ARTICLE: Sonia De Los Santos Telling Stories Through Song
May 9, 2021
Singer aims to bring messages of hope and joy to children through her songs in La Jolla Music Society concerts
Sonia De Los Santos has a story to tell. Or, better put, she has a story to sing.
The Monterrey, Mexico, native moved to New York City shortly after earning her college degree in communications. She discovered her calling — writing and performing songs for children — when she started touring with Grammy-winning kid-music troubadour Dan Zanes in 2007.
“We spent roughly 10 years touring around the world,” De Los Santos recalled.
“I fell in love with playing for family audiences. And I quickly realized there was a need for Spanish-language songs, both new and traditional. I knew that’s what I’d like to do. There was some interest in it, so I put a band together.”
De Los Santos will present her two bilingual La Jolla Music Society-sponsored shows this weekend. On Saturday, she will perform at Baker-Baum Concert Hall for a livestream concert. On Sunday, she will appear in person in the adjacent Wu Tsai Courtyard for a socially distanced audience.
She will bring her guitars and jarana, an eight-string Mexican guitar. Unfortunately, De Los Santos will be without her band, due to the coronavirus pandemic, which was why the society had to postpone her 2020 concerts here.
La Jolla Music Society Education & Community Programming Manager Allison Boles said the new children’s series had barely begun before the pandemic made performances impossible.
“It was frustrating, and we’re looking forward to next year when we can fully offer this concert series,” Boles said, adding that it is designed for kids 3 to 8. “This is new for us, bringing a young audience into our hall. We developed the series looking for super high-quality performers in children’s music and childhood development.
“We thought Sonia would be a really good draw in San Diego. She’s bilingual and her lyrics are uplifting and insightful. She brings a message of joy, which is great, especially in the year we’ve had. We’re excited to have her.”
As with many artists, De Los Santos’ performance schedule was totally upended. For someone who had previously put videos on YouTube only when promoting her albums, she found herself using social media and YouTube like never before.
In addition to creating more videos, De Los Santos started an online series called “En Casa con Sonia” and a new radio segment, “¿Qué Pasa, Sonia?” on SiriusXM Kids Place Live.
“It has definitely been a learning curve for me,” she said. “I had to change gears and get lights and cameras. I needed to imagine the audience was there. So I thought: `Why don’t I start singing and leave space for them to sing back to me?’
“I got good response from my audience. And, soon after, I got requests from theaters where I had been scheduled to perform. I’ve done a lot of livestream or video concerts. It was a nice way to keep singing and learn the tech aspects of it. It has been really fun.”
This lemonade-from-lemons approach seems to be the norm for De Los Santos, who used the shutdown to finish composing music for her third album, “Esperanza” (“Hope”) to be released sometime this year.
She admits that it was sometimes challenging to write songs during the shutdown.
“I looked for where I find hope to keep on going on,” she said. “Some inspirations are appreciating nature and animals, looking back at my own journey, and realizing how much we take for granted.”
The CD’s first video — “¡Fiesta, Fiesta!” — was released in October. Footage depicting De Los Santos on the San Diego/Mexico border was shot when she performed at a pre-pandemic “Fandango at the Wall” concert.
De Los Santos’ life partner and band member, percussionist Martin Vejarano, participated in “¡Fiesta, Fiesta!”. The main parts of it were filmed in the Mexican city of San Miguel Allende, where her father lives.
“My father was behind the camera and happy to see his name credited as camera operator,” De Los Santos said. “It was a family activity — a nice bonding experience.”
Her first album, “Mi Viaje: De Nuevo Leon to the New York Island,” came out in 2015, followed by 2018’s “!Alegria!”, which was nominated for a Latin Grammy.
“Mi Viaje” or “My Trip” traces a musical journey from De Los Santos’ home state of Nuevo Leon to New York. On the record — and in performances — she sings her personal story of being a Mexican immigrant who became an American citizen.
It was while touring with Grammy winner Zanes that she recognized how important her story and her presence can be to children.
“I didn’t realize what a significant message it was to have me on stage,” De Los Santos said. “I feel so lucky to be someone Latino girls and boys can hear and see. They feel represented.”