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Tanja Maritsa - The IndieLondon interview

Tanja Maritsa

Interview by Rob Carnevale

WITH a voice which has already been likened to many a great singer such as Joni Mitchell, Eva Cassidy, and Madeleine Peyroux and her own enchanting, self-penned melodies, Tanja Maritsa has created her own unique signature style.

Her new album, Fragile, features 10 tracks of her own material and two reinterpretations of classic songs. She talks exclusively to IndieLondon about her career to date, comparisons to the greats and the inspiration behind her album.

Q. You must be incredibly excited about the release of Fragile. What inspired the album?
Tanja Maritsa: Yes, very excited. It was really a culmination of ideas, but the main underlying theme of the album is about how fragile and delicate life is and how we should try to savour every moment. It was written and recorded at a time when my father was very ill so I think that made it all the more poignant for me and hopefully it is for others who listen to it.

Q. And likewise, what inspired the lead single, Live For Today? It’s an empowering sentiment…
Tanja Maritsa: Well, it’s a reminder to me as much as anyone else really that we should try not worry too much about the minutia in life and to try to live in the moment. I think most people lead extremely busy and stressful lives to the point where we almost forget what life should really be about and forget to appreciate what we do have.

Q. Do you find that you’re growing more confident as a songwriter following the success of Child In My Heart and the encouragement you subsequently received from people like Richard Niles?
Tanja Maritsa: Yes, definitely. It’s a real pleasure when someone likes your songs and can relate to what you’ve written. Of course, I’m still developing and finding my niche as it were, but perhaps that’s a never ending process because as you experience more things in life you inevitably you change and develop as an artist.

Q. What was it like getting to work with someone like Naseer Shamma on the album?
Tanja Maritsa: A real inspiration. Naseer is a wonderfully generous artist and person. Although he’s one of the top musicians in the Middle East, he’s very approachable. He has a genuine passion for his music and never seems to stop having ideas or wanting to try out news things. He’s also recently asked me to sing on one of his new compositions – which is a real honour and I have to start practising my Arabic ! :)

Q. And similarly, Fragile features a rosta of some great accompanying musicians, from Richard Cottle to James Graydon. What was it like working with them?
Tanja Maritsa: It’s been wonderful to work with them. They’re all very talented and dedicated musicians but also have a great sense of humour, which made recording the album that much more enjoyable.

Q. Do you find yourself reminiscing about past experiences and collecting great anecdotes during any downtime with the likes of Richard Niles? Do you have a favourite anecdote you’d like to share?
Tanja Maritsa: Well, I’m not sure if Richard has much in the way of down time – he’s a hive of activity! He thrives on being busy, which is very admirable. Both the albums were recorded at his home studio Nucool Studios, so it’s always a very relaxed atmosphere; we have his lovely wife who supplied us with lots of homemade cake while we were working and his adorable little boy always likes to pop his head round the door to demand some attention from his dad! So, it’s always very amusing.

Q. You’re predominantly known as a jazz singer, and yet you mix styles on this album, to include folk and world music? So where do you draw your musical inspirations from? Who inspires you?
Tanja Maritsa: I never know how to answer this question really because I think we all assimulate things subconsciously, so it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what or who has inspired me. Thinking about the songs on the album, Live For Today, for example, is really a French chanson, and having been brought up in Paris until I was five, I was obviously exposed to a lot of French music and I love some of the old French songs and singers like Edith Piaf.

There are also a couple of Tango songs on the album such as In Love Again and the cover version of Libertango but I’m not sure why I love Tango so much. It probably comes from watching old films when I was little annd remembering the romantic pictures of dancers clasped together, rose between teeth. I’m a desperate romantic – so I suspect it was an early love affair :).

Also, I love the different sound that the oud has brought to the album. I have family in Egypt so spend a lot of time there, and I love traditional Egyptian songs – they’re often very melancholic and heartfelt.

