(Copyright (c) 2006 Toronto Star, All Rights Reserved. )
The connection with folk music becomes apparent, says Amanda Walther, when she and Sheila Carabine perform live. The former Scarborough high school-hallway harmonizing chums are now professional singing and songwriting partners in the Toronto pop duo DALA. "We play acoustic music, just guitar and voices, and the folk community has been really supportive of us. We have lots of fun with audiences, but I'd have to admit that DALA live and DALA on record are very different beasts." One of the featured acts at this weekend's fourth annual Winterfolk Festival on the Danforth,
DALA was spotted last summer by Mariposa Folk Festival artistic director Randi Fratkin when the two 20-something women performed at a showcase for hopeful newcomers and won a slot on the Mariposa bill. Fratkin, who knows a thing or two about how to put together crowd- pleasing roots music events, was impressed enough to offer the duo a headlining spot at Winterfolk when she took over programming duties this year from the festival's co-founder, folk-singing fingerpicker Brian Gladstone. Fortunately for Walther and Carabine, the two festival appearances – the biggest shows to date for the young performers, who have been honing their chops for three years at open-mike sessions and pay-what-you-can shows in roots boites such as Graffiti's, the El Mocambo and Holy Joe's – bookend a recording deal with Universal Music Canada and the release a few weeks ago of their debut CD, Angels & Thieves. Produced in his Aurora studio by Walther's and Carabine's novice manager Mike Roth, DALA's first effort is a pretty mix of light, harmonic pop and introspective, post-teen lyricism. It's peppered with unusually diverse covers – Neil Young's "A Man Needs a Maid," The Cure's "Love Song," Donovan's "Catch the Wind" and the cabaret standard "Dream a Little Dream of Me" – that would seem a tad misplaced at a more traditional music gathering. But Winterfolk is hardly that, despite recent changes at its helm.
Late last year founder Gladstone traded his day job – as partner with brother Howard in a electronics component design and manufacturing business – for the life of a gypsy troubadour. (Howard is also a songwriter and, coincidentally, the producer of the summertime City Roots City Wide acoustic music festival in the downtown Distillery District.) Winterfolk was intended from the get-go in 2002 to be an all- inclusive, renegade alternative to folk festivals that Gladstone felt had become too fastidious and clique-ridden. Maintaining a full-time performing and recording career is work aplenty, however, so this year Gladstone handed programming responsibilities over to Fratkin, a seasoned professional. There was one proviso that this successful addition to Toronto's cultural life maintain its local flavour and continue to reflect the diversity of styles and genres of the city's countless independent country, folk and blues musicians. Hence DALA appears on an eclectic and adventurous Winterfolk bill among 100 better known local roots artists, including Bebop Cowboys, Cindy Church, Digging Roots, Gregg Lawless, Heather Dale, Jason Fowler, Jory Nash, Lynn Harrison, Marigolds, Steve Payne and Wendell Ferguson. Winterfolk takes place through tomorrow evening at five venues on Danforth Ave. east of Broadview – the Bad Dog Theatre, Dora Keogh, the Danforth Cafe in the Danforth Baptist Church, The Black Swan and The Willow. For details, see www.winterfolk.com.
DALA's Walther and Carabine, who opened recently for Jann Arden at Massey Hall, say they're not fazed by their relative lack of experience. In fact, it seems to have worked in their favour. "When we started performing, our friends and families encouraged us to keep it up, so when we heard the Trebas Institute was looking for guinea-pig bands for its recording engineering students to work with, we offered our services," says Carabine. Carabine had studied piano at the Royal Conservatory but never considered herself a singer till she started writing songs with Walther, a naturally gifted vocalist from an intensely musical family. "That's how we met our producer, who started recording us whenever we wrote something we liked, or had a new idea for a cover tune that would help introduce our style of music to audiences." The video for the duo's first single, "20 Something," has landed on both CMT and Bravo! play lists. It was shot in a single day by a self-taught videographer and friend who flew in from Vancouver with just one camera and blocked an outdoor ad-hoc scenario on the fly. "This has all been our own doing," Walther adds. "The rest has been good luck."Who DALA When Today at 10 p.m. Where 285 Danforth Ave., in Danforth Baptist Church Tickets $50 for weekend passes at www.winterfolk.com, and $20 for day passes at all five Winterfolk venues