There’s something brewing in Ottawa, and for once it has nothing to do with elections.
For a city known more for its politicians than its pop stars, Ottawa has done a pretty good job of presenting rising talent Kristina Maria to the world. The 22-year-old Lebanese-Canadian singer and songwriter will be launching her debut album on April 10, but already her singles “Let’s Play” and “Co-pilot” are tearing up the digital music sphere, having collectively reached over 100,000 downloads.
Not a bad achievement for someone who hasn’t even released an album yet, but it should come as no surprise. Her record is being released under Lupo One Productions Inc., run by none other than Vito Luprano, former executive producer for another Canadian songstress you might have heard of . . . named Celine Dion.
“It’s surreal,” says Kristina Maria. “Honestly, he introduced me to some of the best writers in the world, and I got to co-write with some of the best of the best.”
It is almost serendipitous how Kristina Maria even came to Luprano’s attention in the first place.
“I was knocking on doors. Some of them don’t answer; some of them, just, you don’t connect with and stuff,” she recalls. “So a mutual friend said, ‘Oh, I can take your little demo to Vito Luprano, so if he likes it, well, he likes it. And if he doesn’t – well, you tried. And that’s what this business is about.’”
It was a long shot, but it was one that paid off.
“A month and a half after I hear from him, he wanted to meet up with me, and we connected immediately, immediately!”
Coming out of retirement to manage newcomer artist Kristina Maria is no small matter, but the moment Luprano heard her sing, he knew he was on to something.
“I was trying to take a break, you know. Working with Celine for 23 years, I was thinking of taking a break,” he recalls. “Then all of a sudden, I’ve been home for like two months, and I was starting to take over the household, you know. My wife says, ‘You know, Vito, I love you, but you gotta get out of here.’ And it’s because of her. And she told me, ‘Can you go to the store for me? And here, take this CD with you; go listen to it.’ That’s how it started. I listened to it, and I saw the ability and her technique, the way she was singing. And I saw the credibility in writing. I knew she needed to get better, so I put her together with some of my friends, some of my close friends that worked with me.”
These friends of his included such influential names as Kristian Lundin, Andreas Carlsson, Anders Bagge, Peer Astrom, Billy Steinberg, Josh Alexander, and JC Chasez from ‘N Sync, to name a few. Collectively, the team Kristina Maria worked with to co-write 11 of the 14 songs on the record have also worked with such musical heavyweights as Katy Perry, Janet Jackson, Jennifer Lopez, the Backstreet Boys, and Madonna.
When Cadence spoke to Kristina Maria, she was in Toronto promoting her upcoming debut release, aptly titledTell the World. On the same day, almost a million Toronto viewers were introduced to her via her early morning performance on Citytv’s Breakfast Television segment.
“It’s a great feeling to know that we’re being put out there,” she says. “The main thing is that we’re promoting the album, and I’m so proud of the album. We’re all working, really, to just get that out there and kind of put the face to the songs.”
The multilingual singer has already been introduced to French audiences via a collaborative French remix of her dance-pop hit “Co-Pilot,” with Francophone sensation Corneille. The European exposure is only bound to increase thanks to her newly inked record deal with renowned French label Wagram.
Despite having woken up around 4 a.m. in order to make the Breakfast Television appearance and having had only a two-hour nap since, Kristina Maria is bright-eyed behind a pair of fashionably oversized black-rimmed glasses, and her conversation is peppered with quick hand gestures and bursts of laughter.
Her persona is bubbly and vivacious, and for someone who is being head-hunted by American record industry scouts and who already has a shot at success across the pond, Kristina Maria is remarkably humble. Her reaction to her rising achievements is one of awe.
“I’m still pinching myself. I’m taking it day by day. Again, to get to work with Vito Luprano – insane!”
When it’s pointed out to her that her background in musical training at the Ottawa Conservatory, where she studied for five years, might give her an edge over other aspiring artists, she is quick to refute the notion.
“No . . . I don’t want to say that, definitely not,” she says. “I mean, I gained knowledge, [but] I don’t want to say I know more than anybody else, ’cause I don’t! A lot of people know way more than me!” she adds with a laugh.
“And a lot of people still need to learn, and I look forward for them, and I think that’s really cool. But, I mean, advantage? No. I mean, I obviously like hitting the studios and knowing my harmonies – that definitely helps – and a few techniques that definitely do help, but ‘advantage to make it big’? No, I don’t want to say that. A lot of people come naturally, and they have beautiful voices.”
Coming from a family like hers, though, getting into music was almost a given for this young singer.
“I have two older brothers – we’re just a musical family; we always jam out. One of them raps, sings a little. And the other one, you can give him any – any – instrument, and he’ll figure it out on his own. He’s a self-taught kinda guy. He took the guitar and just started playing, like within an hour! Piano, same thing. Like there was this flute from Africa, and he was like, ‘Too-de-loo-loo . . .’[she mimes playing a flute]. And I’m like, ‘What? How are you doing this!’”
Vito also recalls her mother telling him how, when Kristina Maria was just about a year old, she would hum along to Lebanese songs as her mother sang.
“She’s been singing all her life. You know, her mom keeps telling me that when she was one-year old she would be humming to some Lebanese songs, but on key. So you could tell that she must have had the ear.”
Kristina Maria remembers her mother buying her karaoke CDs as a child, which she would then write little poems for and set to the music as songs – a songwriter in the making.
“Surprisingly, they sounded really good for a little girl. I mean, what does a little girl even know about love?” she exclaims with a laugh. “Do you know how many times my brother’s been like, ‘Haha, I’m totally gonna release this one day.’ And I’m like, ‘Noooo!’ I get threatened all the time. But it’s always something I’ve loved doing; it’s kind of a release for me, kind of like therapy – singing and writing, definitely.”
So what can fans expect from her official debut?
“It’s a day in the life of Kristina Maria, and that’s how I felt at the time that I wrote these songs,” she says. “I’m a regular girl, and I was angry at some point because I got my heart broken from a jerk, you know? And I have my sad days, and I have my really positive, go-getter days. And I have my dance-pop days, and flirtatious days, just like any other girl! And I really want people to connect with that, and I feel like a lot of people can relate with that. And it definitely has – because of the travelling – that Canadian feel, the American feel, and the European feel to it. So it’s kind of like a journey. And I really hope people love it.”
While she might politely disagree if you say it to her, it is clear that this young singer’s mix of natural talent and rigorous training are key ingredients for success. Backed with a powerhouse management team that worked with some of the biggest stars in recent history, it won’t be long before you won’t have to Tell the World who Kristina Maria is.