PHOTO CREDIT: Alanisko Photography
IMAGE CREDIT: @alanisko
Sloane Square is available via:
9th February, 2018
WHEN trying to capture all the elements…
of Żabel onto paper; there is a lot to talk about. I will discuss artists who unite colours and strands together – collated from their past and present love. I will also look at Maltese artists who move to London and the way Maltese music is being overlooked. I’ll investigate creating Pop that has a mainstream nod but goes beyond that; stage presence and creating a persona for the audience; using credibility and popularity to do something good – ending with a bit about albums, influences and the future. Żabel, to look at, has the projection and candour of a modern-day Pop artist. I normally avoid artists who, I think, will stray too closely to the generic and formulaic. Artists like Lady Gaga and Rihanna appeal to me in one way: on the other; there is little beyond their music that captivates and interests any part of me. I am always fearful when addressing young Pop artists because there is always that risk you can find little to discuss and recommend. Żabel is an artist who has the brightness and energy of the best Pop artists out there but subverts expectations and goes beyond the ordinary. Whilst there are elements of Żabel’s look and fashions moulded around existing stars – the bright and colourful hair could have been adopted by Katy Perry or Kesha; the allure and playfulness by Dua Lipa or any of her peers – there is something unique we find. The projection and look, which I shall come to, is part of an artist who wants to make a change in music. The music itself, from Żabel, puts together the best of the modern bunch with older sounds and suggestions. One gets impressions of local Maltese music and the sort of thing she was raised on; those bigger, more commercial artists like Lady Gaga. There has been accusation that Pop music, these days, has lost any sort of edge and appeal. If one wants something deep, engaging and interesting – there are other genres out there.
Żabel describes her sounds as ‘Wavy Pop’ – a collation of sounds and textures she has found throughout the years. You get layers of Rock and Electro buzz; there is Pop core and Indie recollections – all stirred and patterned in a very vivid and smoky pot. You listen to Żabel and get this instant hit from her music. That might suggest something shallow and easily forgettable. A lot of modern Pop has that basic sound and, because of it, the music does not linger and impact. Żabel balances the urgency and hooks of modern Pop but goes a lot further than that. As a songwriter; she puts her personality onto the page and is unwilling to engage in hyperbole, boring clichés and the usual fare. I feel Pop is transforming so that young artist are being given more respect. There is less dependence and demand for those flavourless artists who create banging songs with processed vocals; hook-y choruses and easy-to-appreciate lyrics. There is some of that about but, in 2018, the likes of Sigrid (long-mentioned here), Mabel and Billie Eilish (ditto) are taking a lot of the credit. They are aspiring and fresh-faced but offer the listener something more personal, intelligent and nuanced. Maybe their music leans towards dour and anxious at times – relating to their confessions and personal struggles. Rather than race too far down the hole of serious and wracked: Żabel keeps things bright, uplifting and positive. That is quite a hard balance to strike: keeping the listener invested enough with the subject matter whilst providing something more engaging and spirited in the music. Perhaps that is what we will be seeing more of in modern Pop. What gets to me about Żabel is the way she can take quite ordinary/familiar and shine it up. Other genres are being proffered right now – away from Pop – so it is important the new breed of Popstars recognise what the public want and adapt accordingly.
The past few months; I have spent a lot of time looking at British, Canadian and American artists. It seems most of my time is split between the U.K. and North America. I have looked at Maltese artists in past years but it has been a bit of a while. Perhaps the biggest Maltese Pop artist I know is Chess. She has family roots there but is based in London. The same is true of Żabel. Many of us do not recognise there are industries and scenes in other parts of the world. We get fixated on North America and the U.K. but forget there is a wide and interesting music scene in other parts of Europe. The fact these areas do not have the same money, labels and radio stations as the U.K. – and venues for that matter – means they get overlooked. It is a shame there isn’t the opportunities for artists to remain on Malta and survive as a fully-fledged artist. That said; there is a wonderful music scene shaping up there. Most of the sounds you will hear are Pop/Rock-based – there are not many Hip-Hop and Rap artists there! – and it is influenced by the music of Britain and America. These tastes come from the radio stations and artists we have over here. The thing I have noticed about Maltese artists is the personality they put into music. There is something brighter, sharper and more heartfelt about the music. That might seem a cynical and dubious claim to make. A lot of British Pop artists aim their music at the charts or what they feel the radio stations are looking for. There is some of that pressure in Malta: the culture is different and there is not the same infiltration from the mainstream. The people, the sunshine and the geography enforce songwriting and lead to something more vivacious and alive.
