By Tom Cesarini
She sings (in 14 languages). She composes and produces. Being Grammy nominated is but one of her many honors, having reached international acclaim. And her roots are in Little Italy. To hear performing artist and lo-cal favorite Sacha Boutros’s renditions of pop standards, opera and jazz is to revel in a master vocalist. In July, you can catch her performing at Il Sogno Italiano in the Gaslamp District. We interviewed Sacha to get a better glimpse of this multifaceted and talented persona.
What is your connection to San Diego’s Little Italy? What does the neighborhood mean to you?
My first visit to Little Italy was with my godmother, Nina Tina, when I was little, for pizza at Mimmo’s Italian Village. Quickly I fell in love with the rich culture and heritage of the neighborhood. Every chance I could I went back, eventually doing my homework there in the afternoons in high school and later in college. When I was not playing sports, you could find me drinking espresso and reading “La Gazzetta dello Sport” [a popular Italian sports daily] at Cafe Zucchero, speaking in Italian to my lovely Sicilian fisherman friends from the neigh-borhood.
I played soccer in the street with the boys after church when the parking was diagonal on India Street and hardly any cars went by. I have watched Little Italy grow from the old fishermen town with all the locals who have come and gone to the now gentrified and overpopulated version of an adult Disneyland. Little Italy is my home and where I have also resided for the last 12 years before moving to Paris in 2018, and it was where I went to church every Sunday. It is also where I first discovered my opera voice and later became a singer. Little Italy is a piece of my heart and soul and the place in San Diego I call home.
Little Italy has undergone dramatic changes through its redevelopment. What are some of the neighbor-hood’s contemporary elements that resonate with you, and what are some elements that perhaps are lack-ing?
I know Little Italy growing out of the ‘80s into the ‘90s until now. I miss seeing all the families and familiar fac-es that graced India Street with their eccentric personalities. I believe those friends have long passed and those that remain rarely visit the new Little Italy. There are a few old familiar faces and natives to our dear India Street. The new businesses and shops are beautiful, and it’s surely the hippest place to be in San Diego; my only regret is that there is no cultural center or museum to preserve the Italian heritage and integrity of all the families that made the neighborhood Italian in the first place. I have high hopes that through community efforts we can create this for the immigrants that founded what we are as “new Americans.”
How did your upbringing influence your musical direction?
Family, love and faith influenced all my music. I learned how to sing in church—music for me is the word of God that steps out in faith on a note. I sing, therefore I am—sharing my gift with the world in service and grati-tude to connect and build community wherever I go using music as a tool to build peaceful bridges at borders and connect the world. My heritage and culture added a rich layer of European and Latin influences that have enabled me to reach my audiences in multiple languages, and the sounds of said cultures resound in my original compositions.
Who are some of your direct musical influences?
My grandfather Cirilo Cazares, with whom I sang in church, taught me harmony and joy through the music. Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Maria Callas, Julie Andrews, Nancy Wilson, Enrico Macias and Dalida are also great influences.
As you have performed worldwide, what are some notable differences between our music scene in this country compared to that of other countries?
The music scene in San Diego is very different from that on the international touring circuit. It is lovely and smaller in scope than that of national and international audiences. In Vienna, for example, they love American Blues and standards; in New York, swinging straight ahead tunes; while San Diego loves Cabaret and pop hits.
Tell us about your new company and how you are advocating for women in the music industry.
On returning back to San Diego from Paris I noticed a need for women in the arts to have a brighter voice and be recognized for their achievements. This was my peaceful protest in response to the #metoo movement. I wanted my contribution to be the uplifting and positive example for younger women in the music business and in the arts to take the high road ethically and do the right thing. I experienced much too often what so many women in my business have—if not more, being a minority woman. Unfortunately, I cannot say it has completely changed here in San Diego but it is getting better and that is progress. I decided to stop focusing on what was not happen-ing and to start creating what I wanted to happen. “Hear Me Roar Records and Entertainment” is an homage to the strong women who have paved the way before me and the ones I am building a team with. We may never change what IS, or the balances of power, but what I do know though is that I will not point the blame in any direction. Where the door is closed there is another open that is waiting to be discovered.
What are some of your latest projects and where are you performing now? What’s on the horizon for Sa-cha, personally and professionally?
Shortly after founding my company, I met visionary and my now business partner, Sean Shoja, the owner of “Il Sogno Italiano,” in Downtown San Diego’s Gaslamp District. Sean, a longtime successful restaurateur for more than 25 years, wanted to create a venue post-Covid that reached all of the senses and touched the heart though food and music. He saw Covid’s end as a great opportunity to bring people together and uplift the San Diego community—creating joy as the main focus and intention after a year of the world suffering together. In Febru-ary, I received a formal invitation to consult and begin curating a fine dining music experience and transform “Il Sogno Italiano,” (“The Italian Dream”), into a music club. (This came as a welcoming endeavor after successful-ly having run “Sachas Supper Club” the last seven years and creating California’s first pop-up music and dining experience which was voted the Best Music & Nightlife venue on the San Diego A-list.) We started with music on the weekends and have now graduated from two to seven nights a week, employing a rather large roster of world-class entertainers who grace our stage nightly. The atmosphere is warm and inviting and reminiscent of old San Diego in the days of Mister A’s dating back to the Alessios; one might say it is heartwarming Italian. Quickly we have become the hottest fine dining and music venue in the Gaslamp and we hope to capture the spot of Best Live Music Venue in San Diego. We have musicians coming to perform from Palm Springs, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and as far as Paris. It has been a wonderful start to a beautiful journey and “Il Sogno Ital-iano” hopes to soon start ticketed shows for other touring artists. In the fall we are partnering with David Ben-nett, General Director of the San Diego Opera, for some fun surprises. San Diego is ready and open for the arts and Sean and I are working very hard to bring you a slice of what you might hear in New York, Paris, or London to our own backyard here in San Diego’s Gaslamp.
Personally, I have several new recording projects on the horizon. We just recorded an homage to Nancy Wilson in Los Angeles at East West Studios, and I am simultaneously working on a project in New York with John di Martino in Spanish, French, and Italian. The fall brings me back to Paris to work on a passionate new CD with my new partnership with friend Vincent Bessiers who founded the extraordinary Jazz Label “Jazz and People.” The album, entitled “Grandiose, the Music of Michel Legrand,” will be a great homage to one my favorite com-posers and showcase the talents of five legendary and up-and-coming pianists in France that I have the great honor of recording with, including amazing artists such as Jacky Terasson, Stephane Belmondo, Franck Amsal-lem, Geraud Portal, Tony Tixier, and Laurent Courthaliac. I am quite excited to resume that project as Covid cut it short at the beginning of what was to be an epic morceau, as they say in French, of a dream coming to fruition.
I want to wish everyone reading this a wonderful and prosperous year and new normalcy as Covid leaves us. May you all prosper and find success and joy in all you do.
— Tom Cesarini is the executive director and founder of Convivio and also serves as the Italian honorary consul in San Diego. Convivio cultivates community and fellowship, advances Italian cultural identity, and fosters mul-ticultural awareness across myriad disciplines through education and research, social enrichment, and innova-tive programming. Visit: www.conviviosociety.org | Follow: @conviviosociety