event is a fundraiser for Sanctuary Australia’s Refugee Support Programs.
Like the influx of people after WWII and the holocaust, or people fleeing Vietnam after the war, refugees who manage to settle in Australia face many hardships and are dependent on the kindness of strangers.
You’ll have additional offerings on the night, including a raffle. What are the refreshment arrangements, and what prizes can people win?
A light dinner will be for sale from 6:30pm for $10. There will be an array of delicious home cooked vegetarian food, much of it harvested from local organic gardens.
The raffle includes beautiful original prints by designer Annie Georgeson, hand woven and handmade items, including some beautiful ceramic bowls, as well as organic produce.
How much are tickets, and where can they be purchased?
Tickets can be purchased at the door from 6:30pm or online at http://www.trybooking.com/SPJI – $25, or $20 for Arts Council and refugee group members.
Hi Sonia. Introduce us to SONiA disappear fear, which has undergone a few changes since its inception…
The basic spine and soul of disappear fear has always been me and my Santa Cruz guitar. My sister, CiNDY, and I created the band disappear fear and at its inception we were a duo in October of 1987 – and then we worked with different members, depending on my writing and our dating habits. The first band was a marimba percussionist and cellist. Next was a basic rock formation.
Currently I work with bassist Christopher Sellman, who I’ve performed and recorded with off and on for 20 years and percussionist Ezell Jones Jr.
Originally we were heavy into sisterhood harmonies, so when CiNDY left, I had to really focus on great songwriting to stay alive and engaging.
The songs you write reflect issues of today … issues you’re obviously very passionate about. What are some of the key messages you hope to convey with your music?
Every choice we make has a price of defining our future; hence by definition, “free will”. Before doing music full-time, I worked at a Rape Crisis Centre. I was acutely aware of self empowerment after an assault. This can apply, as does the essence of the idea of disappearing fear to many situations that we might feel powerless in, so I hope my songs inspire people to find their own courage and live in the moment and to love out loud.
Of course, this transpires into political realms as well as religious, sexual, stereotypes and scientific applications.
You buck the trend by performing in places/venues other performers would shun. For you personally, what’s been one of your more memorable performances?
One concert I loved was at a V.A hospital near Austin, Texas, on Memorial Day. There was an old soldier who’d been badly wounded in Vietnam – in a wheelchair – who at the end of my song actually stood up to give me a personal and extremely difficult standing ovation.
Another wonderful experience was at concert I did in a bomb shelter in Israel during the second antifada – it was very powerful and especially memorable, because we never knew who would live or what would happen next.
But the most amazing experience I can think of was for this 10 year child in Massachusetts near Boston – she had extreme cerebral palsy. She was in love and very familiar with my singing voice. When I started to sing her favourite song, she went absolutely ecstatic. I’ve never seen so much joy bursting out of a human being like that – ever. It was all encompassing in loveliness.
When you perform in Wauchope on December 8, who’ll be supporting you – both on stage and behind the scenes?
I travel with my manager, who lucky for me is also my wife.
What are your thoughts ahead of travelling “down under”… Have you visited here before?
Yes, I have toured in Oz before. I’ve played the Woodford Folk Festival about four times, also the Illawarra festival, Cygnet and Mardi Gras. My last tour in 2009 I played the Sydney Opera House, State Theatre in Canberra, Adelaide, Brisbane and Melbourne. I have shared the stage with Kristina Olsen, Kristy Apps, George, the Waifs, Blue House, Fred Smith, Aurora Jane, Ember Swift, and many other great performers.
When you have the chance to wind down from your Australian experience, what are your plans?
This time I hope to hit the waves at Noosa and also venture out to Uluru (Ayers Rock) and maybe get to snorkel again at the Great Barrier Reef – but must importantly, reconnect with my Aussie mates.
Photos by Lea Morales.
SONiA to play Wauchope Arts
on December 8 in refugee fundraiser
3 Dec 2017, noon
Don’t miss Baltimore singer/songwriter SONiA at Wauchope Arts on Friday December 8 in a concert fundraiser for Sanctuary Australia’s refugee support programs.
Helen Mottee is the local support artist at the event, organised jointly by Wauchope Arts Council and the Mid Coast Refugee Support Group.
Light dinner, supper and drinks for sale from 6.30pm plus a huge raffle with great prizes.
This will not be the first time SONiA has used her musical talents to benefit others. She frequently performs her powerful songs of passion and hope at events that challenge injustice, and was awarded the Coin Of Honor from a joint coalition of United States military for her humanitarian efforts.
