Jazz

In conversation: Daniela Nardi’s Espresso Manifesto

Interview and words by Ola Mazzuca
Photo by Vanessa Heins

Coffee is a stimulant. Art is stimulating. Daniela Nardi is a blend of both. Espresso Manifesto is her caffeinated lovechild of global music scenes by sampling a taste of traditional and contemporary sounds.

Nardi’s mission to showcase her Italian heritage is fueled by an unconventional approach of hitting familiar notes in covers of Paolo Conte’s “Vieni Via Con Me” to her roots of electro-acoustic jazz. When she’s not working on her new album, the multi -instrumentalist is practicing for live performances.

This winter, Nardi will collaborate with acclaimed jazz guitarist John Pizzarelli in Toronto, and in March 2014, taking on Moscow, Russia at the Tchaikovsky Concert Hall. In between, she’ll be representing the “Chloe Woman” of the Verse at our Fall 2013 Gala on October 17. I caught up with Nardi to discuss her latest endeavours – be it French press or doppio, coffee will be required within the next few months.


 

Ola Mazzuca: What have you been up to?

 Daniela Nardi: I’m staying close to home for the next couple of months because I’m working on a new record. I’ll have more shows coming up in November and December, where I’ll be going to Montreal. Then, I’ll be doing a big show in Toronto at Koerner Hall, on December 7th. Next year, we have a Russian tour booked for March. So that will be rather exciting.

Can you spill any beans about the new album?

 It’s an ever-evolving process, but the idea that I have at the moment is to explore Italian songs. Most people can hum a Tarantella or “O Sole Mio,” but the mainstream culture doesn’t realize the vastness of songwriting. Popular song has its roots in Neapolitan song. What I want to do is really showcase that and go from the Neapolitan stuff all the way to the contemporary stuff like Jovanotti and one of my favourites, Gianmaria Testa, and really celebrate by writing my own songs in Italian, with English and mix it up a bit.

Speaking of Jovanotti, you met him last year at Luminato Festival.

Yeah, that’s right.

What was that experience like? You wanted to meet him for a long time.

 It was absolutely thrilling. I admire him and think he’s one of the rare contemporary artists with so much integrity. What you see is what you get. It’s not a show. He is the real deal. His writing is tremendous and the quality of his voice is so compelling and again, so real, that he’s the whole package. From the live shows, to the art and the work itself. For me, he’s a big inspiration and to shake his hand and to be able to say that to him was a check off my bucket list. The next on my bucket list is to be able to work with him, but one step at a time [Laughs].

You’ve experimented with so many genres and now you’re doing the whole Espresso Manifesto thing, where you’re writing or covering Italian music. Yet, you come from a background of electro-acoustic jazz. How has your music and style evolved over the years?

 I don’t know if it’s really evolved or if I’ve just gone in circles and explored things that interest me. You know what I mean? Jazz was something I studied when I was in university and I was interested in it, so I followed it. The whole world of electronica was something I was interested in, so I followed it. Now, Italian music is something I am interested in, so I went after it. I go down these roads that pique my curiosity and then I bring them back and throw it in my songwriting pot, mix it all up, and I see what happens.

Now that there’s time for you to explore cultural music in general, be it Italian or any other traditional genre, what kind of impact does that have on a North American audience?

I think they don’t realize that Italian music; especially Italian popular music, is comparable to other world music. People listen to Brazilian music, African, French and they just take it in and appreciate it. To be able to present it as a North American kind of shakes up their heads a bit and makes them realize that Italian music is another world music. I think that’s the impact that I find I’m having on audiences that are becoming aware of Espresso Manifesto. They’re curious because of the project name, and then when they hear the music, they say, “oh wow, I like this,” and it happens to be in Italian! That’s really cool to see people break stereotypes of what people thought of Italian music.

Amongst all of this, how would you define your sound today?

I would call it “Earthy, Modern, Pop, Jazz, World, Cool.” It just really has all of those elements. There’s a mixture of things in there. It’s contemporary, but there’s a part of me that’s a little retro. There’s a part of me that feels I was born in another time. That shows up every once in a while. But, it’s really music of today. How do we define any music today? I’m definitely not in a rock band, indie or straight up electronic. But I think a lot of artists are a combination of a lot of things. Does that make sense?

Yeah, completely.

It’s hard to define. If you had to put a big label on it, I would say that it’s pop music. It’s not straight up jazz or world. It’s modern.

Now that you’re pushing so many genre boundaries, why is this significant to your show at Koerner Hall?

