Sophie Serafino’s experiences find vent in her songs. Her words are raw and they deeply resonate with her audience as they represent anyone’s and everyone’s heartbreaks Image Credit: Supplied

“A girl should be two things/who and what she wants,” sings Sophie Serafino with a passionate and unyielding determination to empower women through her music and songs.

As she chicly walks the stage, she rests her elegant wooden violin on her shoulder and braces it with her chin, while her red enflamed hair radiates the intense passion that burns in her enchanting green eyes.

Serafino, a world-renowned violinist, pop singer and songwriter, is like no other performer. She is eccentric and unconventional. As she gracefully moves the bow across the strings of her violin, she also sings and dances, captivating her audience with her astonishing performances. In her shows, there are elements of the feminine, the erotic, the bold, the defiant, the progressive and, most importantly, an original and strikingly unique style.

Serafino was born in London and raised in Sydney, Australia. She attained her Bachelor of Music Performance degree from Sydney Conservatorium (Violin Major) and an Associate & Licentiate Diplomas of Music in Violin Performance from the Australian Music Examinations Board. Today Serafino lives in Calgary, Canada. Since she relocated in 2011, she has made a difference in her community on many levels. She has taken on the role of Ambassador of Ovarian Cancer Canada and is the founder and director of Every Woman Foundation.

Through her foundation, Sophie aspires to celebrate women of all colours and backgrounds and bring them together to express and celebrate their womanhood in her signature yearly event, the Every Woman Festival.

When asked to speak of the cause closest to her heart, Serafino says: “The Every Woman cause embodies my passion in life. In our foundation, we have programmes that heal and we have events that celebrate and empower.” Their aim, she explains, is to humanise the Other. “We go by Gandhi’s teachings, ‘An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind,’ and so we teach love and compassion for one another in our humanity.”

Her experiences in life, both sweet and bitter, gave birth to the music and words in her songs. Touch is the name of her new album. It begins with a song she calls Broken, in which she sings about a very difficult time in her life and, more importantly, about overcoming the hardships, finding light in the dark times, and emerging whole and stronger.

Broken represents the beginning of her story. She sings, “It’s not that I don’t love you but I love myself too much to let my heart hurt ’til it’s broken ... Broken, broken, broken.” The pain is manifested in her lyrics, voice and music. Her words are raw and they deeply resonate with her audience as they represent anyone’s and everyone’s heartbreaks in life.

Serafino is not shy to speak of the weak moments and of the tears. She sings, “Always crying/slowly dying/as you took my life from me,” but also in the same songs, she makes an empowered decision to wipe the tears away, and announces, “I moved on/and I will never look back/I moved on for real, for good ... No more trying/no more crying because it’s time for me to be/free at last/I’m free at last.”

In October of 2014, Sophie organised - with the Every Woman Foundation team, and Calgary Chair Kristen Hood - a screening of the film “Miss Representation”, a documentary that explored the distorted representation of women in Western mainstream media and challenged what it circulated of limited portrayal, under-representation and sexualisation of women in society.

“As a woman in entertainment, I have found that there are many challenges when it comes to the issue of respect for women in the media, and the public needs to be aware of this grave issue, its dangers and the dreadful influences it has on the minds of our young generations,” Serafino says.

The issue, she says, doesn’t only stop with women as men have also fallen victim to today’s media and its distorted messages, “Boys are taught that self expression is feminised. Gradually, they end up with a big load of feelings bottled up from the repressed frustration and anger. Consequently, the anger leads to violence, and violence to more violence, yielding a recipe for disaster.”

When asked to speak of her role models in life, she enthusiastically answers, “Unquestionably, my father is the example I follow in life. Not only was he my male role model by being the rock of our family, but he was also my role model as a feminist by the example he lived. Both my parents worked full time, and he keenly and readily took on whatever roles to help carry the load with my mother. He raised my sister and I to believe that we could be anything we wanted, and he advocated the empowerment not only of women but also of all people in our humanity as well as within his classrooms at the University of Sydney. ”

“I don’t believe in a genderless society. Gender is important. I believe in valuing our differences. It is about learning to love oneself. It is about learning how to be masculine without disempowering someone else in the process. It is about creating a new way of thinking,” she adds.

On her experiences in the Middle East and Gulf region, she reflects on her travels to Turkey, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates, “As a musician, I especially picked up on the difference in music and was enamoured by the Arab/Middle Eastern elements in it. I had a lot of time to wonder, explore and listen to what was going on. I found myself absorbing my surroundings and later set them free to surface in my music.”

As for names of musicians who were an influence in Serafino’s life, she states, “When I was growing up, I was exposed to a great number of artistes who were strong women promoting feminism, especially in the 1980s and 1990s. Their messages were along the lines of ‘I am comfortable with my sexuality and with my womanhood.’ It was exciting and empowering for other women to see and follow.” However, reflecting on today’s stars, she laments, “Today’s pop-stars are not voicing the same message of their predecessors. They dress seductively to sell records and not necessarily to empower other women. Rihanna, for example, has a video in which she is pretending to be a stripper. In her video, prostitution is glamorised. Here, I ask one question — Has she given any thought to the message that she is relaying to our vulnerable children?”

She then takes Madonna as an example of a contrast to Rihanna, “Madonna sang messages of empowerment: ‘Go inside, for your finest inspiration/Your dreams will open the door/It makes no difference if you’re black or white/If you’re a boy or a girl”, and adds, “We need more of such messages these days. We need messages of freedom and empowerment!”

When asked about the state of the world, she expresses, “I am disgusted at the violence and destruction that goes on in the world, and for what, I ask? The extremists kill, torture and destroy cities, and they create nothing.” She then brings into the conversation a quote by Martin Luther King: “Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones. Violence is immoral because it thrives on hatred rather than love. It destroys community and makes brotherhood impossible. It leaves society in monologue rather than dialogue. Violence ends up defeating itself. It creates bitterness in the survivors and brutality in the destroyers.”

With a melancholic tone to her voice, she adds, “I am a musician. I always have been hopeful and optimistic. I have learnt that people generate war to make money. The news is often the same and history repeats itself. According to the 2014 Peace Index, an estimated $9.8 trillion (Dh36) was spent on containing and dealing with violence. It is mindboggling to think of the human race and of how clever we have been in the fields of science, technology, the arts, but yet we can’t seem to figure out how to live in peace. Perhaps we are just simply not as intelligent as we make ourselves out to be.”

On a final note, Serafino imparts one advice for women: “I would say: Love and respect who you are! If there is one thing I could change, it is the hours I have spent on worrying about how to please other people and how to make myself more beautiful. Today, I look back and I wish that I hadn’t!”

Sophie has worked with EMI and Warner Music Artists including Goldfrapp, The Hoodoo Gurus, Josh Groban and The Veronicas, and has performed for Olivia Newton-John and dignitaries including the Honorable Shaikh Mohammad at the Emirates Palace, the Bahraini Royal Family and Australian Ambassador of Turkey, and Crown Prince & Princess Mary & Frederik of Denmark.

Ghada Alatrash holds a masters degree in English and teaches at a college in Abu Dhabi.