28-year-old Janice Mangion rose to fame in the first quarter of this year following the success of Kewkba. Composed by Mark Scicluna with lyrics by Emil Calleja Bayliss, Kewkba secured second place with just some hundreds of votes short from winning the whole contest altogether. Clifford Jo Zahra, accompanied by photographer David Grima, meets up with the singer to get to know her better, learn about any projects in the pipeline, and about her participation in Discovery Fest, the international pop music festival held in Bulgaria.
An accounts clerk in a family-run business, Janice Mangion juggles her time between work, time at the gym as well as meeting up with friends ever now and then. Singing takes up most of her time, and although she managed to achieve second place in this year’s Malta Eurovision Song Contest, she still feels like she has “a very long way to go. At the end of the day, while increasing the number of opportunities, this result should serve more as an encouragement rather than anything else.”
What came first, Kewkba or the wish to submit a song for the Festival? “At first, we had come up with the idea to write a song in Maltese specifically for the festival. A year ago we were working for another festival and an idea popped in mind: why not try for this Festival”. Janice Mangion admits that it was not easy to decide on submitting a song entirely in Maltese in a festival dominated by songs in English. However, she was convinced once she listened to the song and started believing in it and in its power.
Did her enthusiasm get transmitted so easily onto her immediate family members though? “My mother and sister were among the first to listen to the song. Although they were immediately attracted to it, both were a bit worried about the decision. Their concern reflected that by the general public. Since it has been a long time that a song in Maltese was sung at the Festival, they were worried that it won’t go down well with the public.” The title of the song attracted attention as people thought that the team had spelled Kewkba incorrectly. In reality they were confusing the term with kewba which in actual fact refers to oak wood.
As soon as the finalists were announced, Kewkba, being the only song in Maltese competing alongside 15 other songs in English, became the talk of the town. Did it do so well because it was relatively easy to distinguish from all the others? Janice contests such a possibility. “I believe that Kewkba is a good song, irrespective of the fact that it is in Maltese”. Once Team Kewkba started seeing positive reactions on youtube from non-locals, they started to believe more and more in the song. “Their encouragement was particularly important because they don’t understand the language, which proved to me that language was going to be a non-issue if it ever reached the international stage.”
If one were to go through all the interviews that Janice Mangion had on different media, a recurrent point that she emphasised is that Kewkba is a relatively powerful song. “Apart from the typical blend of a good singer, lyrics and music, there is another crucial factor that without it a song can never be considered a powerful one: production. This is where the capabilities of the producer Cyprian Cassar came in and led to a good end result – in fact the second I listened to it I immediately knew who should produce it. There’s also the emotional aspect, which is essential.” This was clearly conveyed by Janice on the final night of the festival.
Without a shadow of a doubt, Team Kewkba has managed to challenge a long standing perception that the Festival must feature songs that are only in English. What does Janice think about this? “Halleluljah! At the end of the day this is what we really wanted to promote: a song in Maltese can be a good one, regardless of the fact that it is a language spoken only by a few thousand people. There were people who told me that it could have been in Chinese for example, and it wouldn’t have mattered at all, because the whole song manages to convey strong emotions.”
It is not the first time that Janice took part in the festival. Back in 2012, Janice made it to the semifinals with While her Eyes Still Glow. How does she feel about the probability that it is more likely that she’ll be remembered part and parcel with Kewkba? “I personally think that this in itself is a statement, as I didn’t want us to present a song without any emotion. However, it is also time to start working on new material, with the aim of adding on to what we did with Kewkba by introducing a wider range of songs. Throughout the competition we already had an idea of what we wanted to do with Kewkba’s success and what direction to take. We were working with Cap Sounds©, part of the Universal Music Group, who were also prepared to release the song on iTunes if it didn’t win. A lot of thought went into this decision as well, because we had to take care of the design and decide on whether we should make available the full version or just the instrumental one. Now that the festival has ended, we’ve also worked on the remix version. There were several who contacted me in order to produce the video for the song, and after a lot of consultation, we decided to go for Fade in Media.”
This week, precisely on May 12th,13th and 14th, Janice Mangion will be participating in Discovery Fest, an International festival in Bulgaria which should serve as a good indication of the reception of an international audience who does not understand Maltese. In Bulgaria, Janice will be interpreting Kewkba and an original song in English, written by Emil Calleja Bayliss, the same writer behind Kewkba, and composed by Vladimir Graic, the composer behind Molitva, which won the Eurovision Song Contest way back in 2007. With Kewkba, Janice will be competing for Best Singer Award, whilst with that in English she will be competing for Best Original Song. It was Robert Cefai, from the World Association of Festival and Arts (WAFA), who provided Janice with the opportunity. During the second week of July, Janice will then participate in the Slavianski Bazaar, considered to be the biggest festival in Eastern Europe. Former winners include Ruslana, Zeljko Joksimovic and Tose Proeski. Guests like Blue, Albano and Sergey Lazarev were all invited in previous editions. Evelina Batley is the Maltese representative of this festival.
Does Janice Mangion think that there will be fierce competition next year if her team decides to once again work on a song entirely in Maltese? We guess that many singers have now been encouraged to submit a song in Maltese. “I don’t believe that the competition increases with just the inclusion of more songs in Maltese. They still need to be good songs after all. I don’t have any guarantee of how well I’ll do if I submit another song in Maltese in the future, and this is the same for everyone. There is a lot more to an exceptional song than language.”
The English translation of Janice Mangion’s quoted text from Maltese has been carried out by Amy Webb. Photos are the property of Mr David Grima and the interview was carried out in collaboration with Mr Marc Calleya Bayliss, on behalf of Ironic Pr and Artist Management. Janice Mangion would like to thank Carmen Mangion & Jacqueline Farrugia from Golden Curls Hair Salon, Tania Muscat from X Cells Beauty Therapy & Make-Up, and Monsoon for the clothing.
Photography: David Grima
© 2017 – VIDA Magazine – Clifford Jo Zahra