Brazilian jazz signer adjusting to life in chilly Sarnia

Fernanda Cunha is a professional singer and international student at Lambton College. Submitted Photo

Meet Fernanda Cunha —international Brazilian jazz singer, songwriter, world traveller, and Sarnia resident.

Over the past 22 years Cunha has recorded eight albums and performed her own brand of Latin jazz and bossa nova at prestigious jazz festivals around the world.

Even she admits it’s a bit surprising she moved to Sarnia with her husband in September to attend Lambton College as an international student.

“I came here for the first time in a little airplane and thought, ‘Oh my God. It’s so small.’”

Sarnia may seem a world away from the bustling metropolis of Rio de Janeiro, where she’s lived most of her life. But that difference is a big reason she moved to a Canadian border town to study recreation therapy for the next two years.

“My father said I was crazy but I am ready to get away from the big city,” she said. “I like what I see. I love the water and Canadians are very kind. They embrace my music in a way no others do.”

Cunha’s love affair with Canada began in 2005 when she first performed here at the Yardbird Suite, a jazz venue in Edmonton. Since then she’s regularly played at festivals across the country.

“It’s very hard to survive with jazz music in Brazil. They like pop,” Cunha said.

“In Europe, they want the drama. In America, they prefer up songs. But here, I can sing everything, even songs that are not well known, and Canadians close their eyes and appreciate it all.

“It may be cold here but the people are warm.”

She decided to take her career in a new direction while visiting Canada in 2011. She was performing at a festival in British Columbia and was invited to sing at three long-term care facilities.

“It was so inspiring,” she said.  “It’s not just music for them. It makes them want to talk afterward about their lives.”

The experience reminded her of pre-professional musician ambitions, when she earned a psychology degree and worked in psychotherapy at a private clinic.

Cunha wondered if she could fuse music with her psychology work. She decided to study recreation therapy, a course not offered in her homeland, she said.

“I Googled ‘recreation therapy’ and the first Canadian school to come up was Lambton College,” she said.

Since starting classes, she has performed at the Sarnia Library Auditorium in November and recently flew to Ottawa to teach a MasterClass at Carleton University.

She’s offering the same MasterClass to small groups of musicians and singers starting in January.

“My idea is to share my experience as a singer and producer, give some tips and advice, practice with them, and much more,” she said.

Anyone interested can contact her at fernandaccc@hotmail.com.

Cunha also released her eighth album this year with songs written by renowned Brazilian singer-songwriter Filio Machado.

“He’s marvelous,” she said. “It’s a very unique sound with a lot of sambas.”

The new album is available at the Cheeky Monkey downtown, and Cunha has signed copies available via email.

During a break from classes in February she is scheduled to do a one-week tour in British Columbia.

And on May 6, Sarnians will again have an opportunity to hear Cunha live with her Toronto band at the Sarnia Theatre Auditorium.

Details will be posted on her website at www.fernandacunha.com.

The Arts Journal reflects Sarnia’s expanding cultural life.  Send your ideas to cathy.dobson@thesarniajournal.ca.