Earlier this year she organised a relief concert in Texas to raise hearts and money for the victims of Hurricane Harvey. As a musician, SONiA has received the GLAMA (Gay and Lesbian Music Awards) for Female Artist of the year, and a nomination for Best Live Album by the Independent Music Awards (USA).
Her 17 award-winning CDs include songs written in Spanish, Hebrew, Arabic, German and in multiple genres, from blues to middle eastern, folk to country and western. Since 1994, when she and her sister Cindy Frank formed the indie-folk duo “disappear fear”, SONiA has released albums as a group member and even more as a solo artist, selling over a million units.
Her music is a vivid celebration of the human spirit, and according to Don Kening from the Chicago Daily Herald, "has a singular sound that makes labeling and categorizing a waste of time.”
Although SONiA spends a large portion of her time in Europe, every few years she comes back to tour Australia and New Zealand, which she enjoys very much.
From the Opera House in Sydney, to the bomb shelters of the Middle East, SONiA has shared the stage with many of her heroes including Bruce Springsteen, Peter, Paul and Mary, Green Day, John Fullbright and Sheryl Crow.
The Mid North Coast Refugee Support Group chose to fundraise for Sanctuary Australia Foundation as a means of supporting a community-based organisation that provides valuable services to refugees seeking to resettle to Australia.
Tickets for the December 8 fundraiser cost $25 and are available online at or at the door. A light meal, drinks and treats will be available for purchase from 6.30pm, with music from 8pm. For more information about Sanctuary Australia Foundation, go to
Have no fear at Jacob’s Ladder
Audiences will have nothing to be afraid of when SONiA Rutstein and her Disappear Fear band take the stage at this weekend’s fun-filled annual country, folk and rock festival at Kibbutz Ginosaur.
By BARRY DAVIS
SONiA Rutstein. (photo credit: Courtesy)
SONiA Rutstein was clearly way ahead of her time. Long before it was considered sexy – by marketing executives and PR dudes – to mix upper case and lower case letters in the names of, for example, new software or even companies, the American musician had an instinctive feel for the then highly conventional blend of graphic scale.
“That is how I spelled my name before I knew how to write,” states the 56-year-old US singer-songwriter, who is on this weekend’s annual Jacob’s Ladder Festival roster taking place at Kibbutz Ginosaur.
There are other hindsight benefits to the script synthesis.
“It stands out as a logo,” Rutstein continues, adding that it also helps to keep her on an even keel. “I like the small ‘i,’ it is good for balancing [my] ego.” Fair enough.
In fact, Rutstein, if she were so disposed, has plenty of grounds for blowing her own trumpet. She has been globetrotting with great success for over 30 years now, performing material from her extensive discography in various languages, including Hebrew and Arabic, together with her Disappear Fear band.
The group’s moniker also conjures up an important associative message. “The idea for the name came up after the band had started,” explains Rutstein. “It was a good empowering idea for different situations in life. It just seemed to grow naturally. The thought process was that when you do that, you can be with people.”
That is an admirable goal, which Rutstein spelled out in a song, called “Tango,” which she wrote in 1989. The lyrics include the following heartwarming lines: “The world is ready to disappear fear. A world that is not afraid of itself or who it loves. A world that is ending hunger in every form that hunger exists – no one is left out.” Amen to that.
Rutstein is clearly keen on getting messages of unity, love and peace out there, and she does so across a broad spectrum of musical styles and genres. The folkie strand is central to her oeuvre, but there are some grungier elements in there too, in addition to an ethnic spread. The “disappear fear” pairing originally featured in a more rock-oriented number on 1999 album Me Too, called “Opinion # 33.”
“That’s a sort of hip hop song, which I wrote out of a bass line, it’s kind of funky.”
Disappear Fear is certainly a funky catchphrase, although Rutstein doesn’t want us to get too lost in that. “People like it, but I think that some people don’t even realize that Disappear Fear is a band name, and not just an idea. That’s good too, but I’d like people to hear the music too.”
Rutstein gained a rich and diverse musical education in her formative years. “I grew up with a lot of classical music, and I loved Broadway musicals and opera too,” she recalls. Some of her early influences passed through a parental prism.
“My dad loved jazz, people like [guitarist] Wes Montgomery but also [legendary 20th century Spanish classical guitarist Andrés] Segovia. So I got a lot of different stuff as a kid, plus I went to Hebrew school and my Aunt Shoshana and I did a lot of Hebrew songs together, and I went to camp where we sang Hebrew songs, and we did folk dancing too. There was lots of music.”
