Julia Vari straddles cultures to make ‘Borderless’ music — in eight languages
The San Diego Union-Tribune By GEORGE VARGA
Being cast in a lead role in the theatrical drama “Skin of Honey” last year in Los Angeles was a dream come true for Julia Vari. Losing that same role just one week before the play opened was the big break she didn’t know she was looking for.
“The same day my part fell through, I found out about a songwriting retreat in Idyllwild that weekend. I drove up there and it changed my life,” said Vari, who performs with her band next Thursday at The Loft@UC San Diego.
Vari already had three albums to her credit at the time. She had performed at concert halls and at jazz and World Music festivals in Canada, California, Europe, Mexico and across Latin America.
But she had not done her own material, until that fateful retreat.
“I got the courage that weekend to start doing my own songwriting and to let people hear my music,” said Vari, who was born in Miami and grew up in New York and Mexico City.
“And I met several people who I co-wrote songs with, one of which is on my new record. The retreat gave me the courage to say: ‘OK, I’m no longer Julia Vari the singer, I’m Julia Vari the singer and songwriter’.”
Vari smiled at the not-so-distant memory.
“When you lose a major role like that, you feel your world is coming to an end, that you’re a failure, and it’s time to quit. Looking back now, it was the best thing that could have happened to me.”
That contention is borne out by her enchanting five-song EP, “Borderless,” due out this summer. The UCSD concert will mark the first time her new songs have been performed live by Vari, who now divides her time between San Diego, Los Angeles and Mexico City.
Featuring an enticing mix of pop, jazz, flamenco, bossa-nova and other Latin styles — with lyrics skillfully sung in English and Spanish — “Borderless” is aptly titled.
“San Diego is a border city and I feel like I’m a border girl, constantly going back and forth between two countries, cultures and languages,” said Vari, who has dual citizenship.
“There are three pillars to my concept of ‘Borderless.’ First, I want there to be no more physical borders between countries. Second, no borders between my songs. They’re not all sad songs, love songs or nostalgic songs; they all are related, yet different. Third, I want there to be no borders between me and my audience.”
Vari studied musical theater at New York University and classical voice and piano at the Eastman School of Music. But when she was done with her classes, she decided to work in internal relations and P.R. for companies in Washington, D.C., Spain and Romania.
“I felt I didn’t know enough about the world,” she said. “I wanted to broaden my horizons and see what else was out there.”
In 2010, after moving back to Mexico City, friends dared her to play piano and sing in a Lebanese restaurant. Vari not only took the dare, she was promptly hired to perform there three nights a week.
This led to more dates in other area venues, a Celebrity Cruises singing gig in the Mediterranean, and her 2011 debut album, “La Vida en Rosa” (whose title track is Vari’s svelte version of Édith Piaf’s “La Vie en Rose”).
Vari’s next album. 2013’s “Lumea” found her deftly singing in French, Spanish, Italian, English, Portuguese and Hebrew. In concert, she also sings in German and Catalan.
“I can definitely say ‘no’ in all of them!” she joked, before growing more serious. “Singing in different languages helps me connect to more people. It really doesn’t matter what language you sing in. What’s supposed to be transmitted is the emotion.
“I can transmit in any language and it all ties in with the concept of music being ‘borderless’.”