The Musical Journey of Patricia Cano

The smooth, powerful and sweet vocal stylings of Patricia Cano will energize audiences Tuesday for the Lunchtime Series hosted at Nathan Phillips Square.

Born in Sudbury, from a young age Cano performed in community musical theatre productions. Her love for dance and performing eventually inspired her to study theatre at the University of Toronto. Cano says she had a phenomenal time there and developed exceptional experience meeting with theatre practitioners from across the world.

Her first title role at U of T was a portrayal of Emily Dictionary in the Tomson Highway production Rose. It wasn’t long before her excitement for the show became wrought with anxiety. Cano found the experience intimidating in light of Highway’s gold-plated reputation within Toronto Theatre. Rose sold out long before the show’s debut and theatre goers flew in from across the country to witness the yet-to-be-produced stage production. Cano and her peers knew it was a huge honour to be involved.

Cano found herself understandably nervous, especially performing an aboriginal role as a non-aboriginal actor. A heated debate was sparked among the students, whether or not non-indigenous actors could play indigenous roles. It weighed on her because Emily Dictionary is a seminal character in the aboriginal community and aboriginal theatrical history. With the help of her director Leah Cherniak and Tomson Highway, who found himself moved to tears by the passion of the young performers, Cano gained the confidence she needed. She remembers her musical director Allen Cole always pushing her to “Sing out, sing out!” Cano said, “It was challenging as it would be for any young actor because I was performing the lead role in a well-known production…and I was sure it was going to be put under the microscope.” But she said the experience overall was magical.

Cano now looks at the links and connections she made while at U of T and how they have led her to other incredible professional opportunities. Tomson Highway was one of the people Cano met in her final theatre year at U of T. They performed Tomson’s play and ever since have travelled the world together. “It’s been awesome, it’s been magical,” said Cano. Her experience with Tomson’s music helped her develop as a singer and ultimately led to her music career. Tomson has supported Cano as an artist and as a teacher. “In his light I have grown - I owe him and his creative tutelage a lot,” she said. She feels very privileged to sing his songs because they’re funny, enjoyable and push her vocally.

In Cano’s work with Le Théâtre du Soleil, she sings in a variety of languages - something in which she revels. Her choice of performing language depends on the story and the genre of music, every tongue adding flavour to the melody. For Cano, language remains a wonderful device, but for Cano its engaging stories, beautiful lyrics and spectacular melodies that are the true indicators of something special.

“Lyric is really important to me because that’s the story, that’s the journey, that’s what I can share with my voice. Whatever the language, that doesn’t matter, it’s about the communication of it all,” said Cano.

When her first album This is the New World was released in 2009, she had already been touring with Highway since 2001, performing songs in a cabaret fashion. With the wind of theatre at her back, Cano has never distinguished between acting and singing.

“For me, it’s not necessarily separate, being a singer doesn’t necessarily make you an actor and being an actor doesn’t necessarily make you a singer; but the art of sharing and communicating, it’s all one big gesture we do on a stage for people.”

Cano’s biggest challenge has been creating the singer in herself that is separate from the theatre. “It was just believing in myself enough to try [singing] and I’m glad I did it - I don’t regret it for a second. Look what it’s allowed me to do, to perform at festivals like the TD Toronto Jazz Festival!”

For Cano, the reaction to her first record has been remarkable. The album has found success at home in Canada and abroad in her ancestral country of Peru. Her debut album sold out so fast, she could have added another or even two.

“That reaction was so confidence building because it was all these people that knew me all my life, people in the theatre community and francophone arts community, wanting to see the results of the musical choice I made - they lifted me up and I’m still sort of flying on that high to this day.”

The Peruvian album launch also affected her band, especially producer Luis Orbegoso and her Brazilian collaborator Carlos Bernardo. Many of their attending family members had never seen them perform. It was also a personal record, as Cano went hunting for ancestral gold, trying to honour members of her family and her ancestral background.

“It was intimidating to be in Peru having infused and influenced myself with Peru rhythms, with traditional sounds and yet having dare to make my own thing with it…nothing has ever been as nerve-racking in my life as that launch, but nothing quite as fulfilling either."

Cano describes her current sound as a fusion of Brazilian and Peruvian rhythms with classic familial storytelling. Her voice is a powerful bluesy rasp and which she is able to manipulate whatever the story requires of her vocally.

Cano is in love with the touring life and audiences can expect a high energy performance with a set list taken from her latest album and punctuated with Peruvian standards. Patricia Cano performs Tuesday, June 23 at 12:30 p.m. on the Toronto Star Stage at Nathan Phillips Square.

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