I remember the first time I started to listen to music, and realise how impactful it could be, watching an Italian Western film with music by Ennio Morricone which opened a Pandora’s Box of brilliance for me listening to music that was vocalised in a different language. Since then, I’ve never shied away from music because I don’t understand the lyrics. This is in no way devaluing the lyrical value of a song written and performed in a language different to our own, but simply to understand the voice as a musical instrument in its own right. One of my favourite artists is Zucchero and I understand virtually no Italian but love the songs. To stop listening to the words is like losing one of our senses in that it heightens the others; suddenly we are not listening to the words but to the emotion, the tone of the voice, the way the words are delivered. This could not be more apparent than in today’s release from Latin sensation Nicki Nicole.
‘Parte De Mi’ is an album two years in the making as Nicki, nominated last year for a Latin Grammy as a newcomer and again this year for rock song collaboration ‘Venganza’, continues her rise. This is an artist that has been making music for some time as she combines super slick rapping, fusion R&B and Latin trap. She may not be a household name for us just yet but it’s simply a matter of time if this new album is anything to go by. She has regularly charted on the Billboard Argentina 100 chart and has just released a collaboration with Rauw Alejandro, a fellow nominee in the new artist Grammy last year, called ‘Sabe’ which is a hip hop fiesta filled with good vibes and brilliant dance base lines as well as being intimate and personal.
“recording ‘Sabe’ with Rauw was incredible. Luckily we were able to get together in the studio, and everything felt smooth and organic. He is super talented and kind, we talked and decided where we wanted to go musically and the song turned out great.”
Nikki is a star already in her home country of Argentina and is an advocate for woman empowerment in that male dominated music scene. She even has a tattoo on her neck that reads “bullshit” and the star told The Guardian newspaper that this a reaction against the fact that in Argentina, women “are told how to act, how they should dress. I got this tattoo to say ‘F*ck that-I’ll do what I want.”
If doing what she wants is how she has put together this new album, then please continue. It’s an album full of diverse rhythm, pulsating beats, emotions, feelings and story-telling that takes the artist to a completely new level. If a record was designed to illustrate diversity, then title track ‘Parte De Mi’, translated ‘part of me’, is hugely moving and a real departure for Nikki. Watch the videos of Nicki’s songs with subtitles to understand the words but please only do this after you have let the musicality of the release wash over you so that you can understand how talented Nicki is at conveying emotion by vocalisation. The lyrical quality of the songs will then come as a beautiful added bonus.
She says of the album:
“After a year of isolation, I wanted to use this album to reconnect and remind everyone that we are all part of each other. I want my fans to feel as much a part of me as I do of them. We are the sum of moments, people, places, gazes, laughter, all things that unite us and make us who we are. I wanted this album to belong to the listeners just as much as it does to me. They are a major part of why I am where I am.”
Nicki has felt she had something to say from a very young age. At 17, Nicki would go to guerrilla freestyle MC competitions in public squares in her home town of Rosario, Argentina’s third biggest city, and despite being enthralled and charmed by the quick witted versatility of the rappers was, at the same time, left feeling out of sync by the machismo and aggression that seemed to make liking this music more difficult for women to embrace. She decided that the way to battle this injustice was with the weapons she had at hand, her brilliant voice and quick mind. As a male rapper chanted about how a woman was to blame for male violence against her because of how she dressed, Nicki retorted with her own mantra that people like him were to blame. Official statistics in Argentina say that a woman is killed every 32 hours and the audience erupted into whoops and cheers. The stage was set for change. The stage was set for Nicki and this album is the fruition of two years of deliberation, deep thought and work to make this the best album it could be. I get the feeling Nicki is a perfectionist, and if that’s the case, job done!
The album is sixteen tracks long and is full of collaboration. This has obviously been a chance to absorb the other artists’ powers like some modern Latin superhero, getting to know their styles, getting into their world and understanding their work ethics. For such a young artist to be so excited to learn and grow can only mean that this album will not only please her already huge popularity, she has over 10 million Instagram followers, but will draw more fans and believers into the world of Nicki Nicole. One of those believers is the legendary Christina Aguilera who has joined forces with Nicki, Nathy Peluso and Becky G to release a song of female empowerment, telling women everywhere how much they are worth. On Nicki’s verse it is clear how deeply she feels this and she excels in getting her message across to women, and men, everywhere. If someone as influential in music as Christina wants to work with Nicki and sing in Spanish, then we should sit up and take notice. Listening to the album will convert you, trust me.
The album cover sums up how Nicki wants her music and her being to be visualised. She is very much an advocate, it seems, of the idea that the puzzle pieces of humanity, like musical genre dexterity, can be pushed together to make a better whole. She is really happy with the album’s beautiful art work and says:
“I think the cover art is a representation of humans. Showing how all of us are the sum of fragments, clippings, parts. We liked playing with the idea of a jigsaw puzzle demonstrating that no matter how it’s all put together, we are all the product of various things that complete us and make us who we are”.
