Lydia Persaud on going solo and being a woman of colour in music
I’ve been a fan of Lydia Persaud ever since the very first time I saw her perform. It was a few years ago, when she opened an intimate show in the speakeasy-like lower level of Toronto’s Wenona Lodge that featured Devin Cuddy. My wife and I had come to see Devin and were pleasantly surprised to discover another new powerful singer-songwriter.
This summer, I travelled to London, ON for the opening night of the Home County Music & Arts Festival and was fortunate enough to see Lydia once again – this time with a full band. She was even better than I remembered!
When I was granted the opportunity to cover the second annual Troubadour Festival in Barrie, ON, I made a point of not missing Lydia’s performance. I was also fortunate enough to be granted an opportunity to interview Lydia and review her new album.
While Lydia Persaud has over a decade of experience in several Toronto area bands, including the O’Pears and the Soul Motivators, her debut full-length solo album, Let Me Show You, was just released in May on Outside Music. The album was produced by Robbie Grunwald, recorded at The Hive studio in Toronto, ON and features several Toronto musicians, including the incredibly talented Dean Drouillard (Donovan Woods, Rose Cousins, Jill Barber) on electric guitar.
“A lot of love was put into making this album,” Lydia told me. “And I think that it is very familiar music for many different people given that there is some really fun vintage throwback qualities to the way that we recorded it using a tape machine.”
Producer Robbie Grunwald and engineers Alex Gamble and Phil Spencer should be commended for creating an album that, although released in 2019, sounds just as timeless as any of the great soul records from the ’70s. It shines the spotlight directly on Lydia’s incredible vocal prowess and ability to both express and extract the emotion at the core of every single song she writes.
In fact, Lydia’s performance and the album’s production quality are so strong that listeners unfamiliar with the artist would undoubtedly assume she’s already a megastar and the album was recorded in one of the best studios in the world by a team of high profile producers. There are so many “hits” that it sounds way more like a greatest hits record than a debut solo album. Songs like “More Of Me,” “Tonight,” “Honey Child” and “Lowlight” are absolute “megahits” that should be on heavy rotation on soft rock, adult contemporary, and soul/RnB radio stations the world over.
Lydia’s previous projects have run the gammut from the folk harmonies of the O’Pears to the funk of the Soul Motivators, and Lydia said it took collaborating with all kinds of different acts to finally find her own artistic voice.
“I started to realize that the type of writing that I really do enjoy doing is more RnB/soul-based, and I wasn’t finding that I was ending up in a project like that. So I had to kind of make the space for myself and make the project that facilitated the music that I wanted to write.”
Improving her skills as an instrumentalist also paved the way for her going solo, she explained, given that she previously always relied on accompanists.
“In the last five years, I’ve taken up ukulele and writing on it, and that [is] a huge voice in the shows that I do,” she said.
Lydia’s songs are inspired in part by her experience as a woman of colour, and they speak of love, social awareness, inequality, race, and gender, she said.
Things are changing in the music business from the days when she was frequently asked where she’s really from (Answer: really from Ontario), she added. And she gets opportunities now because people are looking to bring diversity to their festivals. But she’d still like to see more artists of colour being booked.
“One thing that’s been difficult personally speaking, as a person of colour born in Canada,” she said, “is that I don’t have many musician women of colour to look up to within this country, and that’s both exciting and both kind of disappointing and sad. Obviously growing up I looked up to Celine Dion, Sarah McLachlan – and Shania Twain was a massive artist growing up for me. And a lot of stateside artists – Aretha Franklin and Etta James and a lot of artists from the ’60s and ’70s that I loved a lot. Even Lauren Hill from the ’90s was really influential towards me. My dream is to have the next generation of women of colour having role models that look like them.”
These days Lydia is excited about Canadian artists of colour such as Haviah Mighty, who just won the Polaris Music Prize, as well as Appalachian folk-inspired artist Kaia Kater, and Toronto soul artist Aphrose.
“There’s a really great funk band called YUKA, fronted by Claire Doyle,” she continued. “Jeremie Albino is fantastic as well! There are some fantastic up-and-coming musicians that need support, because they are just as much Canadian as other artists that are getting these platforms.”
As for Lydia herself, she’s currently working on a music video for the title track from her debut solo album, in addition to writing and recording some demos for a forthcoming release. Ontario fans can also look forward to her next show at Longboat Hall in Toronto, ON on Nov. 1. Lydia is opening up for Jeremie Albino at his album release concert.
I can’t recommend Let Me Show You enough, and I can’t emphasize enough that seeing Lydia Persaud live should be at the top of everyone’s musical priority list.