Nothing was going to stop SONiA from sharing her music. She has played to children in Palestinian territories and worked from bomb shelters in northern Israel.
The Baltimore musician has been spreading her message of peace to the world since the early 90s, when she formed the band Disappear Fear with her sister CiNDY (Rutstein).
Disappear Fear has played at human rights festivals, colleges and venues around the world, donating 18 percent of every song downloaded to the United Nations World Food Program to help end world poverty.
The band, which now comprises SONiA and percussionist and vocalist Laura Cerulli, is currently performing their new CD Tango at a string of summer festivals in Australia. The album features 13 songs in Spanish, Hebrew, Arabic and English, to create a Latin/Middle Eastern folk sound.
If John Lennon was making music today he would probably be singing in Arabic, SONiA said.
“It’s a way of really stepping into different humanisations and living in that conversation as opposed to separating ourselves,” she said.
“It’s not so different from singing about being gay and being out, to a straight audience.”
SONiA and CiNDY released three albums on their own before signing with Warner Chappell Publishing and Rounder Records in 1994 for the release of their self-titled CD.
After winning multiple awards, including a Gay and Lesbian American Music Award (GLAMA), a Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) award and top release of the year by Mix Magazine, SONiA released a solo CD under her own name.
She was named female artist of the year by GLAMA and her song Me Too was selected by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) for their compilation CD.
She later teamed up with Cerulli and other musicians to release DF05 in 2005 and finally Tango in 2007.
SONiA also formed Guitars for Peace, an organisation which delivers acoustic guitars to disadvantaged children.
“I was playing for about 100 girls between the ages of six and 16 in a small Palestinian village and they loved my music so much that when I left they asked if they could have my guitar,” she said.
“I explained to them that this guitar was virtually a part of my body, but I promised to have another one delivered to them, which I later did.
“It got me thinking about how wonderful it would be to get guitars into the hands of children, particularly in the Middle East. So we started the organisation, where we distribute new guitars, and people also donate old guitars for the cause.”
SONiA’s time in the bomb shelters of northern Israel during the second Lebanon war had the most profound effect on her music, she said, where she actually lived the concept of “disappear fear”.
“At that time about 200 rockets a day were falling,” she said.
“We had to go into a bomb shelter or a security building about once a day, for most of the days I was there. You get 10 minutes to enter the area, where you either feel the ground shaking or nothing. And you stay for about half an hour before resuming your day. Twenty or 30 minutes later you do it all over again.”
While SONiA’s exposure to politically sensitive regions throughout the world deeply affects her work, she said, being gay also informs her writing.
“It is certainly part of my window to the world,” she said.
“It is important to me to be out in my music and out in the world. It’s a vibration that needs to be recognised and respected. Shame is of enormous detriment to the body and soul.”
SONiA and disappear fear will play at The Harp, 900 Princess Highway, Tempe, on 10 February (www.theharp.com.au) and Mardi Gras Fair Day on 17 February (www.mardigras.org.au). For more information go to www.disappearfear.com.