Growing up in the late Sixties, Rutstein also naturally imbibed the beat and melodies of the Fab Four, but also songs from closer to home. “Living in Baltimore, we got a lot of [soul record label] Motown stuff – a lot of Diana Ross, the Temptations, Dionne Warwick and all of that stuff, which was big back then.”
The maternal side of the family pulled the youngster to the crooner side of the market, while the parental confluence led to more folk-based acoustic fare. “My mother liked people like Frank Sinatra and Perry Como,” says Rutstein. “But, I guess, my parents meant musically with things like The Kingston Trio and [folk singer] Odetta.”
Both of the latter were instrumental in fueling the folk music revival of the late Fifties and early Sixties, while Odetta was active in the Civil Rights movement. “I got to see Odetta when I was very young, when she appeared with the Baltimore Symphony. “I also got to see [iconic jazz trumpeter- vocalist] Louis Armstrong.”
Thankfully, Rutstein not only admired some of her childhood idols from afar, she also got to gig with one of the legends of the folk community, banjo player-singer, civil rights activist and environmentalist Pete Seeger, who passed away last year at the age of 94.
“We played together at the Clearwater Revival Folk Festival which was a festival Pete started. He was amazing. A very sweet soul,” says Rutstein.
Rutstein started out on her own musical path at the age of 13, when she first picked up a guitar and started putting poems she found to music. When she mustered the courage to try out her own lyrics, she initially got little encouragement from her peers.
“My friends would laugh at the songs I wrote myself,” she recalls. That early rejection led her to place more faith in something which wouldn’t make fun of her. “My guitar became my best friend. I could tell it anything and it wouldn’t let the secret go. Me and my guitar spent a lot of time together, and we got really close. I was able to say things I really wanted to say, with my voice.”
Things got more serious when, at the age of 19, Rutstein received a sisterly boost. Her parents had gotten divorced and she had dropped out of school and didn’t know which way to head, until her younger sister, Cindy, suggested becoming a professional musician.
“She said my songs were really great and that was what I should do,” says Rutstein. And the rest is history.
The Disappear Fear discography now numbers 17, and Rutstein says she is proud of her work to date.
“I can listen to my first CD and not cringe,” she notes. “I think that is great. I may or may not do the music differently today but I like what I was saying back then.”
Thousands of fans across the globe and, no doubt, at Jacob’s Ladder this weekend, would go along with that.
Elsewhere on the Jacob’s Ladder roster there are plenty of familiar names and sounds. Festival veteran singer-songwriter Diane Kaplan will team up with longtime cohort vocalist, flutist and percussionist Dana Keren – with Kaplan’s singer son Edan putting in a guest appearance – for a program of Beatles, Dylan and Carole King covers, plus some originals, while the ever-popular Larry & Mindy duo will proffer an acoustic folk rock show. Dynamic vocalist Libi will team up with her Flashback Trio for a no doubt high-energy show of country, folk and blues music, while folk and country music stalwart Lynn Lewis will be joined by a bunch of pals for his May 16 slot.
Jacob’s Ladder wouldn’t be the same without guitarist-harmonica player Shai Tochner, and his sometime singing partner Maya Johanna-Menachem is also in the festival mix. One of the offshore headliners is the Abrams Brothers bluegrass rock outfit from Canada, while the European contingent features Berlin-based virtuoso violinist Alexey Kochetkov and the German-Israeli Aletchko quartet.
For more information about the Jacob’s Ladder Festival: (04) 685-0403 and http://jlfestival.com.
The Jerusalem Post annual NY conference- save your seat now with early bird tickets
North Texas’s LGBT community steps up to aid hurricane victims
DAVID TAFFET | Senior Staff Writer
Poor David’s Pub is holding a 12-hour benefit concert for flood victims on Sat., Sept 2, from noon to midnight.
Lesbian singer-songwriter SONiA will be among the performers. She and her band were scheduled to perform at the Kerrville Folk Festival, which was canceled because of the hurricane.
“My sister Cindy was flying in from Seattle, and my Baltimore band mates too, so I was really initially disappointed. But then I thought we can help — it’s what we do,” she said.
Before coming to Dallas, she organized a benefit concert in Baltimore.
SONiA is scheduled to go on stage at Poor David’s at 7:55 p.m. and play a 25-minute set. A number of others who were scheduled to perform in Kerrville will be in Dallas for the benefit including Sam Baker and Grace Pettis.