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Dahlia: ‘It Takes a Shift in Thinking to Power Through Tumultuous Times’

The Canadian-Indian vocalist opens up about her latest EP, the #MeToo movement and the ‘homecoming’ experience of her India tour

Bob Omulo Apr 16, 2018

'The title of the record seemed apt to map the progression from pain to hope,' Dahlia says about her EP 'Shift.' Photo: Courtesy of the Royal Opera House, Mumbai

Like most people with diverse cultural backgrounds, Canadian-Indian singer Dahlia Fernandes admits fitting in can be a difficult thing to do. “Growing up in India as someone of Goan culture and with limited fluency in Hindi and not much Indian music played at home, I always felt marginalized and confused in my cultural identity,” says the jazz/pop vocalist who goes by the mononym Dahlia.

Currently fresh off a debut India tour, the Mumbai-born jazz vocalist recently won the Best Singer-Songwriter category at the Toronto Independent Music Awards (2017) and also picked up a nomination for Best EP of the Year at the 2018 New York IMAs. In addition to bagging some high powered industry collaborations and earning her stripes as an outstanding artist, she remains humble, affable and loquacious.

In this exclusive interview with Rolling Stone India, Dahlia takes us through the length and breadth of her musical journey, her latest EP Shift and the ‘homecoming’ experience of her India tour.

What’s the story behind your EP Shift and what inspired you as you wrote and composed the songs?

When I started writing songs for the Shift record, there was no pre-mediated theme. I just started to pour my story into my songs. I happened to be going through a challenging divorce and having to find myself and hope again guided the lyrics and melodies and formed the songs. It takes a shift in thinking to power through tumultuous times and the title of the record seemed apt to map the progression from pain to hope. A big part of that encouragement to push my songwriting deeper came from the producer of the record, Nick Londono aka Nick Name who is my closest friend. It was especially nice to have co-written “Back to the Days” with him and the award-winning (Canadian producer) Steve D’angelo.

You have had some high power collaborations with artists like [Canadian rapper] Rich Kidd and [American R&B singer] Roy Hamilton III, how did they come about?

I bumped into Rich at an artist pre-party for the Video Awards in Toronto. It was raining and I asked if he would share his umbrella with me. We instantly hit it off with our similar sense of humor and I asked him if he wanted to write together a few weeks later and the rest was magic! As for Roy, we too had a chance meeting where he was on the panel at a conference. I asked a question during the Q&A session that resonated with him. He approached me after the conference and said we should work together and I have written for numerous artists since then through that opportunity.

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Your EP sounds as international as can be. Do you feel any pressure to add ethnic influences to your sound?

A few people in the industry have suggested that I explore an ethnic incline into my sound and music. This has always been a struggle for me. Growing up in India as someone of Goan culture and with limited fluency in Hindi and not much Indian music played at home, I always felt marginalized and confused in my cultural identity. My dad played us anything from Paul Simon to Bob Marley, The Everly Brothers to The Beatles.

However, I do love quite a bit of Hindi music that I discovered growing up and I have been exploring them in my vocal melodies and trolls that will definitely be showcased in my upcoming projects!

Your life story spans three international cities: Mumbai, Dubai and Toronto. Which one feels most at home to you?

I would say Toronto feels like home having been here for the last 20 years. This beautiful city gave me a lot of great friendships and opportunities. Most of my family lives here as well. That being said, there is a part of my heart and spirit that lives in the unique beauty that is India. A large part of my being raised in India helped shape who I am and will always be my original home.

Not many Mumbai born artists dream of winning international awards or nominations like you have with the Toronto and New York IMAs, was it a childhood dream or did it catch you by surprise?

I have had this recurring vision in my head of receiving a Grammy since I was a child. That being said, when I did receive the nominations and awards it felt so surreal.

The #MeToo movement has been a big force in the arts and entertainment over the last year or so. Has the movement affected or shaped your perspectives in any way?

It definitely has! On one hand I find that it’s great that so many people, especially women, have been able to share their stories. On the other hand, I think it is unfair to have a blanket hashtag that does not differentiate a roadside holler from a sexual assault. I also wish the movement would put more of an emphasis on men sharing their stories too.

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The music industry has undergone tremendous changes in the internet era, from tapes, to CDs, to downloads and now to streams, do you think technology has been a boon or bane for indie artists?

I think the internet era has been both a boon and a curse for indie artists! You now have access to the millions of ears and eyes of a global audience with which you can share and promote your art. However, with millions of people also competing for the mind space, attention and love of audiences, it can be challenging to cut through the noise and competition. Unique strategies are in order! There is a lot of talent out there but it is your personality that people fall in love with so I think we should really figure out how to use social media platforms to share that in an authentic way. Thanks to my music industry mentors [Canadian pop singer] Micah Barnes and [radio host and music correspondent] Eric Alper, I have been working on working through the challenges the internet era presents us with and turning them into opportunity.

Did any local indie act catch your attention during your visit?

I was very happy to meet and have local indie artist Mohit Mukhi tour and open up for me across the country. I am such a fan of his beautiful voice that couples perfectly with his uniquely stylistic and tasteful guitar choices. We did a few duets together on stage that definitely got a great crowd reaction.

What can Indian fans expect next from Dahlia?

A definite return to India for another tour. I am already working on my next EP, which is very exciting! I also look forward to releasing my collaborations with Rich Kidd and MC Tona Tencreddi (Big Tona) as they mix their hard hitting hip-hop musicalities with my jazzy pop vocals. I also have a project I have been working on with reggae singer Sheldon Holder, producer Dason Johnson and Trinidadian artist Nickolai Salcedo that fuses our four lead vocals and musical influences into a hybrid of love.

Watch Dahlia’s video for “Back to the Days” below:


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