A force to be reckoned with | Nadine Axisa

With a stint in Berlin, a central role in one of this year’s biggest local concerts with the Animae Gospel Choir, and an album that is still flying off the shelves almost two years since it was first released, singer Nadine Axisa has cemented her name in Malta’s musical hall of fame

Nadine Axisa: “It’s an honour to be representing my homeland on international soil”
Nadine Axisa: “It’s an honour to be representing my homeland on international soil”

Bursting onto the scene in 1996, Nadine Axisa quickly became a household name as she took to the stages of the Indifest, the Malta Song for Europe and l-Għanja tal-Poplu festival, among many others.
But Nadine’s career was never meant to be limited to the festival scene; her sights were set on something that she had always enjoyed and which she’s incredibly knowledgeable about.

Sitting opposite each other at the Costa in Balzan, she starts to explain her love for Jazz, and the story behind some of the tracks on her first album, Velvet, which came out in February of 2014.

“The idea behind Velvet is a very special and personal one. It represents the journey of my career and I got to work with many people on a variety of different things for it, which is something I have always sought to do; after all, different musicians can help form your style in different ways.

“Each track in the album has a theme, and these span from friendship to the history of Jazz,” she reveals. “‘52nd Street’, for example, is about a road in Manhattan, New York, which was buzzing with Jazz Clubs between the 1930s and 1960s. Legendary artists like Thelonious Monk and Dizzy Gillespie played there regularly and it must have been such an electrifying place. As a lover of Jazz, it would have been incredible to be part of that scene.

“On the other hand, musically and rhythmically, my other favourite is ‘Birds’, which has a wonderful yet tricky composition to sing; while ‘Tempted’,” she smiles into her coffee, “‘Tempted’ is a very sweet song about how someone feels when they start falling for someone.

“Then, apart from ‘Velvet’, another track which I adore is ‘Għanja’, a marriage between the Maltese language and a melody with Mediterranean influences. The lyrics talk about some of the things that make Malta so beautiful, including its sea and sun. Creating it was an amazing experience, and, who knows, maybe one day it will inspire a Jazz album in Maltese!”

As a genre, Jazz is quite a niche in Malta – and compared to other genres, such as Pop or R’n’B, it is also quite a niche worldwide – but Nadine’s exercise in combining our unique sound with the Jazz tradition has revealed an intimate side to her music; one that has not gone unnoticed by the international scene.

Since its debut, Nadine has created a following akin to no one else’s in the world of local Jazz, with fans all the way from New York commenting about its soothing-yet-strong style. Helped by the Malta Arts Fund, Nadine has also been to Berlin to perform during the Italian Jazz Festival to both promote her album and showcase Maltese talent.

“I’m going to Germany again soon,” she reveals. “The European Central Bank organises a yearly event, where each year a country organises a series of events for the European Cultural Days and this year’s it’s Malta turn!”

Nadine will be performing with the Dominic Galea Jazztet, which will be one of a number of other acts there, including Joseph Calleja, the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra, and Big Band Brothers, in a festival that will put Maltese music on the international stage; an incredibly important step as we head towards Valletta2018.

“It’s an honour to be asked to sing at such an event, no more so than because I will be representing my homeland on international soil,” Nadine adds.

But, before that happens, Nadine’s already-busy schedule will also see her perform with the Animae Gospel Choir, in their highly anticipated, third, full-blown concert, the Animae Gospel Choir in Concert 2015.

“It was in late 2008 that I got a message from Glen Vella to join the Choir,” she reminisces. “I was super excited and I said ‘yes’ immediately. Now, we’re on our and my third concert, and one thing I can vouch for is just how much work goes into these things. In fact, the final product often doesn’t show the nuances of creating it; after all, Animae is not just vocal group but a gospel choir, so there are moves we need to learn alongside, too. The satisfaction it gives us, however, is like nothing else.”

Formed by Glen Vella, along with Pamela Bezzina and Leontine Spiteri in 2008, the Animae Gospel Choir has indeed been going from strength to strength over the past few years, having performed at Westminster Cathedral in London, sung the National Anthem during the 40th anniversary celebration of the Republic, and been chosen to be part of the official CHOGM Malta 2015 song, ‘The People We Are’, composed by Ivan Grech.

Now, with two sold-out concerts under their belt – one in 2009 and another in 2012 – the Animae Gospel Choir in Concert 2015 is set to cement their status as one of the most popular acts in Malta.

“Animae is not only bigger in number but also in what it can offer,” adds Nadine. “Rehearsals have been going really well, and from all three concerts, in terms of timeframes, this is the best that we’ve ever been.

“With the help of vocal coach and arranger Pamela Bezzina, and musical arrangements and direction by Kris Spiteri, everything has gelled together and we’ve built on everything that we did and learnt from our past two concerts.”

Nadine’s future plans don’t stop there, however. During the interview, she also mentioned plans about a future, solo concert for Velvet, “which may be happening sometime early next year,” she divulged.

Whether that happens or not, there is no doubt that Nadine’s career outside of the realm of festivals has taken off, and while she doesn’t exclude ever going back into that scene, Jazz and Gospel are her two passions… At least for the time being.

The Animae Gospel Choir in Concert 2015 will take place on Friday 30 and Saturday 31 October, with an extra show now added on Sunday 1 November at 15:30. For more information on the Choir, the concert or to buy tickets, please visit www.animaegospelchoir.com.

Interview by Iggy Fenech