At 21, Nicki seems to have a very strong hold on the artist she wants to be, and I am thrilled to have been given the chance to listen to this wonderful album. I would recommend searching out her Tiny Desk Home Concert video online to really understand how good this artist is. In the stripped back showcase of her talent, Nicki previews this album in an intimate, soulful way. Trust me, even if you don’t understand a word of Spanish, you will be moved. Nicki is an artist that is taking on the establishment of machismo, the ingrained misogyny, the preconceived ideas of how a woman should behave in an environment that takes real bravery. She’s doing that with the shield of music and the sword of change. She is much more than an artist; she is a musical leader. Buy the album and join the crusade.
The first thing you’ll notice in the video of ‘The Ballad Of Elvis Presley’ is Josie Cotton’s sky-high beehive hair, the likes of which we’ve not seen since the late great Amy Winehouse – or, more likely given the subject matter, Priscilla Presley. But hair like that is a good sign that we’re in for a treat, and Josie Cotton and Kevin Preston certainly don’t disappoint.
‘The Ballad Of Elvis Presley’ is just that – a biographical journey through his life and career, from his origins in Tupelo Mississippi to his demise at his Graceland estate. The collaboration between Josie Cotton and Kevin Preston – the latter with his own Elvis style bouffant – couldn’t come at a better time, with the recent release of Baz Luhrmann’s ‘Elvis’ biopic, and with a rhythm section including Lee Rocker of the Stray Cats, and Blondie’s Clem Burke, is guaranteed to find a welcome space in the hearts of not just Elvis’s fans, but also fans of great music.
The music video for ‘Ballad Of Elvis Presley’, directed by Piper Ferguson, sees Josie and Kevin in a ghost town, set loose in a saloon, a church, and a duelling ground. They’re joined by others as well, including a laid back bartender, a gunslinger, a dead ringer for Calamity Jane, and a slew of poker players. The members of the band have set up behind the swinging wooden doors of the bar, and they’re certainly ready for a showdown with anybody who even dares question that Elvis Presley is, and always shall be, The King.
You can listen to ‘The Ballad Of Elvis Presley’ below, and follow Josie Cotton online to find out more about the artist and her music on her official website, Facebook, and Instagram.
Jojo Engelbert has been on our radar for a while now, and if you’ve not yet caught on, we recommend you do so, starting with her latest release, ‘Sweet N Sour’, because it marks a new turn in her career. Still in her teens, Jojo is nonetheless an entertainment industry veteran, and we caught up with her and asked her a few questions.
We’ve been following your music career for a few years now, and we’ve seen you go from strength to strength. Your new single, ‘Sweet N Sour’ is a different tack for you stylistically, what’s the reasoning behind that and what should fans expect next?
I really found the sound I love with Sweet N Sour. Eli (big brother) shared with me a track he produced and I told him it was perfect for the sound I wanted. I’m not a pop singer. I’m drawn to a darker alternative/punk sound. As much as I liked Grown Up, it just isn’t me. So I really wanted to find my space following that release. You can expect this sound to continue and develop.
You’ve seen your older siblings growing up in the public eye on their tv shows, and you’ve also appeared with them; what has that experience been like, and has there ever been a time where you’ve thought that you would rather not be in entertainment? What would you choose to do if you weren’t a singer?
Their experiences are their own, but I was fortunate to get a sense of what the business is like from a young age. I remember when I was like six or seven years old and they had a concert and were signing autographs afterwards. That looked like a lot of fun to me. I didn’t quite understand why nobody wanted my autograph. That night, Zoey taught me a song and the following day we performed it at their concert. I got to sit at the autograph table. One person asked for it. It was my dad.
I was fortunate to have a couple great roles in regional theatre (Small Alison in Fun Home and Mary Lennox in Secret Garden) which led me to Nancy Carson (Carson Adler Agency) which led to other really cool opportunities.
My passions are acting and singing. I can’t imagine pursuing any other career.
Who most inspires your musical style? What are the top three songs on your playlist right now, and why are they there?
I draw from inspiration from the likes of Charli XCX, Olivia Rodrigo, Ariana Grande, Hayley Williams and Marina.
My current top three songs would have to be:
Forever – Charlie XCX, Go Away – Tate McRae and Womanizer – Britney Spears
We’re coming out the other side of the Covid-19 pandemic. How did it affect you, and what lessons have you learned from it that you’ll take with you, returning to normal life?
It was a terrible time for everyone. It certainly impacted opportunities to act and perform. I decided to spend the time really developing my acting skills and vocal technique. I knew I did not want to fall behind. Quite the opposite. I wanted to emerge better and stronger.
Finally, I ask this of everyone I interview: what question do you wish someone would ask you in an interview, but nobody ever does? And what’s the answer to that question?
That’s a tough one. Being a bit of an introvert, I’m OK with fewer questions. But I do want to thank you for this interview!
