Don't mess with a soprano  

Activism is in his blood

Shae Ryga was shaped by a famous grandfather and an even more famous revolutionary.

And a teacher dad.

Their influences turned him into a unique young man, serious, and mature, beyond his 17 years.

His dad, Sergei, thought by naming him after Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara, Shae would become a radical kid, forge his own path, question authority, and think freely. 

Shae, a songwriter, lyricist, drummer, guitarist, singer and producer, is still in high school, but understands who he is and what he wants to accomplish.

A brief look into his heredity will help you understand.

Shae’s paternal grandfather is George Ryga, the Canadian playwright, novelist and social activist. George’s parents came from the Ukraine in 1927 and settled on a small farm near Deer Creek in rural Alberta.

George didn’t speak English until he started school, quit at 13 to help on the farm, but continued to teach himself. 

The seeds of a true social activist were sown on that small farm. George, who felt marginalized as a foreigner, grew up next to a Cree reserve and was greatly influenced by their plight. He felt they had lost everything, even their language.

George’s life was a series of successes and awards given and taken away because he refused to soften his message. He made people aware of the dark side of humanity and of governments. 

He was relentless in his exposure of the downtrodden in society through his plays and books. He found peace and family in Summerland where he remained until his death in 1987. 

Shae, influenced by his grandfather’s writings, began his personal journey through books and writing.

“I read, read, and read, especially about the 1600s in Europe and anything about naval exploits in those days.”

Shae’s father picked up his musical influence from his father, who also wrote music and lyrics, often incorporating First Nation’s musical forms. 

Sergei is a well-respected teacher and musician, proficient on many instruments, in Lake Country.

”Dad said he would absolutely not teach me music. I had to want to learn. He gave me all the resources to learn. He didn’t want to influence me.”

Shae was undisciplined during the first years of drum lessons, and, since he didn’t have anyone watching him, didn’t practise. Finally, he realized he was wasting a precious gift his dad had given him, self-reliance. 

He loved playing drums, but the music of Cat Stevens inspired him at 14. He was captivated by the sound of the guitar with Stevens’ voice and lyrics. He had to learn how to play it. He became emotionally connected the more proficient he became and soon discovered music was his muse.

His activist roots come naturally.  He is a musical activist forging a new unique musical style.

His music is not alternative, indie, jazz, or pop. This style is still in the cauldron bubbling away to emerge as distinctive and individual as Shae is. 

It needs more time, but it will be something totally new when it emerges.

His album and video, Willow, is a testament to self-discovery. His solo trip to Hawaii influenced the lyrics and music for the album. The lyrics have heartbreak, sunshine, friendship lost and self-discovery all mixed together.

“I played all the instruments (except the sax), plus the vocals. I didn’t have the money to professionally produce it so I learned how to record, make and produce this album,” he said proudly.

Shae’s vocal sound is soft, clear, personal and inviting. It makes you feel that he has already experienced a lot.

“I want to commit myself to art. I will have to leave Kelowna to surround myself with artists,” he said.

Nashville is in his sights. No, he is not a lover of country music. “Nashville is a Mecca for songwriters, singers and recording studios.”

Where can you hear him?

He is a part of a band, Primary Colours, which performs at wineries and functions in the Okanagan.

  • Sergei Ryga – piano/vocals
  • Dan Margilino – drums/vocals
  • Cam Ward – bass
  • Ma’Afu Keteca – alto sac
  • Shae Ryga – guitar/vocals

You will also find him every year during the last week in August performing at Summerland’s Ryga Festival of the Arts, which celebrates George, and the arts and artists in the Okanagan. 

It is an interactive festival encompassing all the arts: physical, writing, visual, theatrical and musical.

Shae defined artistry as, “All humans experience the same things.  Artists use their skills to translate what they feel into art.”

I will gladly watch Shae as he finds his way and bask in the beauty of his gift.


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About the Author

Sue Skinner is a singer of opera and musical theatre, a choral conductor and a teacher/coach of voice. 

She has travelled the world, learned many languages, seen every little town in Alberta and supported herself with music all her life.

She has sung at weddings, funerals, musicals, operettas, opera, with symphonies, guitars, jazz groups, rock bands and at play schools. 

Skinner has taken two choirs to Carnegie Hall, sung around the world, and teaches for Wentworth Music on Zoom.

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The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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