One of the few women working as instrumentalists in Latin music, Lidia de la Rosa grew up in Guanajuma, part of the Dominican Cibao Region. She began playing tambora and güira at age six, inspired by her musical siblings, but switched to the accordion at age seven. She remembers,
For me it was a bit difficult at the beginning, because my father and my mother were very jealous – when my brother would go out playing merengues, maybe I wanted to go and play with him, but since I was a girl my mother wouldn’t let me. She’d say, ‘no, no, you can’t be there with all those boys.’ So it was a bit difficult for me since I was a girl. They would support me when I played at home, but to come out as a professional, my parents didn’t agree with that. But I convinced them, and later they let me.
Lidia made her professional debut at age 14, when she recorded a full album of original merengues including the hit “El Pegao” and her own version of “La Chiflera,” in which she responds to the attack on treacherous women in the original merengue: “I thought, they can’t always be speaking badly of women – I wanted to defend women. It was an idea I had. I said, ‘Let me make a change. If the man is going to be saying something to the woman, well then, let the woman say the same of him.‘” Later that same year she moved to New York City, and has lived in Brooklyn ever since.
Lidia received support and encouragement early in her career from Fefita la Grande, the first female accordionist in the Dominican Republic. But she credits much of her musical knowledge and inspiration to her cousin Arsenio de la Rosa, best known as accordionist for the popular group Fulanito:
He has taught me a lot about his way of playing and about the solos he plays that are his own, because he doesn’t copy from anyone. He says, ‘The things that I’ve done, I want for you to do it too so that our name, our blood will continue.’ If some day he isn’t playing anymore, he wants a family member to keep doing it. That’s what he did with me.
Lidia took several years off from music in the 1990s after becoming the mother of two sons. However, she somehow found time to rehearse Latin jazz with Mario Rivera in preparation for his “Merengue Jazz” CD (1994), to sing coro (backing vocals) with salsa artist Cuco Valoy, and to record three cumbias with Colombian musician Checo Acosta (2000). In 2001, Lidia made a comeback with her second CD, “La Muñequita,” which takes its title from the nickname an announcer on Radio Quisqueya gave her – “the little doll.” Most of the songs were written by Lidia or her sister Gladys, with arrangements by Lidia and Ray “Chino” Diaz. Though she always maintains strong ties to traditional Dominican music, Lidia is also an innovator, and this CD includes several merengue-rap fusion numbers. Two of her songs were featured in the recent film, “Washington Heights.”