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Niki Gravino


Niki Gravino is a Maltese singer, songwriter and musician who also occasionally composes and produces. For him music is a device of self-expression, discovery, and self-invention.

The early years 1984-2000

Niki began learning basic chords on what remains his main instrument, the guitar, at the age of 8. From the very beginning he was drawn to every genre he could lay his hands on, but developed a particular attraction to Rock and Heavy Metal music. His musical tastes became more extreme in his teenage years. Niki's first public performance took place at the Maltasajf Festival in 1992 with the Death Metal band Biblical Infamy. Then some years later his first experience in front of a large audience happened with Metal band Covenant. This was the end of his involvement in Heavy Metal bands, while still retaining a continued attraction and admiration toward certain elements and artists in the genre.

In a move that would eventually characterize a sort of pattern and crucial subject matter for Niki – that of oscillating between apparent extremes – he went directly from extreme Metal to the exploration of Christianity. With it came a deep involvement with the local Christian community, out of which a large amount of related musical material ensued, much of which is now lost. Some survived and is still, as of this writing, occasionally played in Maltese churches and prayer groups. The author is unknown or anonymous.

Having exhausted his patience with organized religion, Niki found a way out through his original love; eclectic Rock music. This came through a band of seasoned musicians called Denmark Street, which eventually became SKyN. This band forced Niki to explore a more mature side to performing music, exposing him to the classics of the genre and exacting standards of musicianship he was not used to. In this regard this band, although disbanded after a few years, remains for him a true turning point. After that it was time to go solo.

2000-2011: Little Earthquakes

The title of this section is taken from an article by Wayne Flask. It is an apt title because this was a time in which Niki was re-inventing himself in a way that would probably mark the rest of his journey. Driven by a great need to break through the deep dissatisfaction he felt, musical as well as existential, he embarked upon a project that involved learning how to create, perform, engineer and produce his music from scratch to record; and this invloved building his own studio. In it he would use everything he had learnt, express and explore every emotion, every doubt, every question; and would risk a true shot at international recognition.

First came Vitamins and Eyecream in 2004, a 3-song EP featuring the songs Like Feathers, Fingers, and Vitamins and Eyecream. Gravino is here experimenting with making the studio an instrument in its own right, exploring very strange musical landscapes while always consciously nurturing a pop sensibility. It is here that the band Niki Gravino and the Vile Bodies is formed. Together, Niki and the other members worked on the difficult task of translating the music into a live performance, as faithfully to the record as possible. Financially and technically in 2004 this was a challenging task.

Vitamins and Eyecream was launched at the MITP theater in Valletta, Malta. The show featured a truly avante-garde set-up which took many by surprise. Some people even left the premises before the show started, possibly due to the stifingly eerie atmosphere. Niki and his mates where exploring the dark side of being a human, and were characteristically doing it without shame or restraint. The Gothic/Industrial sound and uncompromising delivery by the band, a very edgy and uncomfortable entrapment of the audience in the performance space, created an event some consider to be a milestone in Malta's music history. The Vile-Bodies' partnering with acting company Aleataeia, The Guild, and Drunken Angel film company made this event possible.

During the next 3 years Gravino would spend most of his time producing other bands and artists in a vast array of genres, whilst creating the material for what would eventually become The Politics of Doublebeds, a 16-track album launched in 2007. The making of this album was a true catharsis for Gravino. It is a dense and complex album on many levels and by any standard. It explores deep existential dilemmas, mostly from the dark lense of a certain hopelessness. But Niki was searching for something else, and The Politics of Double beds, for the attentive listener, provides cracks in the seemingly inescapable prison of depression. From the sleazy debauchery of Touch aka E to the meditation on the desire for death in Sabrina and her sister song Catwalk Baby, to the juxtaposition of demonic despair and a glimmer of celestial hope in Still and Rain, Rain, Rain, the album is a journey into the difficulty of being human, as seen through the eyes of a man who feels powerless to truly relate to another or to himself.

The album is internally linked by recurring themes making it feel like a concept album revolving around an absence... an absence of true relationship. The album was conceived in terms of an empty house populated only by memories, to which the songs are but windows that the listener (and the artist) can but peep through.

