By Steve Newton
You might be a big Stevie Wonder fan, but I’ll bet you’re not as big a Stevie Wonder fan as Krystle Dos Santos.
When she was four or five years old the local soul vocalist would sing along to his LPs, trying her best to read along with the words. Then eight years ago the music legend came to Seattle, so Dos Santos paid the most she ever had for a ticket—$275 (U.S.)—and headed down south with a friend.
It’s a good thing she did, too, because she wound up singing with him on stage.
“We’re sitting on the floor and Stevie’s jammin’ away,” recalls Dos Santos from her New Westminster home, “and he says, ‘You know us musicians, we like to jam, and I was just wondering if there were any singers out there who want to jam with us.’ I couldn’t believe the words I just heard, and my friend grabbed me by the pants and basically threw me into the aisle.
“Our seating was absolutely perfect for this exact moment,” she adds, “so I literally ran—and nobody else in the whole arena seemed to be even moving. Like I was thinking, ‘Did I hear this wrong?’, but my friend heard it too, so I’m running to the front of the stage, and when I get there somebody just points and says, ‘You! Come on up.’ And I couldn’t even believe it.”
The once-in-a-lifetime opportunity didn’t result in Dos Santos getting to wow the crowd with a few lines of “Superstition” or “Sunshine of My Life” or anything, but she wasn’t complaining.
“He wanted to do this sort of jam,” she says, “so he just said ‘Well repeat after me,’ and it was more of a scat thing, like “Doo doo doo dooo, doo-doo-doo.’ He kissed me on the cheek and asked me when my birthday was, and then when I got offstage I got backstage passes to go meet him backstage. And then while I was waiting for my friend in the hallway his manager guy said, ‘Come with us,’ and I walked Stevie to the next meet ‘n’ greet arm in arm. It was insane.”
As well as Little Stevie, Dos Santos grew up idolizing the likes of Aretha Franklin and Etta James. But the city she grew up in, Edmonton, wasn’t exactly a soul mecca.
“There wasn’t a huge soul scene, that’s for sure,” she says. “But there was a huge blues scene. So you could go to Blues on Whyte and see a really amazing blues artist from the States who no matter what is gonna have incredible soul. There was always a little bit of inspiration there.”
When she moved to Metro Vancouver in 2011, Dos Santos found the music scene a little more welcoming to the soul stylings she hoped to specialize in.
“But it did take some work,” she points out. “I have a monthly night at Guilt & Company down in Gastown, and it has been invaluable to have a night like that because it builds community. That was sort of the mandate of it, and in building that community I’ve had a huge and warm embrace of my music—any style of it I bring to that stage I feel like people are really into it. They eat it up.
“And then in terms of my original music, I mean it’s always a bit of a haul for original music, and soul music is not necessarily a Vancouver or a western Canadian thing. But, you know, I have small recognitions like the WCMAs or a really good festival circuit in Alberta and B.C. and things like that.”
Dos Santos has released three albums so far, her self-titled 2008 debut, 2011’s Fame Fatale, and 2020’s Bloom/Burn. The debut—which she recorded before she even had a band or started performing—won Urban Recording of the Year at the Western Canadian Music Awards, which was a big surprise to her.
“I was completely shocked,” she says. “Because, a) I was the only female in the category, and b) it was the very first year that they ever had an Urban Music category. And c): it was my very first project. I was just elated.”
Bloom/Burn also won a WCMA Award, for R&B Recording of the Year, and after listening to a deeply emotional tune like “I Cry”, it’s easy to see why.
“That song has an interesting history,” explains Dos Santos. “I wrote it probably over 10 years ago, and I had an amazing first recording of it. Then I re-recorded it with a new producer for this album, and I was feeling like the vocal performance on the old one was better, ’cause my voice was younger and more energized. But, you know, it’s all perspective, isn’t it.”
Back in late 2021 Dos Santos performed at the Shadbolt Centre for the Arts in a program titled Kings & Queens: Pop, Rock and Soul Icons of the 20th Century, which saw her share the stage with five other vocalists. She likes to surround herself with great singers, which seems to be an easy thing to do in this town.
“Oh my gosh yeah,” she agrees. “That’s another reason why I love my monthly night, because I bring vocalists in to play with the band, and I just get to sort of hang out and jam with so many different singers. And of course doing session work and corporate gigs you meet them too. There are just so many amazing vocalists here.”