MY STORY SO FAR
Larisa Santiago was born with music deep within her genes and a never-give-up attitude. She was determined to be born! “Birth was a mission” to quote her mother. She survived the odds! ”You were born a warrior” her dad tells her.
In fact Larisa was born in the grand designed city of Belo Horizonte in the state of Minas Gerais, Brazil. BH, as Brazilians like to call it, is the sixth largest city in Brazil, surrounded by stunning views of the Curral del Rey Mountains. Even the name “belo horizonte” sings like a lyric in one’s ear, “beautiful horizon”. Yep, and BH is also the birth place of the Clube da Esquina music collective, one of the most important musical movements in the music history of Brazil. Larisa believes that when she was born, the first breath she took was from that very air enriched by the music of Clube da Esquina. Those tiny lungs, those first breaths and the drive to live became the seeds of this future singer. After all, singers need good lungs and lungs need good air.
Milton Nascimento: Clube Da Esquina 1972
“My mom says that my being born was a mission - it was very risky and I almost died - she says until this day that it was a miracle for me to be here. I was super tiny and I had to stay at the hospital for twenty-five days after I was born - my lungs weren't properly formed yet so I had to stay to make sure they would be.”
Ipanema, Rio de Janeiro (Photo: T. Tobias)
For Larisa, growing up was a tale of two cities. While BH was her home town, Rio de Janeiro is her second home. Her parents worked in both BH and in Rio but BH was home base. Her grandparents and extended family all live in Rio and are true Cariocas. So growing up she spent a good deal of time on road trips, driving and singing between the two cities.
“From the time I was very little I remember traveling to Rio. I probably traveled there more than four hundred times. I loved those car trips. My parents would play a lot of old songs in the car and that's how I got introduced to Bryan Adams, ABBA, Queen, Phil Collins, all the old school, big musical players. We would sing along in the car, which was super fun.”
Larisa has wanted to sing and perform since she was a toddler. Her mom tells how she would perform for her and then at the end of her little show Larisa would be like “thank you everyone” and then clap and laugh. “My mom used to call me charming Penelope”. She joined the choir at her school and combined that with Ballet and Jazz classes. Music was also part of her home life. Larisa describes how her mom used to “let go” to the radio.
“My mom always used to dance and sing when a good song was playing on the radio and so did my grandma. Both my mom and grandma have competed in singing competitions in Brazil. They both wanted to be singers at some point. My grandma’s voice is beautiful and mom is a really good singer. So I believe my passion for music comes from them, plus Brazilian culture is very vivid and every single Brazilian is born with a passion for music.”
While music and performing had a strong draw for Larisa, so did languages. At different stages in her early education she moved to schools that provided language immersion. She started studying English at the age of seven and while Portuguese is her first language, at fourteen she moved to a school that taught in Portuguese and Italian. She became fluent in Italian and fell in love with the culture. She became passionate about languages. Later she got introduced to Spanish and fell in love with the culture. Over the years, her language skills have grown to the point that Larisa now speaks five languages fluently including French. Today English is the most dominant language she speaks especially since she moved to Canada in 2011. Now that she lives in Toronto, one of the most diverse cities on the planet, she is able to use all of her languages from time to time. Her linguistic skills are now part of her brand as an artist.
Larisa jumped into music with both feet after becoming friends with a fellow student from the Italian school she was attending in Brazil. Larisa was inspired as she saw how her friend was making music and producing her own EP and pursuing a singing career. She started taking singing lessons and became fascinated with the movie High School Musical which she saw numerous times. She learned and finally accepted that indeed she could sing - “for real”. From singing lessons she started studying the guitar and then writing songs in English and Portuguese. “I’ve always been better at writing words, as I use songwriting as a way to express my feelings and be creative.”
When Larisa was sixteen, she decided she wanted to speak English more fluently. She and her parents decided that she would go to school in Canada. She enrolled in St. Michael’s University School in Victoria, British Columbia after learning that it had a great music program. Moving to Canada at seventeen was the first time Larisa traveled alone outside of Brazil. Now in Canada she was completely on her own. At school she knew that she had to work extra hard since her English wasn’t great. She was the only Brazilian at school so she became friends with the Mexican kids. It helped that she could speak basic Spanish, but in a very short time she became fluent in the language of her friends.
