My name is Itanza Saraz, I’m a singer, songwriter, actress, and engineer born and raised in a single parent home in Los Angeles, CA. As the child of a single mother, we didn’t have much money growing up and I got made fun of a lot as a child. Shabby clothes, dark skin, kinky hair, you name it. The insecurities I developed in elementary school stayed with me throughout college until I grew tired of all the negativity I had towards myself and began to focus on self love, positivity and courage. I’ve grown so much since then and am still growing every day noticing more and more that I am able to acknowledge my flaws with less judgement. Everything from weight, to the clarity of my skin, to hitting the right notes and chords. Of course I mess up (duh), but people, more often than not, are rooting for your success. Remembering that makes it easier to push through and work hard.
I find joy in working hard when it comes to my unusual combination of interests: music and math. Music and math have been ever present in my life since before I can remember, and come as naturally to me as speaking. No matter how difficult the problem set, I could always tune into my music and get lost as I meandered my way to the solution I knew was waiting for me at the end of all the equations. I attended Columbia University and was the only engineering student in my co-ed acappella group; a group I now realize is one of the main reasons I made it through my studies. After college, I went to work for Boeing. It was the first time in my life I didn’t have a structured musical outlet and it did NOT go well. I lasted about a year and a half before I realized I needed to pursue my passion of music and returned to NYC.
The first step in pursuing my passion, was to learn how to play the guitar and begin performing at local open mics. This gave me the opportunity to gain confidence and hone my skills as a songwriter/musician. It took a long time for me to understand my place and the value of my unique style of writing and singing. Through the ridiculously supportive audiences at Brooklyn Blues Open Mic, where I found my footing on stage, and countless conversations with artists I admired, I finally recognized the commitment I had to music, and the responsibility I had to honor it. Music is the vehicle through which I transcend my reality and transform my perspective. Everything from love, to anger, to spirituality and God becomes clearer and purer to me through lyrics and melodies. Recognizing the opportunity I have to be a vessel through which others gain perspective was really inspiring for me.
After about 2 years though, once I’d developed a solid repertoire of songs, my non-engineering job just wasn’t cutting it anymore and I realized I needed to find space in my life for both of my passions. I returned home, spent a month traveling and performing in Europe and, upon returning to the States, started an engineering consulting business and am proud to say, began recording my first EP!
As I continue to pursue music, I am learning everyday what works and what doesn’t. Music is a commitment to self, to connection, to authenticity and growth. The songs I am most apprehensive/shy about because they’re “too” emotional/sad have been the ones that resonated most with audiences. I guess the power comes from understanding that it is not about me (though I’ve had to learn this lesson a couple of times over) and that if I am willing to step into fear and ambiguity, amazing things can happen.
I am still hoping to learn to enjoy performing as much as I love creating. I’ve gotten much better at ignoring the doubts and internal protests that often show up before performances, but not so much that I am thoroughly excited to get up on stage. Despite the discomfort of the initial steps on stage, I always find my rhythm and joy once I’m into my set, and hearing from the audience following a performance always makes the sweaty palms worthwhile. I would like to work on bringing that connection to the forefront of my mind before, during, and after my performances.
One thing I did when I was starting out in NY was make a rule for myself: Every time someone asked me to sing, I had to say yes, and sing. I had a bad habit of saying no because I had nothing prepared, or didn’t believe I could prepare. It simply wasn’t true. Trusting that people saw something in me, something of value, even when I couldn’t, helped me to eventually see that. The more I shared my voice and my music, the more I was encouraged and embraced. That’s really powerful. Some of my greatest experiences to date – including a cross-country tour as part of a jazz trio, singing at a festival, a European tour, and my first engineering client – were all because I said “yes” even when I was unsure. In some cases, I was saying yes to others, but in other cases, I was saying yes to myself. YES, I can design this system, YES, I can set up and perform a European tour, YES, I can write and record an EP.
It’s been amazing to see my own transition just in the last two years after I decided to embrace this journey and I can’t wait to see what continues to arise out of my willingness to say yes. So I encourage others to do the same. I would also say read/study the people that inspire you. If you have a favorite tv show, read about the writer/producer. Favorite writer, singer, composer, athlete, anything – learn about their journey. If nothing else, it will be fascinating to learn about someone you admire, but more than likely, you’ll find some real inspiration and guidance as well.
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Featured image photographed by @jdmalone33