Fito Blanko - Mississauga to Miami to Furious 7

Canadians tend to get excited about homegrown talent and for good reason: it's hard out there for any artist, let alone one from a suburb far from the musical meccas that are many major American cities. It's certainly not uncommon for a musician from Montreal or Toronto to catch a break, but we hear less about suburban artists -- and particularly ones who still call that suburb home -- getting their singles on hit movie soundtracks and collaborating with internationally renowned reggae and hip-hop artists.

Fortunately for you, you're about to hear about one of those artists now.

Fito Blanko (born Roberto Testa) has been having a good year. If you're into Latin pop, you might already be familiar with the Mississauga musician who has collaborated with such artists as Drake, Beenie Man and Fat Joe.

Blanko, who was born in Panama and immigrated to Montreal when he was five before making his way to Mississauga in 1991, has been making music since 2004. He released his first album Higher Level in 2004 and released his second, First Class, in 2008. He's currently at work on a Spanish-language album called Paraiso Nocturno and recently released an English-language single called All Night Long with Miami rapper Trina (which you can check out on Spotify). Blanko's recent single Meneo also made its way onto the Furious 7 official soundtrack and, to top off a pretty great year (and we're only a few months into it), the Latin Grammy-nominated singer is also the official spokesperson for the 2015 Toronto Pan Am Games -- an event he'll also be performing at.

So, how did this long-term Mississauga boy get his start?

Believe it or not, it was at a Square One bus terminal.

"At Square One, I was rapping in a bus terminal with friends and a girl drove by, heard me, and gave me her number and said she had a friend who owned a recording studio," says Blanko. "Her name was La Soul and she took me to a studio in Brampton. That's how I more or less got discovered. I was 15."

That said, Blanko admits he was initially hesitant to take La Soul up on her offer.

"My buddy really pushed me to call her."

Like many musicians, Blanko started perfecting his craft young. After his family settled in the Mississauga Valley and Central Parkway neighbourhood, his parents pushed him to pursue his obvious love of music and performing.

"I liked singing and being on stage when I was five," he says. "I remember singing Michael Jackson in kindergarten. I've always loved music my parents encouraged me to follow my dreams. I think my parents were the ones who pushed me in a musical direction. They saw something in me and nurtured it. They supported me and they supported my music."

When Blanko was 16, he met Sensei Musica, a music producer and the CEO of Crown Loyalty Entertainment, through a cousin. The introduction would be a fruitful one, as Sensei has gone on to produce a sizeable body of Blanko's work -- including several popular singles and his two studio albums. Blanko's first Crown Loyalty album, 2004's Higher Level, featured two singles -- By My Side and Take Her Home -- that cracked the top 40 charts.

In 2005, Blanko was deemed People Magazine's Person to Watch. After that, a single Blanko collaborated on with Elvis Crespo hit number one on the Billboard charts in the Latin category. In 2014, he won a prestigious BMI award, a year after he was nominated for a Latin Grammy.

What Blanko seems most excited about right now, however, is Meneo's appearance on the Furious 7 soundtrack -- and for good reason. The soundtrack has generated a ton of buzz for the song (he's even seen YouTube videos of kids from all over the world dancing to it).

"We recorded the song and found out there was an opportunity for placement on the soundtrack and the film producers took a liking to it and thought it fit the storyline," says Blanko. "We were told about the placement before the public announcement. It meant so much because I'm a fan of the franchise, so it's such a blessing for me. I heard the news when I was on the treadmill at the gym. I got a call from a friend who said, 'Fito, the soundtrack is out and your name is on it!'"

As for whether or not soundtrack placement has changed things, Blanko says it certainly has.

"I've seen [YouTube] videos of kids dancing to it and people listening to it on vacation. I saw a Filipino scuba diving video with the song playing in the background. I saw another video of a Spanish school project with my music playing in the background. That's what's most rewarding about being involved in a project like this. It wakes you up and puts things in perspective: you're making music people like without compromising yourself as an artist."

Blanko is also pumped about the upcoming Pan Am Games.

"It's crazy. I've been involved for a year and a half and it's been incredible. I started as a volunteer spokesperson and we got over 60,000 applications for volunteer positions. I just wanted to get the word out and promote the games. I just wanted to be a part of it and I started as a volunteer myself. People will be stunned by the magnitude of this event."

If you want to see what Blanko will be offering the event from a performance standpoint, you can check him at out Nathan Philips Square in Toronto on July 24.

Every artist is, for the most part, shaped by his or her background. Blanko's music, which is high-energy Latin pop heavily infused with hip hop and reggae elements, is diverse -- and he says his varied, genre-bending style can be traced back to growing up in a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural city.

"The landscape [of Mississauga] was always and still is vibrant," he says. "[When I first moved to Mississauga] it was a big melting pot of nationalities and that was different for me. It taught me a lot about different cultures and backgrounds and that's cool to learn at a young age. It's a hidden perk that people take for granted. Growing up in a city like Mississauga, it gives you perspective. I grew up with South Americans, Europeans, North Americans, Africans, Asians and people from the Caribbean. I grew up with reggae and soca influences. I listened to hip hop and R&B and dance music. My taste would be different if I grew up in a different environment. That's what makes my music so diverse. My music is authentic and it's due to the diversity of the city."

During our chat about diversity, we also got on the topic of food. Since this is Insauga, an article about music obviously has to contain some culinary flavor -- and fortunately for us (and you), Blanko is a big foodie with some local favourites to recommend.

"The Wingery is a cool new takeout spot for southern style chicken wings. I get 'em with the mango chipotle seasoning. They're really flaky and crisp to perfection each and every time. I prefer getting the sauces on the side. Dunking the wings in sauce is the best way to enjoy the crunch. Also, [try] Crazy Gyro on Dundas. It’s a hidden gem located by a Petro Canada. They have the most authentic gyros in the city. I like to add their home-style hot sauce to any of the dishes on the menu for the extra kick. Their hummus platter is also a great addition to any meal. It’s fresh and light!"

Blanko also agreed with us (or me, rather) that Sauga lacks a good Peruvian resto. For him, the situation is even grimmer, as he says even Toronto's Peruvian joints fail to hold a candle to restos outside of Ontario.

Here's hoping a brave Peruvian restaurateur steps up to the plate to satisfy the hungry masses and a formidable homegrown talent.

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