sofia rei 1We all discover music in some fashion as young people, setting a path for our relationship with the art form in our later lives. A positive experience can send us racing towards every opportunity to learn, practice, and perform music. Negative associations with music during our youth can embed a deep seeded fear of performance, as well as an overall apathy towards listening. It’s certainly an important formative time that will dictate our future participation – or lack of involvement – in music.

Sofia Rei enthusiastically embraced her love for music at a young age and never stopped pursuing her passion. Taken to music lessons when she was four by her mother, Rei a natural affinity for singing and quickly began developing her skills as a vocalist. This led to a number of choral experiences that found her dedicating huge amounts of time to the rehearsal and performance of classical repertoire. As she transitioned into high school, she took some time to focus on academics, dive head first into punk rock, and play the drums. When she reached college, Rei returned to the classical music world, discovering jazz and experimental music simultaneously. Along the way, Rei has refined her vocal technique, explored her artistry, and even immersed herself in a number of different instruments. With a solid foundation beneath her, Rei continued moving forward, evolving into a well respected artist in New York’s music scene and abroad.

At this point, Rei has built an artistically engaging and professionally impressive career with a number of high points. An in-demand vocalist, she has performed with a number of important artists from the jazz world, including Bobby McFerrin, Geoffrey Keezer, and John Zorn. Alongside her engagements with these artists, Rei has also produced several outstanding albums as a leader, including Ojalá, Sube Azul, and De Tierra y Oro. In the first part of our interview with Rei, we dig into her early musical development in Argentina, which laid the foundation for her future success.

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LATIN JAZZ CORNER: You grew up in Buenos Aires – what was the initial spark that got you into music?

SOFIA REI: My Mom is quite a music fan, so she sent my brother, my sister, and I to music school from the time that we were 4 years old. It really wasn’t my decision at that time, but I enjoyed it very much. My brother and my sister were not so interested; they quit after a while, but I kept going. I really loved singing.

I was super shy, so I would never want to sing ialone, expect when I was in my house. So I joined three different choirs. One was at the school were I was studying. Another was the district choir, where they would take two singers from each school. We did a lot of folk music and tango with that one. Then my grandmother took me to do an audition for the Opera House Children’s Choir, which is a very professional entity. You have a contract and a salary; basically you have rehearsals every day. So I auditioned and I got in.

This was at Teatro Colón, which is a very important institution for classical music in Argentina; it’s very well known for its acoustics. A lot of people say that the acoustics of the hall is one of the best in the world for classical music. It was really far from my house. We lived on the outskirts of Buenos Aires; we were still part of the capital, but very far away from downtown. I would travel an hour and a half to get there and then another hour and a half to get home. I would do that everyday in addition to being in primary school. I was in the Opera House Children’s Choir for a while and I was in the National Children’s Choir.

Then I started high school – funny enough, most people start doing music when they are in high school. I stopped doing music when I was in high school! It was very stressful as a teenager to be juggling my schedule. It was very far away. I entered this high school that belongs to the state university – the University Of Buenos Aires. You have to do a lot of exams to get in; it’s a public high school and it’s one of the best high schools in Argentina, especially for social sciences. When I got into this school, I kind of figured that I would have my plate full for a couple of years.

While I was in high school, I got really into punk rock . . . that was quite a shift! I was already was reading, I played a few instruments, and I was singing. I stopped all that and I got myself a drum set – I started playing drums, playing my punk rock stuff that I really liked. I quit that too.

After the time that I finished high school, I went back to formal music education. I entered the National Conservatory and I did my undergraduate studies there as an opera singer. For many years, I was part of the classical music scene back home, but I always had so many other interests musically. It was very hard in the conservatory and in the classical circles to express that. This other dimension, it was problematic. I kind of had a double life, where I would be a proper educated classical singer during the day and then do everything else at night.

I got really into jazz. I had never heard a note of a jazz record before I was 19 years old. I never, ever listened to that music before then. It wasn’t around – it wasn’t the music that my parents listened to and it was not what my friends in school listened to. It was not available and it was not around. Then one teacher of mine – I was studying guitar – he lent me some music that he had. I heard Play – the Bobby McFerrin and Chick Corea record. I was kind of shocked by it because I couldn’t even understand how a human voice could do that. I was very intrigued by this album and I started listening to a lot of records by Bobby McFerrin. Then I started listening to a lot of vocal jazz and then I started to listen to a lot of instrumental jazz, getting more acquainted with it.

Once I started building my own repertoire, I had a duo that would play in town every Saturday night so we could develop our approach to this music. I started to improvise. I was very curious about vocal improvisation and also different ways of using the voice. I got myself into a lot of different circles of contemporary composers back home, adventurous people that were doing contemporary classical music and using a lot of extended techniques and exploring different ways of using the voice for their new works. So I got really intrigued by that and I started doing quite a lot of that too.

