The world is jazzed by the Italian-Canadian fusion that Espresso Manifesto is bringing to the recording table. City Life sat down with the songstress behind it all, Daniela Nardi
Like decades of soul-searchers before her, Canadian jazz singer Daniela Nardi discovered herself in Italy. “Culturally, artistically — for me, the country is inspiring,” says Nardi, a Toronto native whose family history lies in Calabria, Italy. The two of us are seated in a boardroom at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, where soon she and her Italian jazz band Espresso Manifesto will perform in front of an intimate crowd. “Italy resonates with me,” she continues. “I feel my real, capital-S self when I’m there because it’s such a deep, fundamental part of my DNA.” But Nardi, who was classically trained at the Royal Conservatory of Music and earned a degree in music from York University, wasn’t always this in tune with her roots. Born and raised in Toronto, it wasn’t until well into her musical career that she decided to fuse her talent with her Italian heritage. After the release of her second album, The Rose Tattoo, in 2008, the singer-songwriter was hit by a fierce bout of writer’s block. A summer-long stay in New York City with her husband, Canadian pianist Ron Davis, seemed to do the trick, especially after the couple happened to catch Italian singer Jovanotti performing in a club one night.
“It just hit such a deep chord in me — no pun intended — and it really made me want to do something with my background,” recalls Nardi. “I wanted to reconnect with my roots and make something fresh and new in the process.” And that’s the birth story of Espresso Manifesto, the band that Nardi named after the highly caffeinated token of Italian culture. In 2011, she assembled a troupe of musicians and travelled to Calvi dell’Umbria, where they recorded their first album, Daniela Nardi’s Espresso Manifesto — The Songs of Paolo Conte. Not typically one to produce cover albums, the project was something different for the songwriter.
“I’ve always loved Paolo Conte, and no woman has really taken on his music in that way,” says Nardi. “I decided to dive into his music, and it’s interesting that even though I’m singing someone else’s songs, it’s actually the most authentic material I’ve put out in some time.”
The clock in the boardroom is ticking, and it’s nearly time for Nardi to head over to her stage when I ask her what’s next for Espresso Manifesto. “We have to start thinking about a new album, and I have some ideas,” she says with a laugh that tells me she won’t be letting anyone in on too many pre-production secrets. “This time, I want to do more of a cross-cultural collaboration. I went to Italy [to record] my last one, but for our next album I want to do some here in Canada and some over there.” Performing her all-Italian ballads at the McMichael, the hub of all things Canadiana, seems like a good place to begin this next project: pulling inspiration from both sides of her heritage to treat listeners to the best of both worlds, musically.