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Charlotte Pop Band DALIA Sing A Love Letter To Latin Music's Borderless Potential

Jacobo Strimling
Dalia Razo (lead vocalist for the Latin alternative band DALIA) performs at the 2021 Taco, Chelas & Rock Festival in Charlotte, North Carolina.

It’s Hispanic Heritage Month, a celebration of Latino and Hispanic culture, history and of course music. And that includes the Charlotte-based bilingual alternative pop band (and 2021 NPR Music Tiny Desk Contest contestant) DALIA, led by vocalist, music educator and North Carolina music journalist Dalia Razo, who has worked tirelessly to increase visibility for Latin American musicians on stage, in the classroom and in the community.

"I want the next generation to have access to music, especially Latin American students. A lot of them don’t push for stuff because they don’t see people that look like themselves doing it. But if they see someone - like me - doing it, then it can help them see that they can do it."
– Dalia Razo, lead singer of DALIA

Interview Highlights:

On her musical upbringing:

I was born in Brownsville, Texas, because my father was a civil engineer and was constantly working on both sides of the Mexico-United States border. When I was 4 years old, and my brother was 6 months old, we moved to Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, which is a Mexican state that borders Texas. I was very fortunate that my mom enrolled me and my brother at a music conservatory in Monterrey. When my mom was student-teaching in Mexico City, she would see the music students going and coming from the music conservatory, and she told herself that she wanted to have her children experience music and have that opportunity.

I studied violin and piano. So my upbringing was very classical. Once I moved to the United States in 2000, I studied at the University of North Carolina School of Arts.

On her musical influences:

My mom listened to a lot of classical contemporary artists like Armando Manzanero, who’s a very famous Mexican singer-songwriter composer, and Violeta Perra, who’s a famous Chilean singer. My parents are very classical, so they didn’t listen to a lot of mainstream rock, reggae or pop. My dad, prior to completing his degree in civil engineering, was a professional Mexican folk dancer. He traveled the world, and at some point danced in Carnegie Hall. From what I understand, he eventually left that because he knew that he wasn’t going to be able to raise a family on a professional dancer’s salary. But a lot of that classical, instrumental Latin American music that he danced to was heard in the house. So when I listen to it now, it moves me because I think about my dad… it grounds me in my Mexican identity and keeps me close to my dad.

When I started discovering other genres, it was because of situations outside of the home. For instance, my mom’s younger sister is a graphic artist and now a professor at two universities in Mexico City, and she was more of a reggae, Bob Marley music fan. So when I would visit her, I would go through her records, which were records I had never seen in my house. My cousins introduced me to Radiohead, Green Day, Garbage, The Cranberries and Portishead.

On the visibility of Latin composers in music education:

One of the major concerns or discussions in classical music is that a lot of the composers that are addressed in the general music classroom are mostly white. No one is teaching composers from other countries. I remember finally being seen when in my junior year, I had a Brazilian music teacher who changed my life. I owe a lot to her. She saw me for who I was. She opened my world, opened my eyes and made me feel like I mattered and that there were Latin American composers we could bring into the classroom.

On DALIA’s 2021 NPR Music Tiny Desk Contest entry “No Volver a Sentir:”

The lyrics have been there for quite some time. I think we always assume that most songs are about love, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be about love. It could be about disappointment. When I wrote this song, I was very frustrated because I had genuinely tried to make the best out of a particular situation, and it kept exploding in my face. The chorus says, “Those that know us well understand when we fall and try not to feel again.” I’m singing to those of us who know that feeling well.

Music featured in this #WFAEAmplifier chat:

DALIA - “No Volver a Sentir (To Not Feel Again)” (2020 Tiny Desk Contest Performance)
Armando Manzanero - “Adoro”
Violeta Parra - “Gracias a la Vida”
Monterrey’s Ensamble Folklorico Mexicano - “La Bamba” (Live Mexican Folk Dance Performance)
Orquesta Sinfonica Infantil de Mexico OSIM - “Mambo” from West Side Story (Live Performance)
DALIA - “Siete Dias” (Instrumental)
DALIA - “No Volver a Sentir (To Not Feel Again)” (2021 BOOM Charlotte Festival Performance)
DALIA - "Sabemos"
DALIA - “Hasta la Raiz”

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Joni Deutsch is happy to call Charlotte home as WFAE's manager for on-demand content and audience engagement, where she's led the first Charlotte Podcast Festival and helped produce such podcasts as FAQ City, SouthBound, Inside Politics, Work It and the Apple Podcast chart-topping series She Says. In addition to being an NPR Music contributor, Joni is also the creator and host of WFAE’s Charlotte music podcast Amplifier.