Artists Sontiago

In the ninth grade, Sonya wrote a letter to her school board arguing that missing school for two weeks was worth the life experience she would gain. The board agreed, and she soon found herself being led by her big sister through a massive carnival in the streets of Kingston, Jamaica. Costumes, dancing, pulsating music, deejays, and sound clashes flooded her senses. Her life was changed forever.

Returning home, the rapid spread of hip-hop seemed like the natural American counterpart to what reggae and dancehall were in Jamaica. It wasn’t about passively listening to the music – it was about being involved and music was only part of a broader cultural expression that included fashion, dancing, art, social justice and being creative. Hip hop became the driving force that kept the young girl’s heart filled with music for the next twenty years.

In the early 1990s, energized by seeing Public Enemy and Boogie Down Productions in concert, Sontiago started writing rhymes during her high school classes and sharing them with her friends.  In 1993, she relocated to Columbus, Ohio to attend Ohio State University. There, she was exposed to talent shows, step dancing and tried her hand at mixing records for the first time. Raps were written at a prolific pace, and she was especially enamoured with a new group called, Outkast.  In 1994, after moving to North Carolina to work on a Fine Arts degree at UNC Greensboro, she joined two other emcees and a beat maker and began performing together as Sleepy Hollow.  During her time with the group, she is branded with the name Sontiago, taken from an abbreviation of her first name and last initial.

Sontiago moved to Maine in 1999 to get back to her northeastern roots.  Itching to rap, she found herself at an open-mic night where she met another group of rappers and a deejay.  Before long, they were collaborating in a group called Know Complex. She recorded for the first time and the group started performing around Portland, eventually winning several Best Local Hip-Hop Artist awards.  After deciding to venture out as a solo artist, Sontiago met local rap phenomenon, jdwalker who introduced her to hip hop’s vast underground, including labels like Anticon and artists like the Grouch and Aesop Rock. They recorded a track together, which was released on her 2004 debut album, Abuse My Adoration, which was released through a grant from the Maine Arts Commission. Jdwalker and Sontiago started dating and playing shows together. They opened for Atmosphere in 2001 at the same venue where they would later meet and befriend Orlando, Florida-based rapper Bleubird. In turn, Bleubird introduced them to Scott Da Ros, the head of Endemik Music. Jdwalker and Sontiago were married in 2005, and two years later Steel Yourself, Sontiago’s sophomore album, was released on Endemik. The album earned her a number six spot on the CMJ hip-hop charts, landed her on the pages of URB’s Next 100, and was called “your Ipod’s best friend,” in Bust Magazine.

Since her last release, Sontiago has worked as a teaching artist with a non-profit writing center in Portland, leading songwriting and video workshops for area high school students. The results can be seen in a series of recently completed video shorts titled, “The Whole World Waiting.” Returning to her own music, Sontiago found inspiration in a group of influential collaborators. Lucky Me Records producer Ango saw Sontiago perform in his hometown of Halifax in 2003 and, after relocating to Montreal years later, sought out Endemik’s Scott Da Ros, who helped to get the two artists together.  Ango, who had just returned from the Red Bull Music Academy in Barcelona, was armed with energy and a thundering palette of beats, while Sontiago, revitalized, was bursting with ideas.

Back in Portland, Maine, Sontiago was bar-tending when a girl in a bluegrass band caught her eye. She was wearing a pair of sneakers that suggested she was more than just a bassist in an all-girl folk ensemble. Indeed, she was. The two exchanged music the next day and Sontiago learned that Therese Workman was one half of Oh My Goodness, a brilliant duo that made songs infused with humor, future-pop, R&B, and a healthy dose of The Cosby Show. From there it was on. The two pushed each other, wrote together, recorded together and cheered together from the sidelines as Anticon’s Alias mixed their vocals.

Muscle Car Maxi Single is the kind of music that might cause groups of strangers to burst into spontaneous and elaborate dance numbers as it flows from the stereos of cars cruising the Saturday night strip. Sontiago is back. Life is good. It’s time to have a bit of fun.  Without sacrificing her ability to make a point, Sontiago steers Muscle Car with a carefree abandon that is both infectious and exhilarating.  On the b-side, Okay Okay’s anthemic beat and fierce determination is the perfect counterpoint to the title track – the moment when everyone suddenly realizes they’ve been caught up in unconscious choreography but shrugs off their inhibitions and keeps dancing anyway.