Q&A with Tonina Saputo, Singer-Songwriter and Bassist
“...my time in Valencia changed the trajectory of my life completely.” - Tonina Saputo B.M. ’17
While studying at Berklee Valencia, Tonina Saputo B.M. ’17 met Grammy Award-winning producer Javier Limón. The pair struck up a musical rapport that would lead to the release of her album Black Angel on Limón’s record label, Casa Limón, and a number of high-profile performance opportunities. We recently caught up with the St. Louis, Missouri-based singer-songwriter and bassist ahead of the release of her second full-length, St. Lost, a meditation on roots and rootlessness.
Why did you decide to come to the Valencia campus to study bass performance through the Berklee Study Abroad program?
I originally did not want to come to Valencia to study—I thought, what could it possibly offer that Boston can’t? The day before the study abroad applications were due, I felt compelled to just give it a try. I later learned that my time in Valencia would change the trajectory of my life completely.
What is the most important lesson that you’ve learned at Berklee Valencia?
To give everyone a chance and not judge. People gave me chances, and I learned to open my heart and mind and give chances to others.
Would you recommend Berklee Valencia to prospective students?
I would absolutely advise everyone to consider Berklee Valencia. This campus had most of the things that the Boston campus had. It was smaller, so I felt like I had the chance to meet everyone who I wouldn’t have otherwise had the chance to talk to and collaborate within Boston. Also, my teachers always made time for me.
In Valencia, you met and signed with Grammy Award-winning producer and songwriter Javier Limón. How did this experience impact your career and artistic growth?
From just my day-long recording session with Javier, he decided that he wanted to work with me and signed me the next year to his label, Casa Limón. I was so grateful that he believed in my voice and musical potential. He has brought so much opportunity to me and I have so much respect for him as a musician and person.
You performed at the Auditorio Nacional de Música in 2016 and at the Ellas Crean music festival in 2017, both in Madrid. Why is it important for artists to perform at such diverse festivals and events?
I believe it’s important because you are showcasing your art to a new audience. It’s important to observe the audience’s reaction to your songs, seeing what they like and don’t like. It’s also a great opportunity for exposure. Different audiences in different countries and cities teach me so much.
In April you released the multilingual album Black Angel on Casa Limón. Can you tell us more about this project and your work with Javier Limón?
I wanted this project to represent me as a mixed black and Sicilian woman living in the United States. Javier gave me the opportunity to choose the covers I felt the most connected with. I chose a song by Nina Simone, who represented my black womanhood and classical training. I picked Cuban boleros interpreted by Nat King Cole, an artist I was inspired by as a child. Lastly, I had to highlight my mother’s Sicilian background, so I sang one of my favorite Sicilian folk songs written and performed by Rosa Balistreri. All of those elements felt very important to me, and I was happy with how they were executed and included on the album.
Are you touring in support of your new album?
I would love to tour the world and the U.S. with my new album. I am currently planning a European tour for the summer of 2019. Since I am no longer signed to Casa Limón, touring presents more of a challenge. But I am working hard to present my music to fans all over the world.
What kind of music do you play with your quartet in St. Louis?
We play mostly my own compositions along with neo-soul and jazz stuff. However, we do incorporate music from Black Angel.
What are your short- and long-term career plans?
I plan on releasing projects every season with different producers from St. Louis. I released an R&B EP in November, and another full-length album will follow in February, St. Lost, which will give listeners an inside look into who I am as an artist in St. Louis who grew up feeling a bit lost wherever I was. I am planning a tour and trying my best to present my music to my dear fans in Europe, and I would love to be able to travel to every corner of the world.