Blending Spanish ballads with prairie folk and jazz, new Calgarian Carolina Slim shrugs off wicked winter

Carolina Slim blends jazz, pop and folk to create a sound that's emotional, accessible and resonant, even if you don't speak any Spanish.

Spanish-singing folk-jazz balladeer of Lebanese descent will be performing at Calgary Folk Fest this weekend

Singer songwriter Carolina Slim describes her style as a blend of folk, jazz and pop. (Ellis Choe/CBC)

Carolina Slim fell in love with music because of her dad.

The family emigrated to Mexico from Lebanon, but there was no cultural dislocation for Slim once her father started to sing — in Spanish.

"My father has a really good voice and he gave me all these emotions to the music. He sang with me all the time. And I thought, oh my god — my father has a really good voice. I want to be like him," Slim said in an interview with The Homestretch Tuesday.

And now, Slim is a Spanish-singing folk-jazz balladeer of Lebanese descent who has been performing at a variety of Calgary venues since moving here 18 months ago — everywhere from Mikey's Juke Joint to Theatre Junction to Arts Commons, where she opened for Leila Downs.

She's booked to perform at the Calgary Folk Festival on July 28 (a workshop), and July 29 (two workshops and a concert).

She'll also be performing at Lolita's Lounge Friday night, following her folk festival appearance.

From Mexico to Calgary

All of which is great, but the question remains: how did a Spanish-singing, jazz balladeer who sounds a bit like she just stepped out of a 1940s Orson Welles film noir end up in Alberta?

"My sister-in-law lives here and she told me that Calgary is a really good place to live," Slim said.

"She said, you can try to live here."

Then she had the misfortune to arrive just in time to live through the coldest, most bitter winter in recent memory for most Calgarians.

"I like it. I enjoy it. For me, it was so much different than Mexico — in Mexico, you have the same weather all the time," she said.

"But this experience with the winter — it's cute. I like it.

"And let me tell you, I love the people here."

Carolina Slim moved from Mexico to Calgary in 2017. (Calgary Folk Music Festival)

Early influences

From those early jam sessions with her dad, at the age of seven, Slim's musical preferences ranged from Enya and Sarah Brightman to Cuban ballad singers — the music her father loved.

Those early days helped shape her unique sound, which is accessible and emotionally resonant, even if you don't speak Spanish.

"I describe my musical style [as being] like folk music with jazz — and a little bit of pop," she said.

Her new album, Tierra, takes her in a new, darker and more political direction than her earlier work.

"The meaning in English [of 'Tierra'] is 'Land' and this album is about all the political problems we have in Mexico. It's revolutionary. All the lyrics are about that — because I was feeling too much sadness about my country," she said.

Eighteen months after arriving in Calgary, Slim sounds as if she's keeping the sadness to the singing part of her life.

She's going to continue to play gigs around town, and has been invited to perform another major music festival this summer that she couldn't name because it isn't confirmed yet.

What does her dad think?

"My dad says 'you are so brave.' He likes it. He knows that all I want is music — and he knows I want to travel the world, not just Canada. I want to meet  people and [visit different ]countries."

How about a collaboration album — with dad?

"That's a good idea! Of course," she said. "I never think about it."

With files from The Homestretch