And the people who trod through my door came to talk about music. Sometimes they brought their instruments with them. Other times they carried just their memories and their words. And the ephemera, like photos, CDs, tear sheets, one sheets, et cetera always followed along, as if by a magic meant to guide the perceptions of those encountered along the artists’ paths.
Those instances were planned as a way to reveal something essential about the musicians who came to talk to me and therefore, to you.
In the case of Delphia Giovanni, mostly of Santa Fe but now leading an R&B soaked entrada into Burque’s music scene—she’ll be at the Draft Station (1720 Central SW) on Friday, March 24, with a solo set—some of that essential something remains mysterious, even as her music and output reach beyond the rarefied realms around the Rio Grande, even as her identity as a musician and artist, as a survivor, gathers strength from doing.
Delphia spent her early professional life as someone else, an East-Coast Nashville transplant with starry eyes and a take on the scene that combined equal parts folk and down-home country flavors to great effect. The only problem with that was her encounter with sexual assault, a traumatic event that cascaded through her life as she abandoned her burgeoning career and returned home to become enveloped in a web of loss, depression and addiction.
Ultimately she put all that aside and broke through that rusty cage, heading out West, reinventing herself and her music in the process. Now she is a jazzer named Delphia. She’s getting ready for a summer tour that includes a band of notable, nay legendary local sidemen: guitarist Dimi DiSanti, drummer Douglas Cardwell and bassist Stephen Dewave Peace.
This is her story though; this is what she told me when we sat down for coffee last week in my office.
And just so you know, before the interview started, the office dog, who is named The News, came and sat in between Delphia and her agent as they waited on the couch in my office. That was a lighthearted and enchantingly pure moment, much like what followed as we conversed.
Weekly Alibi: Who is Delphia?
Delphia Giovanni: I began writing and recording in my early teens. I had rare opportunities to audition for people like Claude Davis and Quincy Jones and toured up and down the East Coast, singer-songwriter style. In my late teens or early twenties I transitioned and moved to Nashville to further my songwriting career. A few months into being there, I suffered a sexual assault. Essentially, that caused me to quit music for 10 years. In that time, there was pharmaceutical abuse.
So, you packed up and went home?
When I was in Nashville I was engaged to a very devout Christian man. When he discovered what happened, he decided I should quit music. Somehow, he believed that me being in music was going to lead to this happening again and again.
“I’m finding there’s a lushness—though I still love guitar—that I’m able to really harness, to create more of a tapestry of sounds that includes the voice … There’s a rhythmic element … I can be more emotional in the way I play. Finding that new source of creative interaction and creation was paramount for me becoming Delphia.”
You both decided that?
No, he decided. I was so traumatized, so shattered, it seemed good to make it go away. So he decided we wouldn’t speak about it, we wouldn’t talk about it. “This didn’t happen, you’re not going to do music anymore,” he said. “We’re going to go off and have a family and a picket fence …” He didn’t want his parents to know that I wasn’t a virgin, he was very fundamentalist.
That sucks. I am sorry, I don’t know what to say… [Sexual abuse is] a real and really horrible part of the music business, I’m ashamed to say.
It happens in the entertainment industry all around, actresses, models, that’s what I’ve found coming out of it, and it took me 10 years to soul search, to heal.
And you weren’t Delphia yet.
No. I had the name my mama gave me. And so what ended up happening in Nashville is my fiancé left me to join the Air Force. He was done with the whole thing. He never got over what happened. That traumatized me further. So I moved back to rural Pennsylvania to live with my folks. I continued on that [downward] spiral of pharmaceutical abuse.
What turned all that around for you? I mean, I gotta say you don’t strike me as a troubled person, in fact you’re vivacious, full of life, more so than even me, the king of the disheveled, getting it together at the last minute.
About two and a half or three years ago, I just—at that point I was a zombie, I had moved here in 2010 and taken a job as the music director for a church—was doing enough maintain the façade that I was functioning, but I would just go home and get high. I was not living. Just existing. Finally, I decided I didn’t want to live like that anymore. The less favorable option was just not to be here anymore. Or there was the pull yourself out of this dive option. Face all of this stuff head-on. It took me a year and a half to wean myself off all the medications.
In doing that, there was a newfound clarity. I was making music at work, but I wasn’t creating. So the first thing I did was deal with the assault through my music … very painful and difficult, but it sparked something in me, it was cathartic, it was the most effective and the cheapest therapy I have ever found.
That’s the thing about music, it’s not just a balm, it’s actively therapeutic.
Absolutely. I was connecting the spiritual to the earthly and getting it all out. That comes out in the music, especially the song “Blooming Roses,” which was also featured in a New Mexican film about sex trafficking called Cuts, by Antonio Weiss. That debuted at the Santa Fe Film Festival this year. Antonio just happened to hear me performing out—another skill that I spent a couple of years preparing for—after I finished recording another song called “Let You Go.”
It sounds like you’ve been making a natural upward progression.
I was diving back into who I was, who I had been, prior to the assault. I was back in my stride. Writing constantly, now performing too … so this was me, finally picking up where I left off. In the summer of 2015, my style began to change. Prior to the creative gap, I was a guitar player. There were twinges of folk rock and country rock in there, but very much centered on that guitar sound. But I began to write from the piano. The playing and the singing, being behind that, became a new extension of my creative expression, I was finding a new identity.
Is that identity more jazz-oriented?
More jazz, soul, R&B, so yeah. I’m finding there’s a lushness—though I still love guitar—that I’m able to really harness, to create more of a tapestry of sounds that includes the voice … There’s a rhythmic element … I can be more emotional in the way I play. Finding that new source of creative interaction and creation was paramount for me becoming Delphia. I wasn’t just coming back to composing music, I found a new voice.
What has the audience response been like?
What I’m finding now is that when people hear this new music they really respond positively, especially other people in the survivor community. Whenever people have been victimized, they can find their voice through my music. That’s the reason I do this. I want to create something that connects people in a way that’s bigger than any individual, that creates a dialogue, not just among women, not just about sexual assault survivors but among all of us. One listener said I was able to capture what she was feeling; that’s overwhelming, but in a really beautiful way. When you realize [we’re all] healing together, that’s an important moment in life … expressing that musically is a challenge.
How do those views relate to where you’re headed artistically?
The goal with any piece of art you create is that you do it for you, but something is released. It is shared. You want to share it. Sometimes people resonate with that piece of art, if that happens at a local level or a regional or national level—I don’t want to be known, my story is not unique. But it is my story and if I can find a way to share it—I have a platform to start a dialogue with other people—then I want to be a voice for the voiceless, those who have suffered trauma. If people find a connection through my music, that enables me to keep on doing it.
That’s so cool.