For the past three decades, indie pop/folk singer Sonia Rutstein, better known by her stage name SONiA, has been bringing her jam everywhere, from her native Charm City, where she lives, to Germany to the Middle East. SONiA, 57, previously worked with her sister, Cindy Frank, in the band disappear fear.
Jmore recently spoke with SONiA about her roots, current tour, songwriting and thoughts on the national political scene.
Where’s the new tour taking you?
Mostly, I’ll be based in Germany. I’ve had just great success playing there, and I love it. I’ve made some great friends.
In the amazing way that we look back and hug our past, this tour is a way to hug my past. My last name, Rutstein, is a German name. My grandfather was born in Romania, and I didn’t actually know the meaning of the name. Everyone in my family told me it meant “Redstone,” and it doesn’t. It actually means “rootstone,” like the cornerstone of a building. To kind of embrace that, it just gives me so much support
Anything you’re introducing on this tour?
Well, there will be new songs, and I’m doing this combination between my song, “Sink the Censorship,” and the Bob Dylan song “Blowin’ in the Wind.” It’s very interesting because of all the political happenings, with the current president in office. I’ve always been classified as a political songwriter, so it’s interesting to hear these songs and see how far we’ve come and far we have to go.
What do you plan to tackle in your songs in the future?
In some respects, we’ve come a long way. I’m in a legal, married relationship, which wasn’t available five years ago. So it’s a beautiful thing to see that evolution, and to see people following through. But there has definitely been a rumbling that some [who don’t approve of same-sex marriages] feel alienated and scared and angry that I can have that right now.
It seems like there is no end to the fear, and my music never ceases to address that. I speak to those things that affect us. I write about all these things that this administration is destroying. Respect for our animals, our environment, our allies, our health and much more. All of those things are in jeopardy right now, and that brings along fear. But there are more of us that love each other than there are of that are greedy
Do your fans abroad ask your feelings about the Trump administration?
Yes, they absolutely ask me about what’s going on in the United States. I don’t shy away from it. I left Germany in September, promising that “Hair Force One” would not become our president, and he did. So now, I have to go back and face my people, and I will. I’m very saddened that he did become president, but the essence of what our democracy is will be preserved. We just have to fix the electoral system, since the way it’s been cut up it’s become very skewed. We need to work on that, for sure.
What keeps drawing you back to Baltimore from other parts of the country and the world?
I think it’s just where my roots are. My family is from Baltimore, though I’m the only remaining Rutstein in the area. I have very deep friendships there, and of course my synagogue, Beit Tikvah Congregation, is in Baltimore. It’s simply home to me.
What, in your opinion, is folk music’s future?
Well, folk music is a funny genre. It encompasses so much. It isn’t about the business. It can be sold, but it isn’t the essence of it. You don’t need electricity, you don’t need anything except yourself. It’s a raw form of emotion, just like prayer. So I can see it sticking around. As long as we’re living and breathing, there will be folk music.
What advice do you have for those who want to be successful in music and other arts?
Take chances. Be real, don’t lose sight of the goal, and take chances to get there. But equally important, if it isn’t working, then this line of work will let you know. There are lots of ways to be creative, you’ve just got to find yours, and put your passion for it into that daily grind.
SONiA will perform on May 28 at the Virginia Women’s Music Festival in Henrico, Va., on June 4 at the Jewish Music Festival in Wilmington, Del., and on June 22 at Baldwin’s Station, 7618 Main St. in Sykesville. For information on SONiA and her tour, go to soniadisappearfear.com .
William Linker is a Jmore editorial staff intern.
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