Our interview with Boston-based group Women of the World. Italian vocalist Giorgia Renosto is part of the ensemble.
Can you tell us how and when this project started? Was it the idea of one member or a collective effort from the start?
Women of the World first began as a single idea from Japanese vocalist, Ayumi Ueda. It was her childhood dream to meet and perform with people from all over the world. When she began studying at Berklee College of Music, this vision was still strong in her heart. In 2008, she formed Women of the World, collaborating with the most unique musicians she could find at the college. In her journey she met the vocalists that are now the core essence of Women of the World, Giorgia Renosto from Italy, Annette Philip from India, and Deborah Pierre from United States.
With 6 other instrumentalists, they form an ensemble of 10 musicians representing 9 countries, performing a vast repertoire of music spanning 21 languages. The ensemble has become a family of sorts, with all its members focussed on expanding on the original idea. As a microcosm of the world, we practice peace in our daily interactions inside and outside the band setting, and every day, we find new ways to bring about more understanding in the world through our music.
There are so many different cultural backgrounds fused into WOW. What were the challenges at first of finding a common ground?
Music truly is the common ground. That is one aspect that binds us together so closely.
In terms of challenges, finding a common language to communicate in was probably the biggest factor – although everyone in the group speaks some amount of English, there are small nuances that sometimes get misunderstood. This also leads to lots of laughter in the group, and constantly keeps us entertained!
With nine distinct cultures represented in the ensemble, we learn about different perspectives and way of life. Each culture has its own traditions, practices, and beliefs. For instance, in India, calling an older person by their first name is often considered disrespectful – we usually call elders “Aunty” or “Uncle” or “Sir/Madam”. In Italy however, calling someone an Aunty when you are not related is considered taking too much liberty.
Similarly, in Japanese culture, instead of explaining everything, people try to “sense” each other and understand situations. In Women of the World, that method doesn’t always work. Open debate and discussion is the preferred way of communication for some of the other cultures in the group. So, over the years, the Japanese members had to learn to open up more, to explain things more thoroughly, while some of the country members had to understand how to be patient and navigate discussions objectively.
From what to eat, to what to wear, to where to go on holiday… there are so many different opinions. We certainly argue a lot about choices in various aspects, but we always do it with love, remembering that we are ultimately working towards the same goal. Working together as a family has also taught us that there are myriad ways to achieve the same goal, and if we can remain open minded and flexible, we will not only realize our dreams, but also learn incredibly precious life lessons along the way.
We may all be completely different, but we share the same sky. There is so much in common, and so much different. We try to celebrate both our similarities and our differences.
The project seems to go further than music. In your bio, you say you want to keep spreading “the message of peace and unity through music.” Keeping this in mind, can you tell us more about your music and lyrics?
In our travels over the last 5 years, we found that music truly is a way to bridge differences. Just a few weeks ago, we hailed a taxi in Boston. When we found out the nationality of our cab driver, we broke into a song from his country! He was so thrilled and said he was honored we knew about his culture. There was an instant camaraderie formed, an instant connection!
Learning music, studying lyrics and their meaning, as well as researching a specific genre, for instance like Bulgarian music, is a great way to understand more about a country and its culture. We try to also do research about when a song was written, what the socio-economic / political scenario was like when it was first created, etc. We do this by finding a native speaker of the language we are learning to sing in, and try to find out as much as we can about the historical perspective of the song/genre.
We usually pick songs that carry the message of peace, of celebration, of joy, and of unity. We especially love songs about specific seasons, specific traditions, or which have beautiful folkloric messages. We also try to delve into how the songs are traditionally performed, whether with special dance moves, or some unique instrumentation.
And then, we find similarities and differences with our own culture, both of which are beautiful to celebrate!
This is an important aspect we use in our educational outreach with schools and colleges all over the world. In December 2013, Women of the World was artist in residence with the New York 92nd Street Y organization. We performed 5 concerts, interacting with over 4,500 students from all over New York, focussing on introducing them to music they may not otherwise be exposed to. Working with youth is especially exciting – it’s a whole generation of creative minds that we hope will be even more open minded with an informed world view!
It seems you have started off on the right foot: A debut at NYC’s Blue Note, a tour in Japan. How were those first live experiences for the group?
The opportunities and venues we performed at are dreams for a many artists, and we feel honored to have had the chance to create there as a family. Each experience was wonderful, not just musically, but also because of the incredible friendships and connections we made – be it with like-minded artists, audience members, or the families of our group members!
Touring in Japan was a real blessing. The Japanese members finally had an opportunity to show us their home. The rest of us got to experience real Japanese culture with all our senses – we ‘met’ Japan, we saw it, heard it, tasted it, smelled, touched and were amazed by it all. It was an experience none of us will ever forget. We were also overwhelmed by the response we got from Japanese audiences. They really embraced our music and our message. We hope to continue to tour the world together, and learn about different cultures from first hand experience, rather than just read, or watch documentaries about them. This is true cultural conversation, and we intend to keep the dialogue going :)
Are you working on an album? Any release dates?
Yes! We are working on an album release for October 24th 2014 that will pair up with our concert for United Nations Day. The concert will feature many international guest artists, and will be our premiere of our Global Healing Tour that will spread its wings in USA and travel to Asia in March 2015.
Any plans to tour Italy?
Italy is definitely on the cards! We actually made our first attempt to organize an Italy tour in the summer of 2013, but since we are a large group, it was tough to find ample financial support to fund all the logistics. However, we haven’t given up.
Giorgia Renosto, always talks about the beauty of her country, the food, and how unbelievable Italy is. Where there is a will, there is a way! We are confident we will travel there very soon! In anticipation of our future concerts, we even learned the Italian National Anthem! We hope you like this little tribute!
Any final message you’d like to send to the readers of Bostoniano?
Dream big. Don’t be afraid of encountering differences – of mindset, of opinion, of traditions. Meeting people who have ideas opposite to yours are experiences to be treasured! Respect, kindness and open hearts are the keys to honest communication. Life is truly beautiful, and gratitude makes it even more beautiful! We look forward to sharing our stories and our joy at one of our live shows!