by David Scott
Victoria Falana, BA’12 (Kinesiology, Western University) embraces uncomfortable situations. Raised by Nigerian “non-musical” parents in Brampton, Ontario, Falana searched for her voice as a youth, listening to the sounds of Fela Kuti and King Sunny Adé, as well as traditional radio pop. Then names like Lauryn Hill, Nina Simone and Etta James started ringing true.
In order to hone her skills, she performed in competitions in the Greater Toronto Area, like CNE’s Rising Star Talent Competition. And then she arrived at Western in 2008.
Her first steps, however, weren’t exactly full of Purple Pride and parties. An avid soccer player, she had a torn ACL repaired just months before arriving on campus.
“I started my first year on crutches and a wheelchair,” she said. “Frosh Week was horrible. My first few months at Western were pretty sad. I couldn’t hang out; I couldn’t take part in any activities.”
Despite the rough start, later that year, she won the Western Idol competition. The prize, a trip to Europe, opened the door to a future she always wanted, but never expected. With the international bug planted, she reached third year without a clear path. Stagnated personally, she applied for a summer exchange to Denmark.
“It was not something highly premeditated,” she said. “And that’s how life is sometimes. But I wrote a lot of music in Denmark. I’d explore and meet people. I spent a lot of time on my own. It took me a while to get used to Denmark. It was really different.”
Soon afterward, she joined Kinesiology professor Darwin Semotiuk’s Physical Activity in Cuba course, which included a class trip to Cuba. She travelled there in February 2012 during Reading Week.
Although she loved music as a child, her singing and playing various instruments was all self-taught. Speaking with Cuban musicians and experiencing a music that was “very raw” sparked a passion to take action. It inspired a leap of faith. “I’m the kind of person when I say I’m going to do something I do it,” she said. “I’m going to go to Cuba.” And so, following convocation, Falana moved to Cuba.
“(Cuba is) a place where people really honour musicianship and art, and the roles music and art play in that context versus somewhere in Canada, where we tend to put more emphasis on sciences, with science being something that’s ‘respectable,’” she said.
“Intuitively, I’m very percussive. I started studying more rhythms. Being in Cuba was really great for that. That’s very much part of my identity. The rhythms I’ve picked up in different contexts tend to overlap a lot – Cuban rhythms have a lot of African influences.” Aside from learning more music, she was also studying Spanish and sociology (in Spanish) at the University of Havana. “The first week, I just cried every day. I thought, ‘This is impossible. Why did I do this to myself?’ Eventually, it got easier – well, not easier – but it wasn’t as painful.”
She stayed just over a year, and spent that time performing, developing and, eventually, recording her debut five-song EP Things Fall Together with the help of local Cuban musicians.
She wrote four of the five songs. The only song she didn’t write was a cover of Angelitos Negros, written by Antonio Machin, and performed, perhaps most famously, by Roberta Flack. Western Sociology professor Anton Allahar introduced her to the song.
In Cuba, she honed a sound she calls “soul fusion,” her own blend of jazz, soul, afrobeat and R&B.
“I’m doing what I want to do, on a smaller scale,” she said. “I know those things build on themselves. In music, everyone thinks it happens overnight, but nothing happens overnight.”
This article appeared in the Fall 2015 edition of Western University’s Alumni Gazette. Reprinted with permission.