Wednesday, July 15, 2020

10 Questions For: Nico


She has a solid, well-established career in Romania. Also, she has one of the most talented voices in the country. And now, Sounds European! had the honor of interviewing her, and getting to know more about her career, and the wonderful person she is. It was a true delight to talk to her! These are our 10 questions for Nico:

Sounds European!: We like to start our interviews getting to know a bit about the artists' music backgrounds. What are your first memories with music? What artists did you enjoy listening when you were growing up? Do you feel they have, in any sense, helped shape the artist you are today?

Nico: I started singing at an early age. As a child, I remember I used to sing all day long for my friends on the streets of the neighborhood I grew up in. Later on, I attended the courses of a singing school called "Popular Arts School" in my hometown.
Barbra Streisand, Natalie Cole, Etta James were definitely my big influences in music. But when it comes to an artist I focused on, an artist who I truly admired and I totally took as a role model, this is clearly Whitney Houston. I've always felt she had the most complex voice I've ever listened to, and I can truly say that she was my inspiration.

SE!: We've talked about your background, now let's talk about your career. What were your first steps as a professional singer? How did you feel when you started seeing people listening to your music? And at what moment have you realized "That's it: I am an artist, and this is my future"?

N: I took my first steps for achieving my dream of becoming a professional singer by singing at the local theatre in my home town, where I'm still performing. From that point, I started developing my career besides the theatre activity, by providing vocals for hip-hop songs released by different Romanian artists and also by competing on reputable festivals in Romania.
My debut was in 2002, with the release of "Cine e cu noi", a major hit single in Romania by hip-hop group B.U.G. Mafia. I sang the chorus and the success of the song took me by storm, with many other collaborations to follow, as well as with the release of my first studio album coming the next year. I was overwhelmed by the affection I received from the audience and the press.

SE!: When we look at the career you have built, we can notice you have been through several music competitions. That made you travel with your music to several different countries. Why did you choose to go the competition path? And how does it feel to be able to showcase your work to such different audiences?

N: I participated in singing competitions from an early age. I think, for singers from my generation, such competitions were the The X Factor or The Voice of that time. They represented a big chance for a new artist to be discovered.
Since I am a very competitive person, I continued to participate and let my voice be heard. I won some international music festivals in Bulgaria, Kazakhstan and Turkey.
For me, attending international festivals was also a real opportunity to get to know various cultures. For example, my song "Un ideal", from my 2007 album "Cast away", is a remake of a traditional song from Kazakhstan's culture. Similarly, my 2018 single "Oare cine?" has some soft oriental influences.

SE!: Among the competitions you have taken part of, there are two we would like to talk about more deeply. The first one is Eurovision. You have participated in Romania's National Final some times and, eventually, you represented your country in Belgrade. What can you tell us about your times in the National Finals? And what about your experience in the festival in 2008?

N: Taking part in the Eurovision Song Contest has always been a big challenge for me!
Prior to the 2008 National Selection for Eurovision, I was a constant contestant, taking part in five National Selections and submitting six songs, out of which three made it to the final.
I took it step by step, finishing on the third and on the second places before winning the chance to represent my country.
I remember one of the songs I was pretty sure it would take us to Eurovision was "Jokero", performed with Akcent. The song was already a hit single in Romania and it also started to gain airplay in several European countries.
But Eurovision is unpredictable and you can't bet on a song! At the end of the day, it's the decision of the audience!
Competing within Eurovision in Belgrade was the most important achievement of my career. Everything out there works by a strict schedule. The stage, the green room – oh my God, the audience, what an audience! In the semifinals, Vlad and I were very happy with our qualification to the grand final, where we opened the competition, performing as the first ones. It wasn't that easy to be the first act, but the audience helped us a lot, by giving us such a warm welcome! Although the song finished in the 20th place, it won the Marcel Bezençon Composer Award, to that date being the only Romanian entry to win such an award.
Outside the competition, ESC is a great opportunity to meet artists from different countries. For example, in Belgrade, I met Sirusho (Armenia's entrant) and we are still in touch.

SE!: The second competition we would like to discuss is Te Cunosc de Undeva [Romania's Your Face Sounds Familiar]. There, we could see a different side of your talents. How was it different, for you, to have to perform "as other people"? How was the whole process of turning into somebody else week after week? And which would you say were the most challenging acts you had to recreate?

