Brownstein: Syrian refugee finds crooning success in Montreal

Hopes to observe footsteps of immigrant ‘treasures’ Sinatra and Aznavour at tribute live performance.

There may be some skepticism in regards to the crooner, wi-fi mic in hand, gingerly manoeuvring his approach across the packed tables and crowded bar on the downtown Le Pois Penché resto, all of the whereas serenading diners with a medley of Sinatra, Aznavour and different tunes.

“He’s too good … he have to be lip-synching,” one diner tells his companion. “Apart from, he seems to be extra like an actor than a singer.”

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The crooner, overhearing the change, dispels the speculation instantly by approaching the gentleman and singing mere centimetres from his ears.

“OK, he’s positively not lip-synching … he’s the actual deal,” the guy acknowledges.

The crooner is Matt Mardini and, other than different gigs, he’s a Thursday night time common at Le Pois Penché. Solely newbies to this place will sometimes have their lip-synching doubts about him. The others are regulars long-since enthralled by his vocals.

“I’ve turn out to be used to those feedback from first-time guests as as to whether I’m actually singing or lip-synching,” Mardini quips throughout a break. “I’m singing for my supper … they positive wouldn’t be paying to lip-synch.

“However I take all of it as a praise,” he provides. “The individuals additionally quickly understand that it’s not precise Sinatra or Aznavour I’m doing, as a result of I ship the songs with my very own stylings. I’m not imitating their voices. That’s by no means my intention.”

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With regards to his favorite crooners, he might be taking his act to the Rialto Theatre on Wednesday night time for Matt Mardini Sings Sinatra & Aznavour. Supported by a 15-piece band and backup singers, he might be taking part in to a considerably bigger crowd — greater than 600 patrons — than at Le Pois Penché, and he might be belting Frank Sinatra and Charles Aznavour tunes within the six languages during which he’s conversant: French, English, Spanish, Italian, Armenian and Arabic.

Mardini’s story is as spectacular as his voice.

Mardini, 44, is a Syrian refugee, born and initially raised within the war-ravaged metropolis of Aleppo. He left Aleppo for Damascus, the place he had hoped to pursue a profession within the high-tech engineering discipline. However when that proved to be unattainable within the chaotic local weather there, he fell again on the one different ability he had: singing. He landed a gig at a Damascus resort, however that lasted solely briefly with bombing intensifying within the space.

As destiny would have it, although, Mardini’s Syrian-born spouse was Canadian, and so they had been capable of bolt the nation and discover refuge in Montreal virtually a decade in the past.

Whereas his spouse initially discovered work as a medical researcher at McGill — she is now working as a researcher on the Canadian Area Company — Mardini, with few different choices, was decided to make it as a singer.

Not the simplest of companies to crack at the very best of instances, however Mardini was to get his first massive break, performing in entrance of the most important crowd of his profession at a packed Bell Centre occasion in 2017. Alas, he was the leisure earlier than the night’s fundamental attraction, a bout that includes Quebec boxer Steven “Bang Bang” Butler defending his IBF North American title in opposition to North American WBA champ Brandon “Unhealthy Boy” Prepare dinner.

Mardini sang Sinatra and Aznavour, and followers had been, likely, flummoxed.

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“However it was a begin,” says a grinning Mardini.

Phrase quickly unfold about Mardini’s singing, and he started getting jobs at golf equipment and company occasions round city.

In 2019, he launched the album HIBA: A Tribute to the Canadian Icons. The 5 icons had been Leonard Cohen, Ginette Reno, Raymond Lévesque, Bryan Adams and Paul Anka, and the songs coated had been achieved with completely different preparations and devices. His rendering of Cohen’s Dance Me to the Finish of Love, for instance, was achieved with Syrian devices and an association fairly unrecognizable, albeit compelling, from any undertaken on the tune. He paid tribute to Anka — whose roots are partly Syrian — with the singer’s composition She’s a Woman.

Mardini adopted it up in 2021 with Stay at Rialto, a set of 9 songs recorded on the venue. And earlier this 12 months, he launched Unplugged, in reminiscence of the late Rob Heaney, considered one of Montreal’s most sought-after and beloved recording engineers.

Other than their prodigious expertise, there was one thing else that drew Mardini to Sinatra and Aznavour for his tribute.

“They had been the sons of immigrants who labored so tirelessly to make it,” Mardini says. “And because the track goes, they each did it their approach.

“They carried these immigrant genes with them to turn out to be treasures. My hope is that in following the steps of those giants, that it’s not too late for me to make my mark, both. That’s the dream.”


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