By Romina Monaco
“Mother says I was a dancer before I could walk. She says I began to sing long before I could talk” - ABBA
There’s a chill in the air at Nathan Phillips Square but that doesn’t seem to bother a frenzied crowd of 50,000 young Torontians. Glow sticks in hand, a sea of arms rock to the music of electrifying Canadian pop sensation, Aleesia Stamkos. Exotically beautiful and clad in black sequins during her performance at the Citytv 2012 New Year’s Eve Bash no one can dispute that her catchy hooks, refreshing artistic expression, and exhilarating energy ooze star quality.
“It was an incredible experience being in front of such a large audience. My ultimate goal is to perform on the world stage”, she says with an air confidence.
Some might think this a lofty ambition but Aleesia is already well on her way. Only twenty-two years old, this York Region resident is teeming with accomplishments. Since 2011, her singles, Bubble Gum, Headlights, Angel and Life of the Party have soared the music charts, achieving Top 40 airplay nation-wide. The Canadian release of her pop/dance debut album, Girl Talk, including the North American release of her single, Kiss it Bye Bye (which also earned her two Much Music Video Award nominations in 2012) have branded her as one of the most recognized new artists of the last year. Regardless of the heightened media attention, remaining grounded is of the upmost importance for this popular singer, songwriter and dance artist.
“I worked really hard and built my fan base from the ground up” explains Aleesia, adding, “I am proud of my growth as an independent artist but try not to get caught up in the excitement of it all. I keep my head on straight and take everything one day at a time”
Since Aleesia was a little girl she knew she wanted to be an entertainer. When her parents discovered that she had been choreographing her own dance routines they decided to enroll her at the esteemed Vlad’s Dance Company. However, dance wasn’t their daughter’s sole passion. Aleesia also had a flair for lyrics, studying vocals and experimenting with songwriting. As time passed her family realized that music was the core element, as well as her purpose for being.
“My parents and two older sisters are my mentors. I wouldn’t be where I am if it wasn’t for their encouragement and the values they instilled in me. They have taught me everything that is important”, says the young, but wise brunette.
Collaborating with other members in the music industry is high on her list of priorities and has resulted in opening-act performances for Bruno Mars, Adam Lambert, Girlicious and many more. In 2011 her stunning good looks and fashion-forward style led her to become the face of international clothing retailer, Urban Behaviour. Currently she is in Los Angelis, ready to make waves in the American pop music scene.
While travelling the road to stardom, she gives words of encouragement to other young aspiring musical artists, “Be head-over –heels in love with your work. Be persistent and don’t be afraid to take the reins in your own life. Above all, never accept no as an answer”
Aleesia’s reassuring message echoes throughout sixteen year-old, Victoria Fragomeni’s world. While quietly waiting in the wings to perform at one of Vaughan’s many prestigious gala events, she softly hums the meditative tune of an unknown melody. Moments later a captivated audience relishes in her smooth, euphonious rendition of Giacomo Puccini’s Nessun Dorma. Not an easy aria to sing but young Victoria delivers it effortlessly. As her majestic voice cascades over the final stanza a loud cheer erupts across the room. Performing professionally since the age of nine, this is not the first time the classical soloist has received such an ardent ovation.
“I love doing big songs and seeing how people react to my singing. It makes me want to do better. It’s a great feeling to know that I can affect them in such a positive way”, she explains.
Victoria’s exposure to music began when she was still in the womb. Her mother, who had learned of the calming effects associated with music and pregnancy, surrounded herself with modern-day classical ballads. Whether this was the catalyst or if genetics played a factor, there is no denying that she was born with a special gift. Seven years later, while participating in a school Christmas concert, Victoria’s parents recognized her incredible talent for singing and immediately enrolled her in vocal lessons.
Her earliest role model was her paternal grandfather, Giuseppe. Best friend to Victoria and mentor, he nurtured her singing ability until his untimely death in 2010 whereupon her father took over management of the youngster’s budding career.
“My father is my rock. He takes cares of all my bookings and whatever else needs to be done. My mother is my number one fan. They both are really supportive and believe in what I’m doing”, Victoria tells Whatever Vaughan.
Currently attending the Regional Arts Program at St. Roch Secondary School in Brampton, education within the musical spectrum is a journey she plans to continue at the acclaimed Berklee College of Music in Boston. For one so young, Victoria’s determination, maturity and musical style are reflective of an old soul.
“I do my best to balance my singing with school and friends. But if there’s a party going on and I have to perform at an event, I really couldn’t care less about the party!” she admits.