It is really the first time that an Italian pop project like Espresso Manifesto will be playing at Koerner Hall. Anything Italian at Koerner Hall will be something classical, like an opera or ensemble. To be able to bring this project to more of a mainstream audience is really exciting. Now, we’ve broken the barrier a bit. Which is what we’ve always wanted to do. To be on stage with John Pizzarelli, who is part of the mainstream, is really quite cool. We’re manifesting our manifesto on a more mainstream stage.

Koerner Hall is a great venue. That should be very exciting. And in October, you’ll be performing at the Gala for CHLOE Magazine’s Fall issue launch.

It’s kind of the same thing. There’s so much integrity. A lot of great work has been put into this magazine. There’s so much substance, and to be able to be a part of this, to be able to perform in a place for people that probably wouldn’t listen to or know about is exciting. I can’t wait to see how they’ll react. It’s another fantastic opportunity to bring this music to a different audience.

Considering that our audience of female readers is so vast, what mark would you want to leave on other women experiencing your performance?

 To be authentic, to be who you really are and to not construct this persona that you think you need to be in order to please people or society’s ideas of what they think you should be. A big thing for me, too, is that women should come together and really celebrate one another. A lot of times, we can be against each other. We have insecurities that make us behave a certain way, but for women to come together and celebrate our strengths, skills and beauty, both inside and out, that would be fantastic.


 

Daniela’s Top 6

First live music experience
Engelbert Humperdink at the O’Keefe Centre (now the Sony Centre for Performing Arts) in Toronto

First piece of music purchased
“Outlandos D’Amour” by the Police on vinyl.

Dish best paired with Espresso Manifesto
A warm mushroom risotto topped with truffle oil and a glass of Ripasso.

Favourite film
“81/2” directed by Federico Fellini.

Dream travel destination
India.

The colour of Espresso Manifesto
A deep, rich, earthy burgundy.

 

This piece was first published in the Fall 2013 issue of CHLOE Magazine

Vito Rezza: Drums and Colossal Passion

Rome wasn’t built in a day, but Vito Rezza’s skill-laden compositions on his 2011 release with the 5 after 4 quartet _ appropriately named Rome In A Day _ make it seem so. On the band’s first trans-Atlantic tour, all it took were 12 hours to visit the eternal city: “Suddenly, I get to Rome and all of these sites are popping up; the Colosseum, Pantheon, Piazza di Spagna.” says Rezza, whose personality and Italian heritage are major influences on the the Peter Cardinali-produced recording.

Born in Modugno, Bari, it was Rezza’s third visit to Italy since immigrating to Canada as a two-year old. At the time, his father was a professional soccer player, invited to Toronto by Steve Stavros, former owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs. As work endeavors were slim, the family found difficulty fitting into the Canadian landscape.

The young musician would later find solace in music, despite being labeled “too heavy handed” when learning piano at five years old. After visiting a music store on Corso Italia, Vito discovered his true calling: the drums.

From the early age of seven, Rezza would begin playing to Toronto’s Italian community in afterhours clubs and bars. He recalls rough memories of performing in adult situations and trauma brought on by his first drum teacher, who hit Rezza when he made mistakes.

In spite of this hazardous learning environment, Rezza claims that the drums have always been his sanctuary. “When I play, it’s the most safe I ever feel,” he says. “It’s reflective of my character and who I am inside, allowing me to do and be the best I can be.”

In the 1970s, Rezza performed live in Italy, impressing the audience with a familiar surname, similar mannerisms and a sound reminiscent of the foreign Elvin Jones or Art Blakey. Rezza’s Italian fans have the utmost respect for his work because of his strong authority behind the kit. His fellow drummers from Italy lovingly say he has “la Grinta,” a term dubbed to describe the soul and grit they believe makes North American music stand out.

Rezza feels that he is “out on the front lines” representing Italian-Canadian artists. He is proud of his accomplishments and plans to do more with the help of his strong values. “There is a great passion that Italians show,” he says. “Loyalty, a sense of family, food, how we eat – it’s very important to eat and share moments together as a band.”

Staying true to his modus operandi, Rezza is drawn to real life stories of struggle when writing and sharing music. His favourite song from Rome In A Day, “Mr. Govindas”, is inspired by a story Deepak Chopra wrote about a destitute alcoholic outside a hospital in Mumbai, India. Rezza is motivated by these experiences to help others.

At the 2004 Montreal Drum Festival, a father and son approached the artist at an autograph session. The father, restricted to a wheelchair with cerebral palsy, lamented that he would “never be able to do what you can” to Rezza. “I’m playing for you,” he replied optimistically.

“Music is medicine; you can’t measure the power of music financially,” says the guru of Canadian jazz drumming, who regards his instrument as his “ashram, temple and church.”