Again in 2007 The Vile Bodies hit the stage for the launch party, teaming up with actors Antonella Axisa and Chris Galea, author Simon Bartolo, and all-round artist Nicole Cuschieri. While the material on the Politics was by all means superior to and more mature than the 2004 release, and the launch party was a success, one could feel that something was already missing. Niki was getting tired and disillusioned. What follows is a roller coaster of lineup changes (also a name change into Niki Gravino and the Laughing Shadows), changes in Niki's personal life, and the beginning of the recognition Niki had craved for, at least on the national level. It was an intense time and Gravino was getting exhausted; disillusionment, even as the recognition was mounting, was turning into bitter disappointment. He had built himself a persona he could not live inside anymore and felt as if he was becoming a caricature of his own making.

In the next four years however the band played many gigs including an A&R showcase, specifically organized for them, at the 12 Bar in London. However there was a moment in which the realization that the coveted record deal was never going to come had to be made. There was no energy left to make the necessary steps. Niki and his mates had hit the end of the road.

2011-2021: Exploring New Territory

Niki Gravino

It has been said that there is no greater teacher than failure. For many years Gravino focused on making a living and making his foreface studio profitable. However, strange coincidences spurred him into a new journey of self-exploration and musical expression.

In 2012 Gravino joined a trio of younger very talented musicians. This eventually became The Cosmic Erotic. It had been a very long time since Niki had let himself work with others. Partly fed up with the inevitable rigidity that the 'solo' multi-instrumentalist method generates (which is also part of its appeal), and a desire to take some risks with his control issues, he enjoyed the short-lived band very much. Mark, Ben, Andrew and Niki performed a series of shows to very happy audiences, in Malta and London. The Cosmic Erotic delivered a fluid, complex aesthetic with psychedelic and classic Rock undertones. For Niki being on stage without the burden of excessive technology, control and responsibility was a revelation.

A process of radical simplification, both musically and personally, had begun. In the practice of sifting through layers of illusion, trauma, and self-importance, Niki found a new depth and complexity in his feelings. And this came with the realization that the true challenge of a music artist is to be able to express that complexity. This inner exploration also led him into a new appreciation of his roots, the language and the land of his birth. In a time of great turmoil for Malta, MJAW was born, a completely new being.

In 2019 MJAW released his debut album Diski Għall-Ħmir (Songs for Donkeys), announcing the death of Niki Gravino, a death caused, in MJAW's words, by a very common disease called feeling importantitis.

MJAW is writing within the Maltese idiom, not only because the lyrics are in Maltese, but also because the aesthetic form that is saturated with “Maltese-ness”. This time, in total opposition to the work published in 2004 and 2007, Niki is working in an effort to erase himself instead of craving recognition for its own sake. The true relationality that was being mourned in the Politics is now a possibility, even a reality.

Through MJAW Niki is allowing himself to be ridiculous, base, preachy, and very politically incorrect. But there is another side in which MJAW is exploring the simple joy of being alive, the magical and mysterious side of existence, and the intimate connection of music and comedy. The audiences are usually, and preferably, small. The venues are intimate. The people in the audience are sitting comfortably, exploring themselves through laughter, realization, and the occasional tear.

Also, MJAW (being a kind of cat) is also very flexible, giving Niki access to musical contexts that would be usually totally out of bounds for an artist like Niki Gravino. One of these contexts is the national festival Mużika Mużika (18, 19, 20the March 2021) for which MJAW created a song called Tista' (It Is Possible) and which has made it to the final 20.



Year Songs Lyrics Composer Video
2019 Il-Ġlieda Magħna Nfusna MJAW (Click for Video)
2020 Kanna MJAW (Click for Video)
2020 Stress MJAW (Click for Video)

EP - Albums

Year Artist Songs Lyrics Composer
2001 SKyN Anything (EP)
2002 SKyN Lies (Single)
Year Artist Songs Lyrics Composer
2004 Niki Gravino Vitamins and Eyecream (EP)
2007 Niki Gravino he Politics of Doublebeds (Album)
Year Artist Songs Lyrics Composer
2019 MJAW Diski Għall-Ħmir (Album)


Year Artist Music for Film and TV Lyrics Composer
2007 [[]] Miriana Coljero (teleserial)
2016 [[]] 20,000 Reasons (Movie)

External links

  • [www.diskighallhmir.com]
  • [1]