Nadine Axisa couldn’t have chosen a more fitting title for her debut album Velvet. Just like the fabric, the music contained within is rich in texture and smooth in its flow, not to mention Axisa’s own voice, so delicate yet dynamic in the way it drapes each of the 12 songs that collectively represent her musical journey ever since she stepped into the world of jazz over a decade ago. Released last February, Velvet marks a particularly successful year for Axisa. Apart from realizing her dream of making a jazz album, and a quality one at that, she’s also had countless opportunities to perform abroad. On top of this the album has been receiving very positive comments in the jazz world, among them a 4 star review in the UK’s Jazz Journal, describing the album as “illustrative of the wealth of jazz talent in hidden places that doesn’t always get the wide hearing it merits”.
Drawn to music from a very young age, Axisa says her first involvement came by way of musicals and acting roles in school productions. When she was 15, she started to participate in festivals as a backing singer at first. “I believe that every experience, no matter how small or insignificant it may seem at the time, has something one can learn from”. Indeed, Axisa learnt enough to eventually come into her own as a solo singer, winning a festival with a song penned by her sister. “I first discovered jazz in my teens, initially through my brother’s record collection” she recalls, “although later I got deeper into it as I needed to expand my repertoire when I sang in clubs”. Before long, she realized she was totally taken over by it, so much so that she even participated in the 2006 Malta Eurovision Song Contest with the jazz number Waves. “We didn’t win, but I still get people mentioning that song to me now, so it must have left an impression”.
That it certainly did, and as Axisa distanced herself from the festival circuit, her presence in the jazz scene has only grown stronger. “I have to say I really felt welcome despite being a relatively new face there”. There aren’t that many jazz singers on the island, so an emerging fresh voice, and behind it, a graceful young lady was surely a welcome arrival. “I was lucky enough to work with various musicians; each of them very supportive and keen to help me learn more about jazz and what best suited my voice”. The result of this is more than evident on Velvet, which reveals Axisa venturing into different styles, from Latin to swing to Blues and even a funky groove. The album also features 38 top musicians, essentially the crem de la crème of the Maltese jazz scene but also featuring Italians Roberto Badoglio on bass and Gabriele Comeglio on saxophone, with whom the singer has collaborated on more than one occasion.
Axisa says the whole experience of recording with many musicians was tasking, but one that taught her a lot, and despite the headache that comes with taking care of the non-musical aspects, she loved every minute of it. “With so many people involved, it was never going to be easy, but it is so amazing and incredibly inspiring to work with such talented musicians”. The chemistry must have certainly been in place throughout, as the end product has caught the attention of many jazz aficionados, locally and abroad and has led to several other opportunities. “Last March I performed at St James with Kris Spiteri, Roberto Badoglio and Andrea Marcelli and in July, I also successfully completed 2 weeks of Berklee Jazz Clinics in Umbria”. Further to the wealth of knowledge these courses offered, Axisa was also one of the 6 students (out of 60) chosen to perform in the students' concert on the Umbria Jazz Stage at Giardini Carducci. “It was an honour for me to receive very positive comments from such a talented artist and tutor as Donna Mc Elroy. It was another great experience that I learnt a lot from and will remember for a long time.”
The future is looking brighter than ever for the Maltese singer. She has a live performance to give in Berlin later this week and two concerts with Vinny Vella Jr scheduled for January. “I’m really looking forward to performing at this annual jazz festival in Berlin”, Axisa explains. “I will be joined by Kris Spiteri on piano, Roberto Badoglio on bass, Andrea Marcelli on drums and Filippo Cosentino on guitar. Our set will also include a selection of tunes from my album, which of course I’m excited about, as it will be the first time the songs will be played to an audience outside Malta”. And what of the January concerts in Malta? “I’m very happy to be joining forces once again with Vinny, with whom I’ve worked a lot in the past. It’s going to be a very special event, that I can promise you, but more details will be revealed closer to the date”.
The Velvet album and the performance is Berlin are supported by the Malta Arts Fund.
Photo by Bernard Polidano
An edited version of this article was first published on The Sunday Times of Malta (07 December 2014)