By Tom Cesarini
She sings (in 14 languages). She composes and produces. Being a Grammy nominee is just one of her many honors, having achieved international fame. And its roots are in Little Italy. To hear interpretations of standard pop, opera and jazz standards by artist and local favorite Sacha Boutros is to revel in a blackmailer. In July, you can see her playing Il Sogno Italiano in the Gaslamp district. We interviewed Sacha to get a better look at this multi-faceted and talented character.
How do you relate 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 a pizza at Mimmo’s Italian Village. Quickly, I fell in love with the cultural and heritage richness of the neighborhood. Whenever I could, I went back, ending up doing my afternoon homework in high school and later in college. When I wasn’t playing sports, I could be found drinking espresso and reading “La Gazzetta dello Sport” [a popular Italian sports daily] at CafÃ© Zucchero, speaking in Italian to my charming local Sicilian fishing friends.
I played street football with the boys after church when the parking lot was diagonally across India Street and hardly any cars passed. I watched Little Italy grow up from the old fishing town with all the locals who came and went in the now gentrified, overcrowded version of an adult Disneyland. Little Italy is my home and I also resided for the past 12 years before moving to Paris in 2018, and this was where I went to church every Sunday. It was also there that 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 that I call home.
Little Italy has undergone dramatic changes thanks to its redevelopment. What are the contemporary elements of the neighborhood that resonate with you, and what are the elements that are perhaps missing?
I know Little Italy which has grown from the 80s to the 90s until now. I miss seeing all the families and familiar faces that graced India Street with their eccentric personalities. I believe these friends are long gone, and those who remain rarely visit new Little Italy. There are some old familiar and native faces of our dear India Street. The new businesses and boutiques are wonderful, and it is surely the hippest place in San Diego; my only regret is that there is no cultural center or museum to preserve the Italian heritage and the integrity of all the families who made the quarter Italian in the first place. I am hopeful that through the efforts of the community we can create this for the immigrants who founded what we are as âNew Americansâ.
How did your education influence your musical direction?
Family, love and faith have influenced all of my music. I learned to sing in church – music for me is the word of God expressed in faith on a note. I sing, therefore I am â sharing my gift with the world in service and gratitude for connecting and building community wherever I go using music as a tool to build peaceful bridges across borders and connect the world. My heritage and culture have added a rich layer of European and Latin influences that have enabled me to reach my audiences in multiple languages, and the sounds of these cultures resonate in my original compositions.
What are some of your direct musical influences?
My grandfather Cirilo Cazares, with whom I sang in church, taught me harmony and joy through music. Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Maria Callas, Julie Andrews, Nancy Wilson, Enrico Macias and Dalida are also big influences.
As you have performed all over the world, what are the notable differences between our music scene in this country compared to that of other countries?
San Diego’s music scene is very different from that of the international touring circuit. It is beautiful and smaller in scope than that of national and international audiences. In Vienna, for example, they like American blues and standards; in New York, swinging straight tunes; while San Diego loves cabaret and pop hits.
Tell us about your new business and how you stand up for women in the music industry.
Returning from Paris to San Diego, I noticed a need for women in the arts to have a brighter voice and to be recognized for their achievements. It was my peaceful protest in response to the #metoo movement. I wanted my contribution to be an edifying and positive example for young women in the world of music and the arts, to take the ethical path and do the right thing. I have experienced far too often what so many women in my business have, if not more, about being a minority woman. Unfortunately, I can’t say it’s completely changed here in San Diego but it’s improving and it’s progress. I decided to stop focusing on what wasn’t happening and start creating what I wanted to happen. âHear Me Roar Records and Entertainmentâ is a tribute to the strong women who paved the way before me and those with whom I form a team. We may never change what IS, or the balance of power, but what I do know is that I will not point the blame in any direction. Where the door is closed, there is another opening waiting to be discovered.
What are your latest projects and where are you currently playing? What is in the pipeline for Sa-cha, personally and professionally?
Shortly after founding my business, I met the visionary and my current business partner, Sean Shoja, the owner of âIl Sogno Italianoâ in the Gaslamp neighborhood of downtown San Diego. Sean, a long-time successful restaurateur for over 25 years, wanted to create a post-Covid place that touches all the senses and touches the heart through food and music. He saw the end of Covid as a great opportunity to bring people together and uplift the San Diego community – creating joy as the main goal and intention after a year of suffering around the world. In February, I received a formal invitation to consult and start organizing a gastronomic music experience and transform âIl Sogno Italianoâ (âThe Italian Dreamâ) into a music club. (This came as a welcome effort after successfully running the “Sachas Supper Club” for the past seven years and creating California’s first pop-up music and dining experience that was voted best music and living room. night on San Diego’s A list.) We started with music on weekends and have now gone from two to seven nights a week, employing a fairly large roster of world-class performers who grace our stage every day. evenings. The atmosphere is warm and inviting, reminiscent of old San Diego in the days of Mister A which went back to the Alessios; you could say it’s heartwarming Italian. Quickly we have become the hottest food and music venue in the Gaslamp and we hope to capture the place of the best live music venue in San Diego. We have musicians who come from Palm Springs, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and all the way to Paris. It was a wonderful start to a great journey and “Il Sogno Ital-iano” hopes to start paying shows for other touring artists soon. In the fall, we team up with David Ben-nett, General Manager of San Diego Opera, for some fun surprises. San Diego is ready and open for the arts and Sean and I are working really hard to bring you a slice of what you might hear in New York, Paris or London in our own backyard here at San Diego’s Gaslamp.
Personally, I have several new recording projects on the horizon. We just recorded a tribute to Nancy Wilson in Los Angeles at the East West Studios, and I’m simultaneously working on a project in New York with John di Martino in Spanish, French and Italian. Autumn brings me back to Paris to work on a new passionate CD with my new partnership with friend Vincent Bessiers who founded the extraordinary jazz label “Jazz and People”. The album, entitled “Grandiose, la musique de Michel Legrand”, will be a great tribute to one of my favorite composers and will showcase the talents of five legendary and promising pianists in France whom I have the great honor of. record. with, including amazing artists such as Jacky Terasson, StÃ©phane Belmondo, Franck Amsal-lem, Geraud Portal, Tony Tixier and Laurent Courthaliac. I’m pretty excited to resume this project because Covid cut it short at the start of what was to be an epic piece, as they say in French, of a dream coming true.
I wish everyone reading this a wonderful and prosperous year and a new normal as Covid leaves us. May you all prosper and find success and joy in all that you do.
– Tom Cesarini is the Executive Director and Founder of Convivio and is also Honorary Consul of Italy in San Diego. Convivio cultivates community and brotherhood, advances Italian cultural identity, and fosters multicultural awareness in a myriad of disciplines through education and research, social enrichment, and innovative programming. Visit: www.conviviosociety.org | Follow: @conviviosociety