Queer As Folk
by Chris Wilson
A prolific folk performer SONiA has recorded multiple albums and frequently tours both in the U.S. and internationally. Earlier this year she toured through Germany to celebrate the release of her 19th CD entitled By My Silence.
She first began performing with her sister CiNDY (Cindy Frank) as “disappear fear,” releasing their first album in 1988. Other members later joined the band but eventually CiNDY gave up touring in favor of family life with her children. SONiA continues to use the recognizable name, and concept, “disappear fear.”
SONiA has always been concerned with social justice and has received numerous awards for her work in this area. Growing up in Baltimore, she became acutely aware of the disparity between the wealthy, powerful Washington elite and the disadvantaged citizens in their midst. Here she is, describing this eloquently in song.
While so much of her music work deals with calling out injustice, her latest release focuses upon her Jewish heritage and the rise of anti-Semitism. While I usually like to post videos of actual performances, this video of the song By My Silence (written by Ellen Bukstel and Nick Annis and inspired by the well know poem written by pastor Martin Niemöller) is particularly powerful and moving so I share it with you here:
Excerpt from Queer As Folk © by Folkworks
Small woman real great!
Sonia Rutsteins Album „By My Silence“
by Thomas Waldherr
At the big Pete Seeger tribute at "Americana im Pädagog," she showed what defines her, and why she is gaining more and more friends in this country [Germany], too. Sonia Rutstein is a great musician and a humble and unpretentious person. She is a team player and quite naturally blended into the big band of musicians. People like her are needed to successfully stage concerts like this.
Sonia sang on "Where Have All The Flowers Gone," "Turn! Turn! Turn!" and "We Shall Overcome," and performed solo on "Rainbow Race," with support from Cuppatea on "Wimoweh" and, accompanied by the whole ensemble, "Guantanamera." Naturally, she wanted to be there when the man with whom she sang together at Clearwater Festival, and who is a great role model to her as well, was being honored. Her dedication made you sense this. She naturally combines music with political commitment. And the human being is always at the center of it, not party politics.
Her current album "By My Silence" is an expression of that. The very first song shows how crazy this world is when political systems want to break people who have done something supposedly unrighteous. For example, the young Sunni Muslim Nudem Durak was sentenced to 19 1/2 years' imprisonment in Turkey for singing in Kurdish. "A Voice For Nudem Durak" doesn't need a lot of lyrics to denounce this madness and to call out to Nudem: "We will sing for you, your voice will be heard. We are one family, we are one world. "
Part of Sonia Rutstein's repertoire for quite a while now and finally on record is "By My Silence," a song inspired by the famous words of Martin Niemöller: "When the Nazis came for the Communists, I kept quiet; I was not a communist. When they imprisoned the Social Democrats, I kept quiet; I was not a social democrat. When they got the unionists, I kept quiet; I was not a trade unionist. When they came for me, there was no one left to protest." In her liner notes, she says about the song, which was written by Nick Annis and Ellen Bukstel, that it is an alarm clock: "It's time to wake up and resist!"
In addition to the protest songs on this album, she also deals intensively with her Jewish background. For example, she wrote “Light In You" as a Hanukkah song for the neighbor boy, sings the two Israeli folk songs "Eleh Chamda Libi" and "Oseh Shalom," and even "Hatikva," the Israeli national anthem.
And then there is the happy song "Wandering Jew." The song is the expression of a connection with Germany that has grown deep. A connection with the Germany, or those people in Germany, who know about the dark parts of the country's past and want to offer a home to both her as a Jewess, and to refugees in need. Her tours in Germany are getting longer and longer. That's no surprise, as she sings, "Welcome to the new land of the free, I'm a little Jew wandering in Germany, welcome to the new land of the free, I'm a little Jew wondering in Germany". Also herein is a tribute to Pete Seeger: "Seeger said this was a rainbow race, nobody here is out of place." For Sonia Rutstein, there is only one world and all people are one family. And so she sings with verve against "Othering".
That leaves two slow songs still to mention. One, “Hallelujah,” is a tribute by Sonia, cousin of songwriter pope Bob Dylan, to another great songwriter – Leonard Cohen. And at the very end of this beautiful album, she asks herself questions. Old questions, but ones that always return. Why am I a lesbian? Why why why? Even years after coming out, she's moved by that. And she lets us share in her worries and her doubts, goes out of cover, is unprotected. Just to then declare with great certainty, "It's okay that I am who I am." And that too makes this little, petite woman the great artist, singer-songwriter and the great human Sonia Rutstein!
