Date: February 17, 2022
Source: Baltimore Jewish Times
Sonia Rutstein is the lead singer of SONiA disappear fear, a band that will perform at The Gordon Center on Saturday. (Steve Tabor)
SONiA disappear fear, a Baltimore-based band, is known for making the listener feel connected.
Absent a distinct style in her music, lead singer Sonia Rutstein said she is inspired by artists such as Odetta, Stevie Wonder and Louis Armstrong — and what their music does.
“To be so heartfelt that you can feel it,” she said. “That you feel it and you know you’re not alone.”
The Jewish LGBTQ musician is reuniting with her longest-running touring band at The Gordon Center on Feb. 19 at 8 p.m. — an idea born after the 25th anniversary of the band’s album, “Seed of the Sahara,” last June.
They will be premiering several new songs, with plans for an album the following year.
Growing up in Pikesville, Rutstein knew she wanted to be a musician ever since her great-aunt took her out of kindergarten to see her first live music performance. She started her band in the late ‘80s, originally only made up of Rutstein and her sister.
Its name stemmed from the mantra “disappear fear” that Rutstein had coined during a day job at the Baltimore Center for Victims of Sexual Assault.
“When you’re assaulted, you lose all sense of your own power … And I thought if you could disappear fear, you could own your own choices again and become whole,” Rutstein said.
That’s what she hopes to encourage in her music.
Her Jewish culture always influenced her in a big way. She recalls going to Israel at 15 years old and being told as she left, “in your journey through life, look through your Jewish eyes.”
Being part of Jewish and LGBTQ communities made her aware of alienation, she said. So despite the temptation to be reclusive during the pandemic, she is focusing on inclusivity.
“It’s easy to just cocoon but it’s important I think that we come together,” she added.
Being Jewish also inspired her in the creation of International Disappear Fear Day more than 30 years ago. Since its start, the day has sparked a music project with German high school students and art submissions from children depicting a world without fear.
The date chosen for the annual event — Feb. 18 — is significant because the number for “chai,” meaning “life” in Hebrew, is 18.
“When people wear [a chai] it’s the eighth and 10th letters of the Hebrew alphabet and also makes for that expression like “l’chaim,” so I thought, ‘to life’, you know?” she said.
Feb. 18 also marks a birthday shared with three people associated with the band, including Rutstein.
Along with her music career — which has spanned more than 20 countries and many different band members — Rutstein has been involved in a number of humanitarian causes. She sees them as an organic extension of her Judaism.
“In Judaism we think perhaps — this is my interpretation — of our hands as being the extension of God’s hands. So with that opportunity it seems quite natural to choose to heal problems that I can,” she said.
“I’m not a doctor, I’m not a lawyer. I’m not smart enough or a rabbi but I can sing and I can touch people and we can feel something really powerful together,” she added.