“At that time in BC I was singing with the Vocal Jazz Ensemble – it was one of the first things I did – and I was also part of the school choir. I loved every single minute of it and I never felt so musical. At the time my goal was to go get a music degree at a university however, that changed in grade 12. I just got too scared to take that plunge to study music. In the meantime I was taking singing and guitar lessons.”
Ipanema, Rio de Janeiro (Photo: T. Tobias)
After graduating from grade 12 Larisa left the Pacific side of Canada and headed east to Toronto to study at the University of Toronto. She spent four years at U of T, graduating with a degree in International Relations, with a double minor in Spanish and Political Science. While she focused on her studies at university, her music was put on hold but its pull was never ending.
Larisa was now living in one of the world’s great music cities with talented musicians, songwriters and producers everywhere. But where do you start without getting scammed, especially when you have limited experience navigating the business of music? Well, you learn quickly that the art of music is different from the business of music. It is almost a rite of passage that an artist starting out is going to fumble, be taken advantage of, wander down a couple of dark paths, before those experiences turn into valuable lessons and reap rich knowledge on which one can build a career. One of the first things she did was contact the Songwriters Association of Canada and from there she started connecting with the local music community. Wanting to improve her English language diction, Larisa also connected with a prominent vocal coach who helped her make improvements in her singing performance.
But there is no escaping the reality that you need to make a living while pursuing your passion. Got to pay the rent and buy the groceries and stay healthy mentally and physically. So you need to have your day jobs while putting in the creative time at night and on the weekends. If you are lucky you might even find a day job working in the music business where you could gain experience and learn from the inside. Larisa got an intern position inside one of the leading indie record companies in Toronto. That followed with another intern position with Ontario Creates, the government agency which works with the cultural industries in Ontario including the music, film and TV business. Whenever there was an opportunity to gain knowledge that would enhance her music business experience, Larisa would step up. She volunteered for the Toronto International Film Festival and the Canadian Music Week Conference. She followed with full time jobs in the financial industry and then back to working in the music industry with the leading music reproduction rights agency.
Larisa’s first shot at working with a producer was not a good experience. But lessons were learned. She was stepping boldly into the tough music industry world. She stumbled, she fell and she got back up. She told herself not to get discouraged. She tried again with a couple of other producers but she was still not satisfied, while having to deal with power trips, misogyny, prima donna attitudes and demands for more share of co-writing than she felt was fair. But she was getting her feet wet and learning. She was becoming a professional and gaining insight in how to navigate the business and the egos. She studies the business, she reads the books, she gets mentored, she makes progress. She remembers her father’s words: “You were born a warrior!”
In 2018 Larisa went into the studio with producer Trey Mills which resulted in her first English pop single entitled “Home”. The recording evolved from an original song written by Larisa. Once in the studio the song grew with the help of Mills and two other writers. The release of “Home” was strategically put on hold while Larisa worked on new songs.
Cover for No Soy Tu Niñera (Photo: Vicky Kao, Plastic Canon)
In 2019 she joined forces with Toronto based, Latin Music producer Medylandia (Medy Capellan) who had gained success with Universal recording artist Alex Veliz. Medy produced Veliz’s EP which included the international hit “Dancing Kizomba” which he also co-wrote. Larisa and Medy decided that they would write a Reggaeton song that would be performed entirely in Spanish. The result was “No Soy Tu Niñera” (I’m Not Your Nanny). And there is nothing like reggaeton with its fusion of Latin rhythms, dancehall, hip-hop and Caribbean roots to get you moving. And Medy did a great job punching out the reggaeton beats.
Producer Medylandia in his studio with Larisa and friends.
(Photo: T Tobias)
“I went into the studio with producer Medylandia for a session and we began bouncing ideas around and I said: ‘Why don't we write about a girl who one day puts her stake in the ground and claims her independence?”
In the spring of 2019 Larisa signed a publishing agreement with The Pangaea Music House owned by her long time mentor and music industry veteran Tony Tobias. Through the PMH label and its distribution deal with Believe Digital, “Home” became Larisa’s first English Pop release. It was followed by a soft release of “No Soy Tu Niñera” in July 2019 with the official release a month later. “No Soy Tu Niñera” is Larisa’s first Spanish language single. It is a fun, reggaeton flavored narrative wrapped in an infectious danceable package and Larisa kills it with her powerful vocals! And for Larisa Santiago this is just the beginning of the chapter in her life story where she realizes her dream of making music and singing for the world.