March 14, 2013

Making Noise: Zen: Singer, poet, teacher, grad student ... Lady

Lady Zen talks about her musical and literary upbringing as well as her future plans.

By Aimsel Ponti aponti@pressherald.com
News Assistant

Alzenira Quezada is her real name, but you can call her Lady Zen. She was born in Casa Branco, a small city near Porto Velho, Brazil.

click image to enlarge

Singer and poet Lady Zen has called Maine home for just under five years.

Magdelina Nizoil, Lilia Garcelon and Teague Vivolo

WHAT'S ON LADY ZEN'S iPOD

"Didn't I," Darondo

"I Feel for You," Chaka Khan

"17 Days," Prince

"Suzanne," Roberta Flack

"I'll Fly Away," Sister Rosetta Tharpe

"B-Movie," Gil Scott-Heron

"Valerie," Amy Winehouse

"Howlin' for My Baby," Howlin' Wolf

"In the Night," Dakota Staton

"These Are the Breaks," Kurtis Blow

TURN YOUR RADIO DIAL to 102.9 WBLM every Friday at 8:30 a.m. to hear Aimsel Ponti wax poetic about her top live music picks for the week with the Captain and Celeste.

Her mother was an Amazonian Indian, and her father was half Brazilian and half African. However, Zen was placed in an orphanage when she was 11 months old and was adopted by an American family. She's called Maine home for just under five years.

Lady Zen is both a singer and a poet, and she recently performed at the Martin Luther King Jr. birthday celebration at Merrill Auditorium. GO got the skinny on her musical and literary upbringing as well as her future plans.

When and how did the name Lady Zen come to be?

It is the middle part of my name: Al- ZEN-ira. I took this as an abbreviation of that name when I began DJ'ing 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!

When did you first start singing?

I have been singing as long as I have had the ability to make sound.

What about writing poetry?

Poetry has always been with me. I wrote little stories and poems as child. Now I am mastering that craft as a graduate student.

Who are your influences?

Billie Holiday, Pablo Neruda, William Carlos Williams, Chaka Khan, Donny Hathaway, LaVern Baker, Dakota Staton and Gil Scott-Heron. There are so many brilliant talents in this world  that bring me such wonder and spark my imagination. Some have no formal titles or recognition but nonetheless have influenced my work.

What have you been up to lately?

Recently, I opened my voice studio and have been teaching a course I put together called Intro to Vocal Performance. This class focuses on multi-disciplinary techniques that give my students a unique skill set far and above just learning scales.

For instance, I talk about artistic scars and shame and the deep correlation to "stage fright." Students learn the anatomy of the voice from a speech pathologist and a physician; proper breathing techniques are combined with traditional technique and mediation. To learn posture, we use the art of fencing, tai chi and yoga.

Performance techniques are rooted in basic acting techniques. As we touch upon those techniques, I encourage my students to dig deep and work with acting coaches like Rachel Flehinger to learn to commit to the persona they develop for stage. All these skills I have learned from nearly three decades of performing and exploring avenues for overcoming my performance anxieties and practicing the art of being a professional singer.

We have a lot of fun in this class. Initially, it is taught in a group setting prior to allowing the student to have one-to-one lessons. I want all my students to have the same foundation to work from. This course is not just for the professional singer, it is for those who want to be more confident singing anywhere, be it a karaoke bar, in a choir, a contest, in your car or shower, or simply for your own pleasure.

What's the latest in terms of performances and projects?  

I read at the Boston Public Library for the American Writers and Publishers Conference on March 7. There were nearly 11,000 attendees this year, and the workshops were incredible. What an honor to be reading among my literary heroes and mentors. I was the only MFA student chosen to read for this particular event, and this was exciting for me as a second semester student at Stonecoast MFA in the creative writing program.

I have also been working on a book called "Shoot Me: I Love Fashion. The Life of a Dandy Butch Queer." This book contains poetry, prose and photographs about my fashion sense. I'm also busy working on three national jazz-poetry performance commissions, which you will soon be hearing more about through relationships I have formed through the Maine Center for Creativity's director Jean Maginnis. I am currently recording with my jazz band, The Gentleman.

What's something you'd like people to know about you?

I have a weird, dry sense of humor and am sometimes rather introverted and shy.

Where can people learn more about you online?

elementsofzen.wix.com/ladyzenmusic

If you could collaborate with anyone in the world, dead or alive, who would it be and why?

Leonardo da Vinci. He and I could make some amazing art together. He's so versatile and just as A.D.D. as me.

Staff Writer Aimsel Ponti can be contacted at 791-6455 or at:

aponti@pressherald.com

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