Tamar Ilana defies easy categorization. The Toronto-born singer’s voice is as fierce and powerful as it is delicate and ornamental, and she is as comfortable pouring out heart-wrenching flamenco as she is bringing ancient Sephardic love songs to life, or singing Balkan dance tunes in quirky rhythms. With her Canadian Folk Music Award-nominated ensemble Ventanas, Tamar skips effortlessly from one genre to another, and her own originals blend these diverse influences with a mastery that makes their synthesis sound like the most natural thing in the world.
Tamar was almost born singing. When not attending school in the heart of multicultural Toronto, she spent her childhood travelling Europe, Morocco, Turkey and Israel with her ethnomusicologist/singer mother Dr. Judith Cohen, absorbing musical traditions spanning continents while becoming fluent in French, Spanish and Portuguese. By the time she was five, Tamar was performing Sephardic (Ladino), Balkan and Medieval music in multiple languages.
Also an in-demand dancer, Tamar began her study of flamenco dance at the age of eight, captivated by a performance by Toronto’s Esmeralda Enrique, and has been immersed in the world of flamenco ever since. Though first drawn to the art form as a dancer, in 2007 Tamar began studying cante – flamenco singing – while living and studying in Barcelona, and realized it was the outlet she had been searching for all of her life.
“Flamenco is everything,” Tamar muses. “It is sorrow, it is happiness, it is love, it is death. It is every emotion you could possibly feel all together. It is also technically difficult, which means it offers an endless challenge.”
After graduating from the University of Toronto with a Bachelor’s degree in Biology, Tamar moved to Seville, Spain to study cante full-time at the prestigious Fundación Cristina Heeren Escuela de Arte Flamenco. She returned to Seville in 2013 with a Chalmers Professional Development Grant from the Ontario Arts Council.
In Toronto, Tamar’s diverse musical experience makes her a coveted performer across cultures and genres. Besides her band, Ventanas, she has performed with Afro-Brazilian song and drum ensemble Maracatú Baque de Bamba led by Aline Morales, as well as the Esmeralda Enrique Spanish Dance Company, David Buchbinder, and countless others. As a talented actress, she has toured Europe and starred in New York with Canada’s legendary Lemon Bucket Orkestra in the folk opera “Counting Sheep” by Mark and Marichka Marczyk; and has performed at La Mama Theatre in New York, the Enwave Theatre in Toronto, the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, DC, and worked as a music consultant at the Huntington Theatre in Boston.
In 2017, Tamar recorded as an invited guest on various albums including Jesse Cook’s latest release “Beyond Borders”, Montreal-based Briga’s award-winning “Femme”, and Baraka Ensemble’s “Bitácara del no tiempo” in Mexico City.
Tamar is a natural performer whose her electric and emotionally intense stage presence mesmerizes her audiences. “The stage is home to me,” says Tamar. “Nothing brings me more joy than to be able to communicate with an audience through music and dance".
In 2011, Tamar founded Ventanas. The result of her lifetime of culturally diverse musical experience, Ventanas weaves upbeat Bulgarian dance tunes, Greek, Turkish and Sephardic love songs and passionate Flamenco music and dance into one coherent whole. The group’s talented and diverse musicians blend the poignant, intricate Flamenco guitar, the excitement of Middle Eastern darbuka, soulful sounds of Greek oud and baglama, and the party vibe of Eastern European fiddle to create an irresistible sound with Tamar’s powerful vocals and dance leading the way.
Ventanas’ 2013 debut self-titled album was nominated at the Canadian Folk Music Awards for “Best Traditional Singer” and “Best Ensemble” of the Year. Their second album, Arrelumbre, released in 2015, was also nominated at the Canadian Folk Music Awards, for “Best World Music Group” and “ Best Traditional Singer” of the Year. With successful Canadian and USA tours, they are looking forward to enchanting new audiences overseas with their third album, to be released in 2018.
Tamar would like to acknowledge the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council and the Toronto Arts Council for their continued and generous support over the years in various aspects of and projects related to her career.
- Lia Grainger