Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine

May/June 2010: Sonny Rollins

Rayannah Kroeker

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Chances are you’ve heard singer Rayannah Kroeker by now—perhaps as one of the Andrew Sisters in last winter’s WJO concert, perhaps at Prairie Ink Café with bassist Quintin Bart, perhaps as one of the Satellites with the Retro Rhythm Review, perhaps putting a band through its paces at The Cool Monday Night Hang.

Rayannah has a natural sparkle about her, but it’s balanced by seriousness and determination. Those qualities are evident in her performances, and in the musicians who inspire her. She is drawn to Sarah Vaughan because of her fearless approach and “dark and mysterious sound.” She calls Dinah Washington “one of the boldest singers I have heard” and loves the raw edge and emotional investment in her singing.

Fearlessness and emotional investment are at the heart of Rayannah’s other musical venture, Jazz for Humanity. While still high school students at Collège Louis-Riel, Rayannah and two friends decided to put on a concert as part of the school’s commitment to raise money for the widows of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide and their families. In just four years, that modest concert has grown into a major annual benefit, this year at the Manitoba Theatre Centre.

The Jazz for Humanity sextet, all students or graduates of the U of M Jazz Studies program, performs a wide variety of music. On-stage guests include their mentor Steve Kirby and students from the Contemporary Dancers professional division. Young local artists have contributed pieces of every sort—pottery, photography, paintings, stained glass—to the Children of the World Art Auction. A student from Red River’s Culinary Program is catering the reception.

Rayannah is justifiably proud of “this massive group of people, mostly youth, each contributing their strengths and talents. It’s this sort of initiative which can bring about positive change in our world.”

It’s a huge undertaking, but for Rayannah, it’s about community. “When I had the chance to visit Rwanda in 2008, I was truly inspired by the people of Kimironko. I feel as though our project is a partnership with them to enrich both our communities. Musically, it was a transformative experience. Song and dance is very intertwined, and the line between the audience and the performer hardly exists at all. With such a vibrant immigrant community here in Winnipeg, we’ve been able to recreate some of the pieces I heard in Rwanda on the Jazz for Humanity stage. Crossing the globe through jazz is always very moving for me.”

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