In 2010, keyboard player and vocalist Joanna Borromeo was living the dream. Based in Toronto, arguably the epicentre of the Canadian music industry, she had established a reputation for being a talented professional and, as a result, had a steady stream of gigs that showed no sign of slowing down.
Born and raised in Calgary, where she took classical piano from the age of five, Borromeo set out for Toronto in 2001 to study jazz at Humber College, though she would end up three credits short of a degree due to all the gigging she was doing during her fourth year with an R & B cover band.
Eventually, her talents landed her in the backing band for Kate Rogers, with whom she would tour the UK three times in three years. Over the course of the decade, Borromeo also toured with Halifax singer-songwriter David Myles, played Massey Hall as part of a gospel Christmas album recording project for the CBC and did the jazz festival circuit with Canadian R & B chanteuse Divine Brown.
But all that work was keeping her from what she really wanted — to perform and record original soul/R & B material as a solo singer-songwriter.
“It was really hard to try to make some space for myself in Toronto,” Borromeo says. “That was when it really started to hit home that it would take years for me to get to where I wanted to be. I thought, why don’t I just come home, where I’m not as in demand and I could focus on what I wanted to do?”
The decision proved fruitful. Bolstered by an Alberta Creative Development Initiative grant from the Canada Council of the Arts, Borromeo was able to complete her first full-length solo album, "Kaleidoscope," a collection of smooth, soulful songs accompanied by her beloved Rhodes piano, as well as a 12-piece orchestra. After a soft launch last November, the album will be released officially this month followed by a tour of Western Canada.
While her hometown isn’t exactly a hotbed of urban music, there does exist a tight-knit community that, according to Borromeo, has some advantages over her former stomping grounds. “I think, in a place like Toronto, people have become a little bit cynical about the politics of how music should be delegated. Calgary has not reached that point yet,” she says.
“The one thing about Calgary is that I feel it’s growing; the whole thing is maturing.
“I feel like I’ve come at a good time.”