N: Te Cunosc de Undeva was another challenge for me. In my live concerts, I use to cover a lot of songs from the international repertoire. But with every performance, I try to own the song, to make it mine somehow. That's why, when you are asked to imitate an artist, it isn't an easy thing to do. At least for me, it wasn't that easy. I received some characters which I think I managed to impersonate pretty well, like Alicia Keys (who I adore), Melanie Fiona, Dua Lipa or Stevie Wonder. Céline Dion and Lara Fabian are unique artists, I think it's impossible to try and copy them, even though I won a gala by singing Lara's "Je suis malade". The most challenging character I had to recreate was definitely AC/DC. I sang "Shoot to thrill"; it was hard, but at the end of the song, I was glad I made it!

"With a euro-pop genre, it's easier to access different mainstream markets. I've chosen a different path, a different genre, a different audience"
(Picture: Miriam Dumitrescu)

SE!: The Romanian music scene is one of the most prolific ones in Europe. What are some advantages and disadvantages of developing a career in such a flourishing environment? How was it, for you, to find your own place in the music market?

N: There are some Romanian artists who made it outside Romania: look at Inna, Alexandra Stan, Akcent, Edward Maya and more. They are very successful in Europe and not only.
Truth is, with a euro-pop genre, it's easier to access different mainstream markets. I've chosen a different path, a different genre, a different audience. I've focused on developing a career in Romania, since my debut occurred when I was already 33 years old.

SE!: For your latest single, "Esti liber", you gathered with other big female artists to deliver powerful feminist lyrics. Tell us more about the project, and about the message you want to pass along with this song.

N: I started a soft pop-rock project last year, by releasing "4 pereti" ("4 walls"). Since it was well received by audience and radio stations, I decided to continue it. "Esti liber" ("You're free") was written during the lockdown. I fell in love with it when I first heard it.
Since the message is a feminist one, I asked some of my colleagues to join me for the music video. Amna, Adda, Nicole Cherry and Misha all have built amazing careers in music and I was truly happy that they accepted to be part of this project.
The song talks about the independent woman that finds courage to go on by herself when she finds the beloved one cheats on her.
It has received positive reviews and I am so thankful to my team for writing it and to my fans for making this song popular.

SE!: Speaking of collaborations, you've teamed up with several other artists throughout your career. What are some of your most remarkable experiences collaborating with other people? And, looking ahead, if you could choose anyone, who would be some Romanian and international artists you would still like to collaborate with?

N: I've always been into collaborations. I feel that it's important to work with other artists. Not only for the fanbase, but also for a permanent development.
Many of my collaborations are with hip-hop/rap artists, and that's because I know that's where I can be myself.
Definitely, the collaboration with B.U.G. Mafia will always be special to me, I had an amazing time back then! So I would be more than happy to work with these guys again.
At an international level, I admire Alicia Keys and Delta Goodrem. I'd love to work with them!

SE!: We can imagine that the COVID-19 situation has changed some of your plans for this year. How were you affected by the pandemics? And what can we and your fans expect from you in the near future?

N: Indeed, the COVID-19 situation has changed a lot of plans for all the people involved in art.
I had to postpone "Suflet pereche", a brand new concert-play, a production of the theatre I'm performing at. It is a brand new production in which I perform all of my popular songs. I hope to bring it to the audience again soon.
My fans can expect new music from me, as always, because I try to release new songs constantly. I'm lucky to have a recording studio at home and my constant team beside me (Laurentiu Matei and Ovidiu Iordache – the composer and the lyricist). Also, I have, in plan, the release of a traditional Romanian music album.

SE!: We would like to finish this interview with a song of yours. What is your favorite song by Nico, and why?

N: That's the hardest question. Honestly. :)
It's hard to choose from all of them.
If I think of my latest releases, I'd go for "Suflet pereche"; that song can calm me down with every rehearsal, with every performance. There's something special about this song and it's also a fan favorite.
But my signature song and my all time favorite is definitely "Nu pot sa mai suport". It means so much to me and I'm more than happy to see that today, more than 17 years from the original release, it has such an authentic and actual sound, being known not only by people in my generation, but also by youth.

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