Tina Cole, ITALFEST founder finds strength in her heritage

Courtesy of Tina Cole

by Sylvia Diodati

Founding the largest Italian Festival in her hometown of Mississauga isn’t the only feat Tina Cole (Colalillo) is known for. To clients and music industry pros, she is the passionate music manager “Mama Swag,” an affectionate nickname sparked by her raw and honest guidance. To friends, she is simply a courageous mother who has overcome any parent’s nightmare: their child’s cancer diagnosis.

Cole’s venture into the music industry began when her son, Frank Anthony, moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career as a musician in 2011. She and her husband supported their only child’s dream, investing over $700,000 in the talented performer. It was all about to pay off—contracts and tour dates were set—when catastrophe struck. “My son was 24 and diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma,” Cole recalls with pain in her eyes. “During that time, I kept promising, ‘God, if you spare my son, I know you will show me the way. Show me what I need to do.’”

Frank Anthony’s career was put on hold, the focus was now on chemotherapy and battling the disease. “It was a really tough time.” Cole adds, “Not only was it a health crisis for our family, but also a financial crisis. Things were dark.” The light began to shine a year later when her son went into remission, and Cole knew she had been blessed. “I wanted to share what I had learned on the journey, to help others achieve their goals.” She merged her marketing background with her music industry knowledge to co-found Alaeze Group International, a company focused on managing and developing the careers of musical artists. Cole’s approach is direct and refreshing. “I tell my clients, ‘Don’t cloud your passion with false perception of how you can turn passion into reality.’ Music is a product like any other. The moment you exchange (a song) for currency…you’re a professional. Until then, you’re just a hobbyist.” Cole has since worked with countless legendary greats, including producer Scott Storch, Jason “Poo Bear” Boyd and, her greatest mentor, Ernie Singleton. She aims to help clients navigate through a cutthroat industry. Her mantra: “A dream is just a wish without a plan.”

And planning is something Cole has proven to excel at, bringing her concept of an Italian festival in Mississauga to fruition in 2013 amidst the chaos in her personal life. Cole says she had the vision for the event and brought it up to her siblings and a few friends around the dinner table after they had executed a successful hospital fundraiser. “I wanted to transcend this pride of being Italian to generations who were born here.” Once the ball got rolling, the first Mississauga ITALFEST, also dubbed “Ferragosto in the City,” was held at Mississauga’s Celebration Square that summer. The feast featured live music, food from over 50 vendors and artisans, family entertainment and community awards. It has grown to become a premier annual event with over 33,000 attendees every August, celebrating all things Italian.

“My love for my heritage kept me going through the darkest year of my life,” affirms Cole, reflecting on how the first ITALFEST was underway during her son’s cancer treatment. Crisis soon struck again when her husband and biggest supporter, Frank Colalillo, collapsed from heart failure the following year. She credits her Italian roots for the strength and determination that pulled her through the challenges. “The personality that I have is definitely derived from my Italian roots,” she says, crediting her spirit of endurance to values instilled by her parents. Cole’s mother is from Soveria Mannelli in the province of Catanzaro, Calabria, and her father from the town of Aielli in L’Aquila, Abruzzo. “They both sacrificed so much. I am proud to be born in this great country…but I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for their courage.”

The spunky visionary emits love for her culture with every essence of her being. “I’m not just Italian because I can read, speak and write it,” she smiles. “I’m Italian because it’s who I am. It’s in my DNA!”