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 Rutstein: Her songs touch heart and soul
Sonia Rutstein during her first concert in Bottrop - at the Kulturkirche. Photo: Joachim Kleine-Büning
American singer-songwriter Sonia Rutstein now performed in Bottrop's Kulturkirche. The cousin of Bob Dylan touched her audience.
Bottrop. American singer-songwriter Sonia Rutstein was guesting at Bottrop's cultural church. Her critical program was thought-provoking.
The American singer and guitarist Sonia Rutstein came to Bottrop for the first time on her tour of Germany - and shone at Kulturkirche Heilig Kreuz with catchy folk rhythms and lyrics that touched heart and soul.
Between accusation and irony
In her songs, she addressed topics such as working-class life or continuing injustice in the world. Discrimination against minorities or the personal relationship with God played a role in some titles, always given a twist by an ironic undertone or a questioning perspective.
Even though by the standards of Kulturkirche only relatively few guests had come to the appearance of the renowned artist, the musician managed to create a dense, sometimes even tense atmosphere and to play herself into her own musical world.
The cousin of Bob Dylan convinced mainly with her voice, which she used in different pitches. Rutstein herself set the pace with her feet, while she beat the guitar strings with her fingers and occasionally played a harmonica, making use of almost her whole body. But everything seemed harmonious and mature, even if some of the melodies sometimes recalled those of her famous cousin.
Songs like "Won't Let Go" she announced with the addition, "this is a song that I wrote for my father." The star, who often advocates for political minorities, introduced other songs by giving some personal history. Of course, major covers weren't missing either. Rutstein chose "Hallelujah" by Leonard Cohen and "Imagine" by John Lennon.
A special moment of the concert occured when the musician performed a song for the Kurdish artist Nudem Durak, who is currently in prison in Turkey for nineteen and a half years for singing Kurdish songs. "I hope many other groups will pick up this song and transport it to other languages."
Maybe there will be a reunion
The striking final line of the song "we are one family, we are one world" created a thoughtful mood with the audience. Enthusiastic applause was followed by an encore including blues elements, and the announcement that she was returning to Germany next year - and maybe even to play at Kulturkirche again.
(Translation of review in WAZ Bottrop, Tuesday, 5/9/19)
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
Sonia Rutstein is coming to Oestrich
The American singer is in Oestrich for the fourth time, following the invitation of the Catholic Public Library and Idstein bookstore.
The singer and songwriter Sonia Rutstein is coming to Oestrich for the fourth time next week.
OESTRICH - (red). Sonia Rutstein has already been in Oestrich three times, and is stopping by the Oestrich-Winkel quarter of town again on Thursday April 4, as part of her yearly spring tour. The singer and guitarist from Baltimore, a cousin of Bob Dylan's, wants to inspire listeners once more with a mix of blues, rock and American folk. Her songs, most of which she wrote herself, aren't protest songs, they are meant to give courage to live your life. Rutstein, who also sings and plays famous cover songs, is a guest in Oestrich following the invitation of the Catholic Public Library and Idstein bookstore.
The concert starts at 8 PM in the vaulted cellar of the parish center at Rheinstraße 19 (enter via Zehnthofstraße). Doors open at 7.30 PM. Admission is free. Reservations via www.buchhandlung-idstein.de. Drinks and snacks will be available.
(translated from Wiesbadener Tagblatt)
Besigheim: Music School as Nucleus
American musician Sonia Rutstein has chosen Besigheim as her German hometown: For the sixth time, the singer and songwriter from Baltimore / Maryland will be playing in the wine village. Sonia Rutstein has a name in the American folk and blues scene. Here in Germany she loves performing in smaller clubs. On her list you will find mainly cabarets such as the Kulturgewächshaus in Birkenried or the "Eine-Welt-Haus" in Munich.
The Steinhaus too, or rather its Gewölbekeller in Besigheim for more than ten years now is among the musician's favorite places to play. She has been performing for more than 30 years, during which time she has released 20 albums. Her humanitarian way of thinking is heard. Their music is considered unique and so distinctive that the petite woman with Jewish roots is immediately recognizable by the sound of her voice and her style, whether she sings in Spanish, Hebrew, Arabic or English. She is the cousin of Bob Dylan and accompanies herself on guitar, piano and on the accordion.