Within the last two years she has bewitched audiences all over the city, appearing at the CNE Bandshell as well as at other numerous public engagements. Additional projects include a showcase with concert director/musician Mark Camilleri and Viva Italia Cuba, an Italian Canadian music event presented by the Evanov Radio Group on the hotel strip of Varadero, Cuba. Victoria also makes time to venture into the recording studio where she is currently working on her newest project – a modern-day classical album. Victoria also exhibits the early traits of philanthropy, supporting Caritas (an addiction rehabilitation centre in the GTA) as well as donating the proceeds of her performances to cancer research.
Yet, Victoria also looks at another dimension of life. “I want to make a whole career out of my singing but I also want to get married one day and have a family. It just can’t be all about this. There has to be more. ”
With steady ease and skill, Anthony Brancati quickly runs his fingers over the keys of the piano. The melody he plays melds beautifully with the sweet intonation of his sister’s voice. The accompanying band joins in, creating a delicious repertoire of R&B, Blues, Soul and Rock n’ Roll. It is an old sound with a contemporary twist and a youthful panache.
This riveting and lively performance won Anthony the grand prize at the First Annual Vaughan Has Talent Competition in 2012. However, this isn’t his first and only honour. He also placed first in the Celebration of the Arts Talent Competition in York Region and was the winner of the Mitch Mitchell Rotary Jazz Award at the Markham Jazz Festival. Twenty-one years of age, this arranger and piano composer admits that entertainment runs in the Brancati family.
“Music has always been important to us. My father played the accordion, guitar and the piano. He is my biggest inspiration. I began taking piano lessons at the age of four and I started performing by the age of five. I also play the drums, saxophone and do vocals” he says.
Even though Anthony began demonstrating a passion for instrumentals at an early age, it wasn’t until his father introduced him to the songs of legendary Soul pioneer, Ray Charles that he made the conscious decision to pursue a career in the competitive music industry.
“My dad and I were always big Elvis fans but I couldn’t believe the energy in Ray’s music. It was so exciting and it really inspired me”, he explains.
Other than the on-stage appearances alongside her brother, twenty-three year old Paula Brancati has proven to be successful in her own right. Her first-rate acting abilities have received outstanding reviews by professionals in the television industry. Her standing role in Degrassi: The Next Generation, as well as castings on a number of other series, has earned her two Gemini and two Dora nominations.
While Paula continues to thrive in her acting career Anthony, who is currently in his fourth year of musical studies at Humber College, continues to perform at large number of community and corporate functions and this summer he is booked to appear at the Blue Mountain Jazz Festival. Despite this hectic schedule he also finds the time to teach at the Thornhill School of Music as well as work on various projects. Recently he wrote the musical score for the short film, The Water’s Edge.
“I do plan to continue teaching and writing music but my life-long dream is to keep performing on stage, leading the band”.
Meanwhile, warming the hearts of the community with both her melodic voice and altruistic spirit is twenty-four year old, Belinda Naccarato. A multi-lingual vocalist, composer, part-time supply teacher and entrepreneur she is fast becoming a household name. Showing both versatility and broad appeal, she has entertained distinguished dignitaries such as Minister Julian Fantino and Mayor Maurizio Bevilacqua as well as performing to the masses at Woodbridge Ribfest. As a pop-opera artist she has found a way to create her own unique sound by synergistically mixing her favourite genres – modern Italian music with added classical and a splash of English lyrics.
Belinda, who began her love affair with music while singing in the church choir as a young girl, believes that her cultural roots have been instrumental in the development of her original style.
“Growing up in an Italian family, my parents stressed the importance of tradition and culture. Music was also a big part of our lives. Every year I watched the annual Italian Sanremo Festival at my grandparents’ house. I would tell my grandmother that I wanted to be in the festival one day. She always told me that I could and that everything was possible!” says Belinda.
Although she attended the Royal Conservatory of Music and then continued her studies at York University where she trained as a Soprano, it was the world-renowned music festival that opened her heart to the Italian pop genre. Part of her dream was realized when she recently performed at Casino Rama alongside Italian superstar and Sanremo winner, Al Bano.
Not only does Belinda currently teach specialized music programs for both the Toronto and York Catholic School Boards, she also owns and operates Rose Melodies – a company coordinating live entertainment. Giving back to the community and beyond is important to this artist. She provides pro-bono services and donates proceeds from her album sales to the Hospital for Sick Children, Caritas and most recently “Voices for Bulembu”, a non-profit charitable organization assisting orphans in Swaziland.
“Every album I release will have a charity attached to it. I want to be at a level where my music can help others and motivate change. Music is such a powerful tool”, she says enthusiastically.
Belinda has a busy summer ahead of her with appearances at the Italian Walk of Fame, countless events for the Italian Heritage Month of Ontario, as well as the completion of a self-titled album.
“It’s been such a whirlwind lately. Luckily my parents keep me grounded and remind to remain true to myself. Family is everything”
This article published in Whatever Vaughan Magazine Spring/Summer Edition