SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

November 21, 2013

Folk duo Dala finds harmony together

By Will Broaddus
Staff writer

---- — The first time you see Dala, a Canadian folk duo, you might be forgiven for noticing that one of them is blond, the other brunette.

But there was a time when Amanda Walther, who will perform with partner Sheila Carabine at Me and Thee Coffeehouse tomorrow night, wanted nothing to do with hair.

“I shaved my head several times in school when I was 16,” Walther said. “I wanted to feel beautiful for who I was and not for any feminine associations.”

She did find someone who loved her, no matter what she looked like, and describes that experience in the song “First Love.”

“You loved me with my shaved head / even when the other boys were scared,” Walther wrote.

It’s a safe bet that local audiences won’t be thinking about Dala’s hair, either, once they hear them sing.

Walther’s soprano and Carabine’s alto have been described as angelic, but their voices also possess an intense strength, which they have been expressing since they were teens.

“We met in our high school band class,” Walther said. “We would always sing in the halls, anything that was good with harmonies. Our favorite was ‘Sweet Dreams’ from the Eurythmics.”

Harmony is still one of their trademarks and is captured in the composition of their name, Dala.

“It comes from the first names of myself and Sheila, ‘da’ from Amanda and ‘la’ from Sheila,” Walther said. “It sounded like something we had never heard before, and we were going to create its meaning through our music.”

The music they have created has been recorded on five albums and won the Canadian Folk Music Award for Vocal Group of the Year in 2010.

That same year they were featured in “Girls from the North Country,” a concert that was broadcast on PBS, a year after they appeared at the Newport Folk Festival.

“What’s bonded us together is that our musical aesthetic was very similar,” Walther said. “Sheila and I always wanted to go sonically to the same place, lyrically and musically, in our 11 years together.”

They started writing songs one night after Walther had graduated from high school and was attending art college in Toronto.

“It was after a party and the last guest had left,” Walther said. “That’s when the electricity happened.”

From the start, they have composed songs by bouncing ideas back and forth, working out the harmonies and melodies at the same time, while each contributes lyrics.

“Sheila’s more poetic, and I’m very matter-of-fact in lyrics,” Walther said. “We balance each other out.”

One of their most successful songs, “Horses,” voted one of the 10 best folk songs of 2009 by National Public Radio, seemed to write itself.

“That song came from somewhere else; we were just the conduits,” Walther said.

It drew on the experience of meeting a young man who was paralyzed after an accident that damaged his spinal cord.

“He was unable to speak and confined to a wheelchair,” Walther said. “He has so much personality; it really puts things in perspective. He’s a shining light of a person. It changed us and moved us.”

The album “Best Day,” which was released last year, is dedicated to the singers’ families and includes songs that honor their parents.

“No one loves you like that twice / and waits up half the night,” Carabine writes in “Not Alone.” “And only when it is my turn will I know, / what it is like.”

Walther contributed the lyrics to “Father,” which thanks him for never imposing a curfew and admiring the way he “gets right in there with both / hands and gets dirty.”

“We feel the same way about our parents,” Walther said. “It’s taken us this long to be able to voice our feelings of their influence. It’s a homecoming in a way.”

They have covered a number of songs by fellow Canadians over the years, including several by Neil Young.

“We love Canadian singer-songwriters. There must be something in the air up here that speaks to us,” Walther said.

They will perform mostly songs from the last two albums at Me and Thee tomorrow night, and they also plan to introduce some new material.

“We want to keep it fresh and current,” Walther said. “The audience gets a peek into what we’re doing.”

IF YOU GO What: Dala, with Sam Chase opening When: Friday, Nov. 22. Doors open 7:30 p.m., music starts at 8 Where: Me and Thee Coffeehouse, Unitarian Universalist Church, 28 Mugford St., Marblehead Information: Tickets are $20 in advance and $23 at the door. Call 781-631-8987 or go to www.meandthee.org for information and directions.