John Pearse helped
Sonia Rutstein's songs send out messages of peace, tolerance and a human, social togetherness. And the American from Baltimore has power of ten giants. No wonder she was invited by British musician John Pearse, who met her in Los Angeles, to appear at the Musikmesse in Frankfurt. There, extraordinary musicians are put in the right light and have a huge audience. That was twelve years ago.
Because John Pearse, who wrote songs himself and built special instruments, was living in Besigheim back then, the American discovered the picturesque town two years later. Today she calls Besigheim her German adopted home and is familiar with many people here. Which is the way that Sonia meets people: friendly and open-minded, warm and collegial.
The music school in the Steinhaus is their nucleus in Besigheim. Here she greets young guitarists who meet her in the corridor. She has already given five concerts and wants to present her new CD live on Sunday, March 17th. Titled "By my silence", the disc is about outsiders of society and about the quuiet strength of changing social wrongs. A few love songs will be among them, she announces.
Many listeners appreciate the honesty found in her songs. With their broad spectrum, they touch people of different social and ethnic backgrounds. She reaches those who share her vision of a positive world and turns every tone and every sung word into an ambassador of her humanitarian spirit.
Info The concert of Sonia Rutstein will take place on Sunday, March 17th. It starts at 6 pm in the Gewölbekeller of the Musikschule im Steinhaus. Tickets are available at Bürger-Info in Besigheim town hall and in the music school.
(translated from SWP)
Poetic, political and filled with the joy of playing
SONiA is visiting Birkenried
American singer-songwriter SONiA from Baltimore/Maryland stops by Birkenried again on March 16, 8 PM, during this year's tour of Germany. Though she's still an insider tip in Germany, she knows to change this from one tour to the next, so by now she has a fast growing following. Her powerful message is: Truth. Her goal: Peace and equality. Her lyrics are often political, but also tell of love and of her life in Baltimore. Musically speaking, the songs are often a stylistic crossover between folk, rock, blues and even pop.
SONiA was awarded a Coin Of Honor from a joint coalition of the United States Military for her humanitarian efforts. Of her songs in Spanish, Hebrew, Arabic, German and English, ranging in style from blues to oriental and from Americana to protest songs, she has sold over one million units.
On March 16 she will be in Birkenried for what is already the fourth time. Admission is free.
(translated from Günzburg Extra, 11/3/19)
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.”
Protest music for the Trump Age
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.’
Mad Folk News
SONiA Farewell Tour
Join us as we wish SONiA a farewell as she has decided to go off the touring highway. Her first plan is to spend the next year writing a book. I am sure she will play out at a few events over time, but currently the plan is to stop touring. Rich Warren from the radio show Midnight Special in Chicago invited her to play her final show on New Year's Eve in Chicago, however, we get the 2nd to the last touring show here in Madison. Writing this article has allowed me to revisit memories of some of Sonia's past performances. Goosebumps are what I remember one year at Willy Street Fair as she had the whole crowd sing John Lennon's Imagine. The Phil Ochs song night and her learning to play No More Songs from Madison's own Marques Bovre, and eventually she released a whole cover CD of Phil Ochs songs. Her playing fighting Bob-Fest, the list of music memories just goes on. So I hope you all come out and see SONiA and make a music memory for yourself.
SONiA started her early touring with her sister as the band Disappear Fear. Madison was a huge stopping point for the band. She acquired fans from here all around the world, playing festivals all over Europe, Australia, and bomb shelters in the Middle East. Her songs all tell a story, one of my favorites “Me, Too” tells the love between father / daughter but there is a line about the father coming home from Vietnam and the line goes something like “he came home on a stretcher in 1966, welcomed by fellow Americans throwing tomatoes and sticks.” She says sometimes a story is told to her and she paints a picture with her song, well that line was painted in color.
Whether she covers a song by Woody Guthrie or Phil Ochs, she chooses them as the same as the songs she chooses to write and that is having the concept of disappear fear.
Please join us again in welcoming her back to Madison on December 29 at the North Street Cabaret, 610 North Street. Tickets are $15 in advance and maybe purchased thru Brown Paper Tickets – a link is provided at our website at www.madfolk.org or $17 at the door if the show is not sold out. Doors open at 7:00 and show is 8:00.
The North Street Cabaret is a new venue for Madfolk, check out their website. They have food and beverages, and across the street is the Tip-Top that has wonderful food if you want to stop there before the show and get a bite to eat. Location: https://www.northstreetcabaret.com/
via Mad Folk