DIA showcases her many influences on new album

DIA, photo by Elle Lily

Musical Roots (IT)

by Kerry Doole

It seems genetically predestined that Toronto-based singer/songwriter DIA would pursue a musical career. Her parents are professional musicians (her mother, Manuela, is a singer; her father, Dino, a drummer) and her younger brother, Robert Di Bartolomeo, is a prominent guitarist and record producer. DIA’s family background accounts for her eclectic musical taste. “My dad played rock, while my mother was a disco singer who also sang in a Jewish band.”

Both sets of her grandparents (her father’s side is from Molise; her mother’s is from Abruzzo) were also greatly inspirational. “My maternal grandfather led the Tony Silvani Orchestra playing accordion and keyboards, and my paternal grandfather, Michele Di Bartolomeo, also played accordion and trumpet. As kids, at both of their homes, we would play their instruments and sing and dance along with them. I love that I learned (and still perform) so many songs from their time. Many are classics, and I’m proud to have them in my repertoire as a homage to my lineage in music.”

DIA got her start at age 11 singing with the Tony Silvani Orchestra. In high school, she fronted a rock band (DIA) that played original material in Toronto clubs before studying music (jazz and ethnomusicology) at York University. “I did a masters there, and my thesis was on CHIN radio and TV and their role in sustaining the Italian folk and music culture in a diverse GTA,” DIA recalls. “I loved every minute of my time there.”

She had considered teacher’s college or law school, but that path changed when she was invited to California to sing on some demos for one of Canada’s most successful rock producers, Arnold Lanni, who has worked with bands Our Lady Peace and Simple Plan. Suitably impressed, Lanni offered to work on DIA’s own project, and the result is her newly-released solo debut album – Desire.

It is a compelling work that can best be defined as “global pop.” The lyrics are English, and the overall sound is polished adult contemporary, but the judicious use of world music instruments such as cajon, doumbek, req, zils, duduk and bansouri, plus violin and horns, adds rich atmospheres and textures to the well-crafted compositions. Guest musicians include acclaimed Toronto players such as Rick Shadrack Lazar, Aleksandar Gajic, Tony Carlucci and Ernie Tollar.

Desire is co-written and co-produced by DIA, her brother Robert (who plays many instruments on the record) and Lanni – a huge supporter of her talent. “For me, DIA doesn’t sound like every other female singer . . . her voice is uniquely hers. She has a deeper, richer tone full of emotion and she can evoke the most incredible complex feelings with the slightest nuance. I especially love how she embraces her love of all types of different ethnic music, seamlessly infusing it into everything she sings to create her own singing style.”

That style is vividly showcased on Desire, an album a long time in the making. “A lot of the pre-production, including the song writing, was done with Rob and Arnold in California, and that is why it took over three years,” DIA explains. “We just kept rewriting. As a songwriter, in the beginning you have pride and an unwillingness to change, but I quickly realized it is best to just let the process happen. That was eye-opening. Making this album taught me a lot about myself.”

DIA’s love of a wide range of world music genres has spurred her to sing in 29 different languages – a skill leading to vocal roles in noted world music ensembles such as Michael Occhipinti’s Sicilian Jazz Project and Rick Lazar’s Samba Squad, plus Cuban and klezmer groups. She also composed and sang three songs on the soundtrack for the film Tulipani: Love, Honour and a Bicycle, which premiered at TIFF last year and won the People’s Choice Award at the Italian Contemporary Film Festival.She’s now fully committed to pursuing music fulltime, and DIA’s career will merit watching closely.