Anyone familiar with the music scene in New York would be aware of the talent of Jenny Bruce, who released her debut album in 1997 and went on to win the Billboard International Songwriting Contest in 2001, accepting her award at Nashville’s iconic Bluebird Cafe. She went on to build a huge following amongst the NYC crowd by appearing in festivals and clubs and appeared on stage with John Oates, Sophie B Hawkins, Vanessa Carlton and Avril Lavigne amongst others. Her songs have been featured far and wide in TV and film and to the musical bystander, things would have appeared to be going from strength to strength but this American singer songwriter was coming to a pinch point in her life that would create the need for a musical rebirth.
In 2015 she released an EP ‘Firefly in a Jar’ which included the single ‘Giving Up the Ghost’ which felt like a heart breaking goodbye to her Mother with lyrics like: “I still come undone when it’s time to say goodbye” and “I hear your voice softer than the breeze, you speak to me, the rustling of leaves, I don’t care why there’s a part of me that will never say goodbye, giving up the ghost” which is backed by a repeated mantra of “I’m not giving up”. This EP marked a return after a self-imposed step away from music of ten years and Jenny was quoted as saying:
“It’s such a long story. To sum it up. I didn’t write for myself for over a decade. I bottled everything up and locked it in a jar. Especially the feelings of loss after my Mother died. That loss broke my heart and hurt so much that I kind of shut down. Thing is, I became a mother around the same time. It was a very confusing period in my life. These songs are little life rafts that I wrote to pull myself up and out of a numbing sea”
It was to be 5 years later that Jenny released album GHOSTE, the name of which may have sprung directly from the thought of giving up the ghost by becoming GHOSTE, the silent e at the end almost suggesting anything but silence. Officially giving up the ghost and adopting GHOSTE meant that Jenny was able to emerge from the critically acclaimed and award winning song writing of the past to become something different but the same, a butterfly from the chrysalis of her song writing past. The eponymous album under the new name came out in 2020 and immediately caught the eye; the powerful song writing was of course still there but there was an ethereal quality in the electro pop style that suggested a musical rebirth.
Jenny has been asked about the name and she recalls:
“My late Mom cautioned me that after you turn 50 nobody listens to you and you become invisible, a ghost. Having crossed the 50-yard line, myself, I would tell her that aging doesn’t make you invisible. Trying to be something you are not, does.”
There are so many things we can draw from this simple and yet revealing statement. The nod to the 50-yard line suggests so much more than a number of birthdays and hints that Jenny sees this as a half way mark in her career before she goes on the offensive. There’s a real suggestion that up until now, she was trying to be something she wasn’t. She has garnered huge success from an early contractual agreement to write for TV and film but this comes with certain shackles that musically she seems determined to cast aside. The fact that she has moved away from the possibility of invisibility and being a ghost by becoming something more than a ghost, hence the added e, is a definite statement of intent that she will be heard.
Scroll forward to now and we see music from the artist in the shape of a five track EP show casing last year’s album release. The haunting music, excuse the pun, brings to mind the vocals of Kate Bush or Annie Lennox, artists whose vocal style has inspired so many of today’s singers and producers. Assisted by Matt Anthony, producer and composer, GHOSTE’s new music is the culmination of over a decade of collaboration that has finally found its wings.
The track listing of the teaser EP for the album could be the chapters of a book; ‘slow motion’, ‘deep water’, ‘fix you’, ‘hold on’ and ‘brick by brick’ suggest a progression of a career but all tracks are infused with Jenny’s inimitable style. GHOSTE even manages the almost impossible feat of covering a Coldplay song, often attempted but rarely adding anything. In this instance Jenny brings new nuance to the lyrics within the framework of this musical rebirth.
The selection opens with ‘Slow Motion’, an upbeat opener which quickly works its way into your memory before moving to the stunning ‘Deep Water’, which has a cinematic feel to it which builds with a beautiful ‘deep water’ refrain reminiscent of Ennio Morricone before a Kate Bush like climax; it’s a song that is so stunningly layered and the stand out track for me. Next is ‘Fix You’ which GHOSTE covers with real style; I’m sure that Chris Martin would love the almost galactic feel to the production of this wonderful song. The penultimate track, ‘Hold On’ is another wonderfully layered track with very moving lyrics and great production, much in the style of Jack Garratt, the superb UK artist. ‘Brick by Brick’ opens with the line ‘It’s a long way back, I can hear you calling’ and that feels like a direct reference to this musical return and the heartbreaks and life changing episodes that have made up the fabric of Jenny’s life since her self-imposed hiatus. The lyrics are a wonderful reworking of the three little pig’s children’s story and references the rebuilding of a musical vision but in brick this time; a suggestion that this time she will not be “blown down”.
There is so much emotion in this release and so much underlying story telling. Like the production, it will haunt you in stages. Firstly, you will love the wonderful electro pop cinematic quality of the music, then you will fall in love with Jenny’s wonderful voice, reminiscent of artists past but also reminding me of the brilliant Riva Taylor, a UK artist equally inspired by Kate Bush, but finally the thing that will stay with you forever will be the incredible lyrics; the honesty, the baring of a soul and the feeling that this is the start of a new exciting journey built on the lessons of the past. It turns out that the 50 yard line is just the beginning.