Ulab Sessions

Tonina Saputo's voice knows no borders

This singer and bass player flows between genres, time periods and languages.
22 Mar 2017 – 4:22 PM EDT

Tonina Saputo used to listen Selena Quintanilla when she was a child. Hits like ‘Bidi Bidi Bom Bom’ or ‘Como la flor’ caught her attention and became the perfect reason to learn Spanish, wanting to understand the meaning behind the lyrics, “I wanted to be Selena, wanted to be the negrita Selena” says Tonina.

Back then, Tonina lived in San Diego, where cultural exchange is the norm. At her house Tejano songs had the same importance than salsa, Latin jazz or a piano concert played by Chopin, "Nat King Cole was a great influence", says Tonina, "he was a bridge between Cuba and the United States, he gave Americans a taste of Spanish music and boleros". He became an important role model for what she would eventually do.

To this eclectic education Tonina added 11 years of musical studies, mostly linked to the contrabass, an instrument she has played since she was nine years old.


Her music is like her childhood, “a mix of a bit of everything”, that doesn't stick to a label and flows free between genres, time periods and languages.

Just recently, Tonina has started singing as well as playing the bass. Encouraged by producer Javier Limón, with whom she studied at Berklee College of Music in Valencia, Spain, Tonina sang the bolero ‘Historia de un amor’ and gave it her own jazzy vibe with her her sultry voice. “It was the first song that I played and sang” says Tonina who was inspired in a Esperanza Spalding version, another great influence in Tonina’s music.

With these Latin covers, Tonina wants to evoke the same effect that Selena Quintinilla had on her, “I’m not Latina at all" she says, "but I think this album is going to say something about just accepting other cultures and presenting that through music.”

Photos: U-LAB Launch Party at Space 52

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