And though it seems that his success has grown at a rapid rate, his musicianship has been built on dedication. “People don’t know that I have spent 10 hours a day developing my craft as a drummer,” he says of a half-century long career. “When I perform, you’re going to be the recipient of what I have to offer, through my sentiments, emotion and music as an extension of me.”

The drum stool is Rezza’s workbench, and like Rome, the construction of his monumental talent took much more than just a day.

This piece was first published in the February 2012 issue of Panoram Italia Magazine

Saidah Baba Taliba: True Colours

Photo by Wade Hudson

On a hot summer day at a studio in Toronto, Saidah Baba Talibah is getting her makeup done, clad in garments by American Retro and rocking Chanel combat boots. Her manager, David ‘Click’ Cox, sits nearby and is responding to an email.

“Would your mom be pissed if someone called her a blues singer?” he asks.

The content is for a book about blues. Talibah isn’t having it.

I wish my mom could talk right now. She’s not just a blues singer, she’s not just a jazz singer…”

Rather than succumbing to a sole label, the multi-instrumentalist, whose main tool is her voice, prefers to omit the word ‘genre’ from her vocabulary. Born and raised in Toronto, Talibah is one of the city’s most polytropic artists. She leaves eardrums ringing, wanting more, with an idiosyncratic mix of edgy, raunchy soul, but will always be the daughter of Salome Bey – “Canada’s First Lady of Blues.”

From being the frontwoman of 90s metal band Blaxam to her Chevy commercial hit, “Revolution,” Talibah believes that “whatever touches us, resonates with us,” regardless of chord and verse.

“We don’t listen to one type of music because those genres would not thrive. But because we are humans, we have to see certain colours or touch before we taste. That’s human nature, but if you don’t like it, keep it moving.”

Talibah is doing just that. Her next record is all about “finding your place, finding your voice and speaking your truth.” RedBlack&Blue, scheduled for release in 2014, is a sonic memoir of familial connection. The album’s concept is shaped by the influence of three women: Talibah’s mother, sister and daughter; and three animals: the red robin, Black Panther and blue butterfly. What the vocalist initially called a “crazy idea,” the animals aren’t necessarily symbolic of three people, and the context is neither good nor bad.

“It’s how they’ve influenced and inspired my life and how I have moved from that,” she says. “We are all dealing with different kinds of adversities and it’s about how we get through them.”

 The greatest challenge in Talibah’s life now is witnessing her mother live with dementia. Although Bey’s struggle has been an emotional journey, the singer believes that compressing inner battles isn’t a way to gain support and grow. For when she encounters rough waters, that’s when she finds clarity to write a good song.

But Talibah witnesses Bey on good days, too. The songstress that once belted “I Never Knew” can sing and groove when she’s present. This has taught her daughter the art of patience and gratitude.

“I miss my mother and miss spending time with her,” Talibah says, wiping water from her eyes. “I am learning to appreciate each moment as it comes as opposed to just taking it for granted because you can’t get it back.

When Talibah found out that her mother also had epilepsy, she was told to keep it on the down low. But the constant oppression of bottled-up frustration made her realize that RedBlack&Blue required the opposite. Hesitant to begin the project of raw, vocal expression, she valiantly decided to take the first step by discussing the issue openly in a status update on Facebook.

She pressed enter. Tears flowed. People responded.

“That’s when you figure out that there’s a thread that connects all of us. We all have to know that there is support.”

On the morning of the shoot, she walked by a homeless man asking for money, and realized: “How many emotions must you go through before you get to a place where you’re standing on a corner asking for help?” The artist now finds herself in his shoes, seeking the support of her fans to produce her next album.

RedBlack&Blue is funded by Pledge Music, a “direct-to-fan” project that assists the artist in creating the record while providing audiences with exclusive content. Talibah’s audience will choose up to six songs from three EPs – Red, Black and Blue – which will be narrowed down to 10 tracks for the final production.

(S)Cream, Talibah’s debut record, was also released through crowd funding. She has complete faith that RedBlack&Blue will be just as successful, if not more, as she reciprocates the support to a cause close to her heart

The artist will donate 10 per cent of the money raised to The Alzheimer’s Society of Canada. Talibah likes the format of Pledge Music because it shows a percentage, rather than a dollar, which “gives a sense of being a part of a big picture.” Currently over quota, things are looking pretty good.

The search won’t be over, even after the album is released. With a surname that means “seeker of knowledge,” Talibah lives up to her name in all aspects of life and is guided by her craft.

“It’s the ability to bring a sense of unconditional love to the surface,” her voice says with vigor. “That’s what I am seeking through music; talking with and connecting to people.”

sbtmusic.com

@SBTfly

This piece was first published in the Fall 2013 issue of CHLOE Magazine