10 Questions With… Ni Maxine

10 Questions With… A series that delves into fresh new releases from some of our favourite artists. With a focus on our Melodic Distraction hosts and wider community, this lil natter gives us an insight into their musical escapades when they’re in their studio, not ours. 

Following the release of her highly anticipated debut single ‘Strange Love’, we chat with BBC Introducing rising star, Ni Maxine! The neo-jazz singer-songwriter takes to the Africa Oyé stage this weekend, following a run of sold-out shows and consistent support from Radio 1 and Jazz FM. Also part of LIMF Academy’s Top 3 ‘Most Ready’ Artists of 2022/23, we’re incredibly excited to see what the next year holds for Ni…

Hi Ni! We’re loving your brand new single ‘Strange Love’. What are the ideas behind it?

Thank you so much! Really, it’s a journey through love and relationships, a rumination process which helped me reach the conclusion that I was missing self-love all along and I wanted everybody to learn to love themselves. 

Can you tell us a bit more about the process of writing it? Who were you listening to at the time?

It was written such a long time ago now, but I can tell you what I was watching! Michaela Coel’s ‘I May Destroy You’ and probably listening to Amy Winehouse, because I am often listening to Amy Winehouse and Aretha Franklin – Day Dreamin’. I LOVE that song and it was a big recording reference for me. I have also been obsessed with Charlotte Dos Santos – It’s Over Bobby since I heard it, so that is an influence.  

So, how did the song come about? Well, my partner, Kieran, and I were visiting his parents and in the process of watching ‘I May Destroy You’ and there was a particular episode which really stopped me in my tracks and sent me spiralling into a dark place. Being the amazing partner that he is, Kieran got his guitar out and we started writing a song and ‘Strange Love’ was born. He played guitar and I sang what came to me. I have the recording somewhere, it’s really slow, like a lullaby, really full of feeling. Maybe I will share bits of it, one day…

At which point would you say you stopped being just a jazz music lover and started making your own jazz music?

I started taking writing seriously during lockdown, as a means of escaping from reality and in many cases, finding my own answers to questions that I had and closure. Writing songs for me is a healing process. I don’t think I consciously chose to make ‘jazz’ music and I’m not even sure I REALLY know what that is, from a technical perspective, but I think spending so much time listening to the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Nancy Wilson, Blossom Dearie, Julie London, Amy Winehouse, Nina Simone and Billie Holiday means I have soaked up some of their musical styling and also, in the case of Nina and Billie, their need to speak out against injustice and reflect the times, sharing my own perspective as a Black British woman.

Congratulations on being chosen as one of LIMF Academy’s Most Ready Artists 2022! What are you hoping to achieve over the course of the mentoring programme?

Thank you so much! LIMF has been absolutely life-changing. I am not sure that people know just how much of an amazing opportunity it is but it’s provided such an amazing space for me to explore my artistry and develop my music and my network as well as giving me the opportunity to connect with like-minded artists in Liverpool right now. I feel like I’m part of a very exciting scene and I will always shout about LIMF Academy.

In terms of what’s next, I am in the process of recording some music which will be released in the coming months and I am hoping that I can develop the best process for making it reach as many ears as possible!

Can you tell us more about the ‘Strange Love’ launch party – how did you integrate the theme of ‘self-love’?

So, my plan was to invite everyone into my home and make everyone comfortable enough to really be themselves, meet new people, catch up with old friends and make new ones. Everyone seemed to get on really well, which I loved to see. There was such a beautiful vibe – People who were just popping in ended up staying for hours! I left paper and pens out in ‘my lady garden’ (all will be revealed) so people could write love letters to themselves and take away some flowers, as a reminder to be kind to themselves. 

With a string of sold-out shows behind you, how do you usually prepare for a gig? Any pre-show rituals?

Goodness me, my preparation for a show is normally to confirm my set-list way too late, because I’m really spiritual about it and need to sing what feels natural and right in that moment and my band (bless them) are so patient – Thanks guys! I am so anxious before I go on and I run around like a little child then as soon as I step out, it’s SERIOUS. I love eating curry before a show, although it sometimes makes me burp while I’m singing… Just keeping it real haha!

As a black woman navigating home, identity and belonging within the modern world, what challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them? How do you hope to inspire young people going through a similar experience?

The hardest thing about growing up Black and British is not understanding what racism is and struggling with your mental health for years before you hit rock-bottom and someone finally takes you seriously. That was my experience. British culture is nuanced; racism is literally built into the curriculum and every system that we navigate so it’s hard to thrive at times but I want every black woman to thrive! We have got to love ourselves, no matter what, get to know what it means to be Black and British and surround ourselves with people who love us for exactly who we are, without us needing to pretend to be something we are not. I want to keep creating spaces where this can happen for us!

Can you tell us a bit more about your new residency at The Wombat Jazz Club? 

The Wombat Jazz Club is mine and Kieran’s baby, it’s a pop-up jazz club concept and I am the host, which means I do also get up and sing too. We get so frustrated when it comes to planning a night out, feeling like there isn’t really a night that has everything we want so we thought we’d create our own and we are looking for spaces to pop up regularly, so get in touch if you have any ideas!

Are there any other local artists you’ve got on your radar at the moment? 

I am obsessed with Hannah-Morgan and Rufu. Producer wise, you all need to keep an eye on The Bedroom Beatmaker!

What else is coming up for you?

Next stop, Africa Oyé! I am playing the main stage on Sunday 19th June 2022 at 13:00 so make sure you’re there early! I’m playing LIMF Festival on the 30th July so keep your eyes peeled for venue announcements and I’m planning a tour in The North this autumn, with the generous support of Jazz North, so if you’re a promoter and you want to book me, get in touch with them!

Go and stream my debut single ‘Strange Love’ in all of the usual places!

Catch Ni Maxine performing at Africa Oyé this Sunday, 1:10pm. In the meantime, check out her brand new single ‘Strange Love’ below!

Ni Maxine · Ni Maxine – Strange Love