Interview: Dom La Nena (October 2015)

‘La Nena’ (little girl) is the nickname that she has carried around the world since adolescence. However, even though she still has a girlish air, Dominique ‘Dom’ Pinto moves around the music scene like a seasoned actress. Her experience is enviable, and she could easily be described as a ‘musician of the world’.

She was born in Porto Alegre, but moved from the South Brazilian city to Paris with her parents when she was little more than eight years old. At thirteen she decided to go alone to Buenos Aires to study cello with Christine Walevska, one of the most revered interpreters of the instrument. Five years later she returned to the French capital, where her career blossomed.
The release of her second album “Soyo” and her ongoing European tour were important enough reasons to pick the phone and have a chat with Dom La Nena.

The first thing we asked her, inevitably, was about her relationship with her native country, and she confirmed what people say – that absence makes the heart grow fonder.
I have strong feelings for my country because all my family still lives there. However, I can also say that I have never really lived in Brazil since I was eight. So my relationship with Brazil is very strange. For example, when I was writing my first album “Ela”, that was the moment I experienced a kind of a crisis because I realised that I really felt Brazilian, with a strong connection to my country, its culture and people.

At the same time, Dom revealed to us that she also felt almost powerless about it.
“I suddenly realised that I didn’t know a lot about Brazil, because every time I’ve been there it was just went to visit my family. So I have never travelled around the country and don’t even know many things about its history. There was a really painful moment in my life when I felt myself to be Brazilian without really being Brazilian at all”.

Ultimately, she has come to terms with her situation.
Today I’ve finally accepted this situation. It has become something good. I love Brazil and its culture and try to spend more time there, but I also accept the fact that I don’t feel comfortable to go back and live there.I love to travel to Brazil, but Brazil is not a place where I could live now.”

However, when it comes to Brazilian music, it’s another kettle of fish.
Sometimes I’m kind of ashamed, because it happens that I spend periods listening exclusively to Brazilian music. My relationship with Brazilian music is really close. There was a time when I was writing “Ela”, that it had quite a therapeutic function for me”.

Speaking with Dom, it’s quite clear that her Brazilian identity is not the only one harboured by her soul.
I usually speak a lot about Brazil and I love to do it. At the same time, I also love to talk about Argentina and France. I feel really connected to those countries, their languages and music too. I can speak Spanish as my first language, but I also reckon that I’m not Argentinian. The same happens with France as I’ve lived in France for so many years.
I think that’s a common feeling that every migrant has. You have many roots, and all of them represent your identity

So it was interesting to see if Dom refers to Argentinian or French music to produce any particular feeling or mood.
My musical influences are something generated by my unconscious, so I can’t really say if there’s anything in particular influencing me nor if it’s something French or Argentinian, because it is something very instinctive. I can only say that I predominantly listen to Argentinian music, because I find it richer and more expressive. But there’s also a lot of beautiful old French music, not to mention the classical one, which is incredible, and has always strongly influenced me. But actually, I can’t say if there’s anything in particular that influences me”.

If we could answer our own questions, we’d say it’s the fact that travelling around the world seems to have deeply influenced Dom La Nena’s music. This explanation emerged.
I feel very lucky, because I started to learn music in Brazil when I was five, and it was something related to happiness to play an instrument: it was something really pleasurable, not competitive.
When I moved to France it was something completely different. Even though we were children there was a lot of discipline, and the atmosphere was extremely serious. Then I went to Buenos Aires and it was half way between – a mixture of European and South American culture.
That’s why I think I’ve reached a good balance, because I lived in those three countries and experienced these three ways of playing music. Maybe I could move to Africa next!

Joking aside, Dom La Nena’s musical career is characterised by transitions. For example, she has put aside her classical wardrobe to dress in a more contemporary style.
Everything happened by coincidence. I came back to Paris when I was eighteen and I met a French music producer called Édith Fambuena, who worked with many great French singers. At that time, she was producing the last album of Jane Birkin and called me to play in the album. That was the first time that I played without a score, doing the arrangements together with another musician. It was really fun, but also an important experience.
It also happened just at the right moment because when I came back to Paris I was in a kind of a crisis. I had to decide what to do and I knew that I wanted to be a cellist and play music in my life, but didn’t know how! I couldn’t imagine myself in an orchestra. So when I realised that I had to play without a teacher telling me what to do I understood that I could be freer to invent – and that was something that I really liked!”

Her artistic experience with Jane Birkin and playing alongside her during her worldwide-tour from 2007 and 2009 was the turning point of Dom La Nena’s career.
Then Jane invited me to go on tour with her for two years. That was a great adventure because we travelled a lot playing all around the world in renowned venues. I’ve also played Gainsbourg with her and it was like a dream for me.
Then I said to myself, “now I can’t go back!”

Since that time she has published two albums, spread her name all over the world and been compared to some outstanding artists, not just Jane Birkin, but also Lhasa de Sela, Chico Buarque, a ‘young’ Brian Wilson and Cat Power. But if you ask her if she looks at anyone in particular when she composes, her answer doesn’t mince words.
I just look at myself. I think it’s a big mistake to look at someone else because I want to find my voice. What has made those musicians so strong is the fact that they’ve always been themselves and unique at the same time. If you try to do something like someone else, it’s not right and it won’t work”.

Dominique also started playing piano when she was five, and almost twenty years later she’s still playing with the same drive and commitment. We wondered how she could keep on being herself and play music for so long without losing her inspiration.
I never get bored and never wanted to stop. Very often I want to do something different or try other stuff, but I don’t have the time. I also want to learn new things but I can’t find the time, and every time I’ve had to choose between music and something else, I’ve always chosen music”.

Our last question or ‘request’ to Dominique was to introduce herself and her music to the people who still don’t know her. As mentioned, despite her established career and undoubted musicianship, she still quite new to the world music stage.
I think that people just need to hear my music. I don’t have any particular message because I think that if they just listen they will see if they’re sensitive to my music or not. I totally understand that some people won’t like my music, but they’ll be welcome at my gigs anyway.