LIMF Academy 2021: Ni Maxine

“The algorithm divides us, but we are more powerful when we are united.”  

By Shaun Ponsonby
Tue 23 November, 2021

Ni Maxine is a Neo-Jazz Singer-Songwriter; a black woman navigating the modern world and exploring themes of home, identity, self-esteem and belonging.

“I guess I would like to be like a Billie Holiday of the 21st Century,” she says. “A lot of what Billie did has been forgotten. I want to bring that energy back. As an artist, I have the responsibility to uplift people, to reverse the damage done by negative stereotypes. ”

Born in North London and raised in Bristol, Ni Maxine moved to Liverpool in 2019, but her connection to the city runs deep.

“I belong here,” she says. “My family initially came here from the Caribbean – and now I’m here. Everything is falling into place, it feels like the missing piece of the puzzle.”

I always wanted to sing but I could never really justify it – singing isn’t a job unless you have money to make it a job. I never saw it as an option, until I moved to Liverpool. Then it became an option.”

Maxine’s childhood was steeped in the deep cultural references points of black history. She recalls her father’s love of jazz, her mother’s love of funk and rare groove, as well as her Sunday mornings in a gospel church, where she first learned to sing.

“I remember we would drive down from Bristol to see my dad, who still lived in London. I still remember the exact moment when the car was able to pick up Jazz FM.”

The time between was spent watching music channels on the television; The Box, KISS, but mostly MTV Base, informing her love of anything R&B, from Beyonce to Estelle.

But she found her true musical calling from a family friend.

Read more from the LIMF Academy 

We used to go to these Saturday morning singing groups, and I had sung [George Gershwin’s] Summertime. I was going through a family friend’s music collection and found this Ella Fitzgerald CD, and Summertime was on it. I borrowed the CD – well, I say ‘borrowed’, I still have it today – and I listened to it all the time, and read the lyric book. My mum hated it. But I felt like this was me, this made me feel alive.”   

From Ella, Maxine discovered the likes of Nina Simone and Billie Holiday, informing a fresh relationship with her own blackness.

I was so moved by them,” she says. “I realised a lot about the black experience, about my personal black experience that I hadn’t been able to acknowledge to myself before.”

This has, in turn, inspired her own songwriting – something she only really took up during the first coronavirus lockdown in 2020.

Most striking about Ni Maxine is her ability to effortlessly pivot from a breezy, relaxed meditation to a highly charged political debate.

This is most explicit in the juxtaposition between A Day in St John’s Lane – a song that finds beauty in the mundane – and Justice, a composition that Maxine is particularly proud of.

“Justice came out during the Black Lives Matter protests following George Floyd and Breonna TaylorThe band were jamming and we had been talking about everything that was happening, and me and my partner, Kieran, went and wrote a separate set of lyrics. Then we came together and made a song out of each of our sets of lyrics”.

This is apparent when listening to Justice – a song which shows a mixed race couple in a deep conversation about the struggles of the black experience, with the white partner giving her space to air her frustrations.

Most of my songs are freestyling,” she says. “It’s a raw expression. We’ll have a conversation and there is a beat or melody on the guitar playing. And I’ll just rant, pick up on those words and rearrange them.”

It is a testament to Ni Maxine’s talent that so soon after taking her art seriously, she has found herself playlisted on BBC Radio 1 – with Justice selected as their Tip of the Week – and accepted as one of the Most Ready at the LIMF Academy, and her message is loud and clear.

I want to work with young people who are having a similar experience, and encourage them through music to better understand their circumstances, to cultivate community. I grew up on the edge of an estate, no black people around me. I was isolated. I want to help young people get to where I am now. The algorithm divides us, but we are more powerful when we are united.”