New Brunswick Singer Martina Breaking Through In Dance Scene

When the East Coast Music Award nominations were announced last month, some people expressed surprise that Mia Martina was nominated, in the World Recording of the Year category, for her album Devotion. Mia Martina is from Atlantic Canada, they asked? I checked, and it turned she was, and in fact, is from New Brunswick? Mia Martina is from New Brunswick, I asked? And then, I asked, who is Mia Martina?

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To me, she was unknown, but not to thousands of dance music fans in this country, and into the U.S. and Europe as well. It turns out Ms. Martina has been building a pretty big name for herself the last couple of years in this field, with some Latin-flavoured dance hits. Her version of a cut called Stereo Love, her debut single, went platinum in this country, and the follow-up, Latin Moon, sold gold. The Devotion album came out last August, and she's been touring the country, getting cover stories in magazines, scoring hit videos on MuchMusic, and becoming one of dance music's hot new stars. You have two choices when you here this kind of heavy-beat, uptempo song; you can either dance to it, or work out to it at the gym, which of course is why I didn't know about her, not wanting or able to do either of those things. But my friends who do work out tell me she's big on the playlist at the local fitness clubs.

Mia Martina is, of course, not her real name. It's actually Martine Johnson, and she grew up in tiny St. Ignace in northern Kent County, population around five hundred. She always wanted to be a singer, loved Michael Jackson and Mariah Carey as a kid, and used to drive into Moncton for competitions and the like. But at 18, school was the first option, and she moved to Ottawa to go to Carleton University. While she was there, she saw an ad for an intern position at a local label, CP Records, which had some dance and hip-hop success. She spend a year very quietly watching, never mentioning her singing dreams, until finally offering to do some back-up. There's a classic story in the music business. That's exactly how several Motown stars got their breaks, by doing day jobs as secretaries and such for Berry Gordy, waiting for their chance to jump up.

It was the track Stereo Love that got her the break, as the song had been a hit in Europe, and now those producers were looking for someone to break it in North America. The track came Mia's way, and the rest was success. Mia sang the remix along with Edward Maya, who had the European version. On the inside of the Devotion album, you'll find this quote from her: "This has been my dream since I was a little girl. I come from such a small place. These things just don't happen. It was a very surreal experience. For me it still feels surreal."

It's not the first award she's been nominated for. Last year she was up for both a Juno and a Much Music Video Award. And while dance may not be my passion, it's easy to appreciate how well done Martina's album is. It's filled with high-energy songs, and really imaginative production. Stereo Love is fused with accordion notes, and there's something clever on every track. The number In Your Arms remixes the old Cutting Crew hit "I Just Died In Your Arms", from the 80's, Latin Moon combines synth with Latin acoustic guitar lines, and great sound effects get dropped in almost everywhere. And yes, she is a really good singer.

Now we all know who Mia Martina is, including me. If you'd like to see her in person, she's appearing at Harbour Station in Saint John Friday, April 13th along with DJ Pauly D and Down With Webster, and then she's back in Moncton, this time as a special guest for Heart Truth, which is a gala for the Heart and Stroke Foundation of New Brunswick, being held at the Casino on April 28th.

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About Bob Mersereau

Rockin' BobBob Mersereau has been covering music, and the East Coast Music Scene since 1985 for CBC. He's a veteran scene-maker at the ECMA's, knows where the best shows and right parties are happening, and more importantly, has survived to tell the tales. His weekly East Coast music column is heard on Shift on Radio 1 in New Brunswick each Wednesday at 4'45. He's also the author of two national best-selling books, The Top 100 Canadian Albums (2007) and The Top 100 Canadian Singles (2010).

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