10Qs with Lady Zen

Photo by Magdalena Niziol

Learn more about Lady Zen on her website or Facebook page.

Where were you born?
In a small village close to Porto Velho in Rhondonia, Brazil, South America. My genetics come from generations of the Amazonian Indians. My ancestors have roamed the land, for centuries, that is currently being deforested. My father was half African from Salvador, Bahia. Due to misfortune and poverty I was placed in an orphanage at 11 months old for a while before I was adopted by an American family in the 1970s. I grew up in Northwest Arkansas.

What brought you to Portland?
I had been dating an Osteopathic OBGYN for nearly a decade who was placed here in Portland for an internship with Maine Med. We came here with the intention of only being here for one year. I stayed. She did not.

Do you have a day job, and if so, what is it?
When I moved here initially I worked as a catering chef. Then I became a field organizer with Equality Maine for a few months on first Marriage Equality campaign that was overturned. One of my favorite and most long lasting jobs here in Portland was with OTTO pizza. I love those guys! And I am still addicted to that damn pizza! I am currently a full time grad student at USM Stonecoast MFA program and a marketing intern for the Portland’s Downtown District. Currently, I am composing and writing high end commissions and only making special private performances before I will be leaving for Amsterdam in August.

What was your most memorable gig?
This is a hard one… I guess it would have had to have been when I did my first ‘big’ gig here in Portland, a Clash, covering Aretha Franklin. But honestly; working and performing with the level of talent in this town, there has never been a gig I have regretted. Especially, because when it comes to being greeted by such loyal live music supporters–every show the best and keeps me coming back to the open arms of the stages here in Portland. I remember every gig fondly and every minute has been the most exciting and the most memorable. I do however really wish that ONE of the TWO times I have had opportunity to sing for President Obama would have worked out. Oh well, THREE is the charm, right?

What was your worst gig?
Oh gosh, dare I say. Sigh… ok, I suppose I could say this without mentioning names directly, as this could open a whole can of crap I don’t want open again. I have had only ONE unbelievably difficulty show in this town with a particular well-seasoned, ‘new’ venue owner, who embarrassed me beyond any resolve and continues to be a thorn in my paw. Unfortunately, I allowed it to happen twice, after swearing I would never work with this person again; I chose to give it another go after a warm invitation from the venue owner. But I found it worse than the time previous. Throughout the planning stages, the owner sent harassing emails and was verbally abusive while holding some personal information emotional hostage at the whim of their outbursts. The gig was micro-managed and details of the show were used to pit me against others involved with the show—that we managed to untangle easily because the musicians in this town know who to communicate with one another in professional manner. The owner actually grabbed my arm before heading I headed into the venue, just before getting on stage, and told me to get keep it together and not to tell anyone about what was happening behind the scenes or they would ruin me. I did the gig with a smile, with all pose and charm to the upmost professional behavior of Lady Zen. But inside I felt horrible deep to the core and unsafe. I was never compensated for my work, however I did received an email thanking me for my participation and that the owner said they were going to send some form of compensation to me for my co-operation. I have to date never received any such thing and I probably never will. But a Lady never tells, right? But this was absolutely worst gig I have ever had in this town. And it was the last.

What album or artist has most influenced you as a musician?
Billie Holiday, Pablo Neruda, William Carlos Williams, Chaka Khan, Donnie Hathaway, Lavern Baker, Dakota Stanton, Aristotle, Picasso, The Coen Brothers. Gil Scott –Heron…oh, my, there are so many brilliant talents in this world that bringing me such wonder and spark my imagination and creativity. Some have no formal titles or recognition but none the less have influenced my work.

What’s the one piece of musical equipment you can’t live without?
One piece….hmm. Well I guess that would have to be my instrument. My Voice.

Any advice for a musician starting out?
Oh honey, haters will hate. Stand your ground. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. If you are gonna go for it—go for it with all your might. All those who we creative are incredibly sensitive so remember we all act out at our most vulnerable. It will break your heart when things go wrong and things will go wrong, but be willing to have your heart broken. You are a resilient and beautiful being. You will find your audience. Everyone does if they work hard enough. NO one will ever be able to direct your art but you can surround yourself with other people who appreciate it and are genuine and gentle with constructive criticism. None of us ever really feel like we belong. Sometimes it is hard to stick with it. But you were born to do this…accept that you are a creative type.

What’s the origin behind your name?
Lady Zen? It is the middle part of my name: Al- ZEN-ira. I took this as an abbreviation of that name when I began DJ-in with years ago. I was DJ Miszen, cause I was what was ‘missing’ from the scene. Then someone said to me, “You are a Lady, you ain’t no Miss” and it stuck. Lady Zen has been around a lot longer than ‘Lady’ Gaga though! No mistaking that!

What’s your musical guilty pleasure?
Hahaha, ok well, I listen to just about every genera of music there is but occasionally I will binge on new wave 80s Electropop.

Stephen Quirk
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