DIA: The Voice of Multicultural Toronto
The first thing you notice when you hear DIA is her voice. It’s one of those voices – clear, strong, resonant, able to leap tall scales in a single bound. The second thing you notice is her artistic voice – one that embraces so many of the diverse cultures that her hometown of Toronto has to offer. DIA sings in no less than 28 languages, including English, Italian, Spanish, Hebrew, French, Farsi, Portuguese, Arabic, and Balkan DIAlects. No wonder she sang at the closing ceremonies of the Toronto 2015 ParaPanAm Games at Nathan Philips Square in front of City Hall. It started in her musical family – her mother’s a singer, her father’s a drummer, and her grandfather plays the accordion. DIA started performing at age 11 with Nonno’s Italian folkloric band; the first song she sang with them was “Quando, Quando.” “I thought everyone went to gig… it was all I knew at home,” she says. “I always had an affinity for Middle Eastern and South Asian music and culture,” she continues. “As a little kid I used to watch Bollywood movies Sunday mornings on cable. I would say, ‘I want to be in that!’ I was always drawn to the sounds and beauty of other cultures.”
In one key moment back in 1998, DIA was listening to “Desert Rose” by Sting, and wondered “Who’s the other guy, chanting with him?” After she found out it was Cheb Mami, she checked out his music, and said, “This is what I’ve gotta do.” As young a teenager, DIA was already singing throughout the city at venues like Revival, The Opera House, and The Horseshoe Tavern. While earning a Bachelor ofFine Arts, then a Master’s degree in Ethnomusicology, both from York University, DIA sang anywhere there was a gig – playing everything from jazz to folk to rock to disco, at weddings, fundraisers, corporate gigs, festivals, and so on. She took music courses at York with Rick Shadrach Lazar, the leader of Samba Squad – singing so well that he asked her to perform and record with the group, becoming one of the lead vocalists on their most recent album, Que Beleza (2013).
More recently, DIA’s brother, Robert Di Bartolomeo, was being mentored by noted Toronto/Los Angeles commuting producer Arnold Lanni (Finger Eleven, Simple Plan, Our Lady Peace). When Lanni needed a female voice to sing on some demos, Robert said, “Hey, my sister sings.” She sang for him in Toronto, then flew out to L.A. to record the demos. Eventually, he asked “Do you write?” and the trio began a fruitful collaboration. Lanni writes pop/rock, Robert writes rock and classical, and DIA’s a world music lover, so together, they incorporated all of those inspirations into their work. They bent the flavour of DIA’s international influences – Indian, Arabic, Roma, and Latin – into pop and rock shapes. In the pre-production phase, there was a lot of writing, re-writing, and re-writing yet again so that the songs would stand up when stripped down to bare-bones acoustic versions.
Now there’s a six-song self titled EP coming in Spring 2016. Featuring such standouts as the big-beat, South-Asia-meets-Middle-East dance-rock of “Desire,” and the dynamic, yearning ballad “Alia,” the recording highlights DIA’s incredible voice – both physical and artistic. She really is the voice of multiculturalism in Toronto.“I’m really happy to have come this far,” she says. Once you hear it, you’ll be pleased, too.