I realized that the next step was to come to the States – to the source – particularly for improvised music and jazz. Then I had to figure out how I could do that – I had no idea, I didn’t speak any English. I got myself really into it – for two years, I would block the subtitles of every movie that I saw! I tried to read as many books as I could and figure out how to get the language down. That was challenging, but it was actually pretty fun. By the time that I landed in Boston, my English was pretty decent and I could communicate.

LJC: What was the music that you listened to when you were younger?

SR: As a kid, it was my parent’s musical collection. I didn’t own a boom box or any type of device to listen to music on my own until I was 16 years old. I wasn’t really much of a radio person and my family didn’t listen to it. We had a huge collection of vinyl records and cassettes, which was mainly a lot of folkloric music from Latin America, tango, and classical music. That was what I had around as a kid at home.

Back home, when you turn 15, there’s some type of major celebration, especially for ladies. A lot of kids will throw a party or they will get some type of special gift from their parents. My parents asked me, “Do you want to do a party? What do you want to do?” I said, “No, I want a boom box and I want money to buy records!” That’s what happened and I got my first five or six CDs. I was super psyched about it. I had my own room that I had built in the attic, so I had my own space, my own boom box, my own CDs, and that was really awesome. 


My Mom is a philosopher, a writer, and a professor at the University of Buenos Aires. What was around the house even more was books, there were quite a lot of books. They were just everywhere. I go back to my Mom’s house now and I look around; where ever you look – any wall in the house – if there’s some space being used, it’s for storing books. She’s an avid reader and she writes a lot too. That was quite a literary environment actually.

LJC: Do you feel like the exposure to great literature played into your lyric writing and composing?

SR: After I finished high school, I actually started two things in college – I studied at the National Conservatory and I also did a year and a half at the University, studying literature. I wanted to write. I was already writing a lot in high school. Not poems necessarily, but I wrote short stories.

I really enjoyed writing. I think all things kind of came together; I had a lot of different interests. I think that happens to a lot of different people – you have a lot of different interests and you don’t see how possibly they fit all together.

It’s like the joke – “I interupted my education when I started school.” That especially happened when I moved to Boston to do my Masters and I got super immersed in the environment of New England Conservatory. I was completely obsessed with practicing many hours. As my sister says, “I was in the 16th note world” for quite a while. It was really all I cared about for many years, which is strange for me to think about it now. But that was it. I stopped reading for many years. I would read like one book a year or that kind of thing. But I really stopped reading, since I was focused on practicing, theory, harmony, ear training, writing music, playing, listening to music, and going to see a million concerts. I was completely immersed in just that one world.

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Come back next week for Part Two of our interview with vocalist Sofia Rei where we’ll dig into her move to the United States, her time at The New England Conservatory, and more. Don’t miss it!

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SOFIA REI SATURDAY MAY 2015 RESIDENCY AT SUBROSA NYC

WHEN: May 2nd, 2015; May 9th, 2015; May 16th, 2015; May 23rd, 2015
WHERE: Subrosa NYC
63 Gansevoort Street
New York, NY
TIME: 8:00 p.m. & 10:00 p.m.
PRICE: $20.00

Saturday, May 2: Sofia Rei Sextet
Sofia Rei: vocals, charango
Eric Kurimski: guitar
Josh Deutsch: trumpet
Jorge Roeder: upright bass
Franco Pinna: drums, percussion
+ special guest:
Celso Duarte: harp

May 9: El Colectivo Sur presents Mundo Vox
Roxana Amed, Sofia Tosello & Sofia Rei: Three Argentine voices singing out loud

Roxana Amed: vocals
Frank Carlberg: piano

Sofia Rei: vocals, charango
Jorge Roeder: upright bass

Sofia Tosello: vocals
Franco Pinna: drums, percussion
Special guest: Yuri Juarez: guitar

May 16: John Zorn Masada Book III: The Book Beriah
Sofia Rei: vocals
JC Maillard: saz bass
+ special guests

May 23: Sofia Rei Trio
Sofia Rei: vocals
JC Maillard: saz bass, guitars
Yayo Serka: drums, percussion

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Check out Sofia Rei’s Website.
Check out some recordings from Sofia Rei:

De Tierra y Oro, Sofia Rei


Sube Azul, Sofia Rei Koutsovitis


Ojalá, Sofia Rei Koutsovitis

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Check Out These Related Posts:
Album Of The Week: Sube Azul, Sofia Rei Koutsovitis
Sofia Rei: Munco Piedra
Latin Jazz Photo Album: Sofia Rei Koutsovitis
Latin Jazz Video Fix: Sofia Rei Koutsovitis & Avantrio

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