Tanja Maritsa

Q. What makes jazz so special?
Tanja Maritsa: I love all the old jazz songs from the Great American Songbook – songs by Irving Berlin, the Gershwin brothers, Cole Porter. They wrote wonderfully melodious music and I think that’s what drew me in the first place… not to mention all the fabulous singers, of course, like Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday.

Q. How was growing up in Paris and how indebted to your mother are you, as I gather she first helped to develop your passion for music?
Tanja Maritsa: I was five when we left Paris to come and live in England but it’s very strange how even a relatively short period of time can affect your outlook and how you feel. Paris is still a very special place for me and I love the old cobbled streets in areas like Montmatre, where you have accordion players on every corner, outside coffe shops, little tree-lined squares – you’re in the heart of a big city but it has a gentle, relaxing feel.

My mother has always loved singing. When I was growing up she would sing constantly – old French songs, jazz songs, songs from musicals – so yes, I defintely have her to thank for my passion for singing.

Q. And how influential and encouraging was Colette Meury?
Tanja Maritsa: When I first met her, I had a very classical voice, so trying to sing folk and jazz songs was a real learning process, and meant changing my whole approach to singing, particularly in terms of how I pronounced my vowels and words. But she’s coached a lot of singers and knew exactly how to go about it. As well as being a great vocal coach she’s also a talented songwriter, so she was also a great support when I first started writing songs.

Q. How do you feel about being compared to singers such as Joni Mitchell, Dory Previn and Madeleine Peyroux?
Tanja Maritsa: I adore all of them so it’s a huge compliment.

Q. Do you still look back fondly on your days with your jazz folk covers band? And what were the favourite tracks you played?
Tanja Maritsa: Yes, very much so and I still love singing all the old standards like Black Cofee, Bewitched Bothered and Bewildered, Blue Moon

Q. What’s been the most valuable piece of advice you’ve received in reaching this point?
Tanja Maritsa: Something that Richard says which is ‘accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative’. It’s so true for singing, or anything you do in life for that matter, but for singing you do need to keep listening to yourself and seeing how you can improve

Q. What advice would you pass on to anyone wanting to follow in your footsteps?
Tanja Maritsa: To try and be yourself in what you do and in how you sing and if you believe in what you do, to persevere.

Q. As the year progresses, what are your live plans? When and where can UK fans see you, particularly London-based ones?
Tanja Maritsa: We have some gigs planned in late Autumn mainly in the South London area – details to be posted soon on my website :o)

Tanja Maritsa, Fragile

Q. What do you like about living in London?
Tanja Maritsa: London is full of life. It’s a glorious mix of everything – of people, of food, of music. We have it all and I dont think there are that many places in the world where you’d find that.

Q. What’s the most satisfying thing you’ve had written about you? And the most shocking?
Tanja Maritsa: I’ve had some fabulous reviews for the album and the singles which is great. One review, in particular, described my other single, Fading Grace – a duet I perform with pianist Gwilym Simcock – as ‘understated and stunning’. I was delighted because I think that’s ultimately what I’d like to achieve. As for shocking, well I think being compared to great artists like Joni Mitchell is pretty shocking!! But in a very nice way, of course. :)

Q. Away from the music scene, what does your ideal day off consist of?
Tanja Maritsa: Well, I have to admit when the switch button goes off – it is well and truly off so my perfect day would be somewhere warm and by the sea. It’s probably the Mediterranean in me but I love the sea.

Q. Finally, what are the 10 tracks that are never far from your iPod player at the moment?
Tanja Maritsa: Cat Stevens – MoonShadow
Madeleine Peyroux – Don’t Wait Too Long
Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitgerald – Cheek to Cheek
The Doors – Light My Fire
Nick Drake – Saturday Sun
John Martyn – SunShine Better on The Other Side
Nina Simone – Here Comes The Sun
Judy Garland – Somewhere Over The Rainbow
Eva Cassidy – Fields of Gold
Roberta Flack – The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face