I will move to look at other subjects but, when thinking of Malta, there is a clear link between there and here. Artists come to the U.K. because they feel they have a better chance of survival and recognition. It is unusual to see a Maltese artist remain there and grow big – so the transition and move to Britain is the next natural step. That said; one cannot overlook the importance of Malta and why the country is producing wonderful artists. There is less pressure on the island; the people are friendly and there are some great venues like Bridge Bar and Black Gold Saloon. The Garage and Casey’s Bar are hotspots; the Malta Song Festival and Jazz Festival is putting the country back on the map. There is a rising music scene inspiring young hopefuls to pick up a pen and get out to the people. I have spoken about Maltese artists before and always have the same takeaway: they have great talent but need more exposure and opportunity. That is no fault of Malta itself. The country is trying to build a bigger industry and open these venues for young artists to play. Żabel learnt a lot from her time over there. It was only a matter of course, after being spun on radio (more later), she would feel the pull and lure of the U.K. The young artist has made some big moves the past few months and one wonders what the next step is - I hear suggestions there is an album coming later this year. The big Jazz and Pop scene in Malta means it is a part of the world more of us should look towards. Żabel is the embodiment of all that is happening in the country right now: the colourful output and varied songwriting; that fusion of island-made sounds and mainstream-ready tastes. I feel Żabel will go further than a lot of artists from Malta. She has had a great music upbringing and grew up around some wonderful artists. All of that comes to the fore when you hear her tracks.
It has been a successful and busy time for Żabel. She has been played on Channel Radio and enjoyed a stint on the talent show, Don’t Stop Me Now; prime-time T.V. shows and some of London’s best venues. Although she has been in the industry for a few years now; this year is going to be one of the busiest for her. It is amazing to look at Żabel and how far she has come. Her days on talent shows (thankfully) are over – that was back in 2010. I am not a fan of artists who appear on talent shows but I understand it is important exposure. You cannot blame someone for wanting to bring their music to a national T.V. audience. One has to accept that those shows create temporary artists and are not the best way to find the artists of tomorrow. Fortunately, that experience has not affected the pull and longevity of Żabel. She has used it as a springboard and learnt a lot from it. Before her album, VITA, reaches us; we have the exceptional single, Sloane Square. People have already heard it but many more will want to see that song come to life. What strikes me about the song is the way it takes personal origins – mixing love and a rare meeting with more general themes – and fuses that with familiar sounds. The strong voice shines and there is a nice balance of gloss and raw energy. I find a lot of modern Pop still tries to put too much gloss and shine into the pot. You do get artists who take the layers off and let natural talent come through – it is rarer and less common than you’d hope. I have been looking for Pop artists who produce songs big and affecting but go deep enough to keep me invested. Żabel has affection for everyone from Queen and The Beatles to SIA and Eminem. That might sound like a difficult brew to coalesce and unify.
Before I look at Żabel’s stage mannerism and looks; I will finish by nodding to what she will produce in the future. I’ll end the review summing her up but, looking ahead to her music in 2018; it seems like there will be many opportunities before her. Already featured on great radio stations; it seems like many of London’s biggest stations would play her music – Manchester, for that matter. Żabel is unsigned and, to the best of my knowledge, there is not a P.R. company pushing her music out to the people. There is a lot of ammunition in Żabel’s locker. I have seen many Pop-based artists come and go: it seems Żabel has the staying power many modern artists lack. I have mentioned how there is an album mooted in the form of VITA. Sloane Square is a cut from that and, as we go through 2018, there will be more offerings from the record. One has to wonder, before and after that album’s release, where the Maltese artist will go. There will be gigs and, given her growing stature; there’ll be opportunities around the capital. In a busy and packed industry; the artists who want to remain and get gigs need to go further than your average artists. I am confident Żabel will get her music out to the people and build her reputation. Right now, she is doing sterling work regards the songwriting itself. Her music is appealing and can cross genres; it is accessible enough for Pop radio stations but had sounds that will engage the cooler side of the dial. Reacting to the industry’s changing demands regarding Pop artists: here is an artist equip to survive and build her portfolio as we move through 2018. I am excited to see which artists will break out and take the imagination. I feel personality and persona are the aspects that will win the race. That takes me to a very noticeable side of Żabel’s music.
Many of the biggest Pop artists of the day have their own fashions and looks. You think about SIA and Lady Gaga and they have a very noticeable and clear look. Extend that to Rihanna and Katy Perry – all of the major stars have some form of unique fashion and on-stage personality. Their shows are big and bold; they are trying to appeal to a mass audience and put something different on the stage. What appeals to me, in that sense, is the way they can create a character and identity that differs from who they are away from the stage. Isabelle Luca Borg is the woman behind Żabel. You get two different people when you look closely. Borg is the rather shy, yet ambitious songwriter who has grown up around music and integrates different shades into her own ideas. Away from that, you have Żabel. She has already performed at the 02 Shepherds Bush Empire and taken that captivating personality to the people. I am interested seeing where Żabel can take that bright and tantalising look. She has the clothing and make-up; there is a new person and confidence that comes out – someone many young listeners can take inspiration from. Many might think an artist like Żabel could not appeal to somebody like me – a slightly older, male listener. There are some aspects reserved to young girls and women; most of what Żabel does is targeted at a specific and tested audience. A lot of what Żabel does on stage is down to that identity she has crafted. It is difficult producing something bold and exciting without replicating the fashions of Lady Gaga and her peers. Żabel has her own identity but, if you look closely, there are some recognisable tones that will appeal to fans of the biggest artists out there. I have been mentioning the word ‘Pop’ a lot through this review. It would be unfair to see Żabel as a pure Pop artist. She goes a lot further than most modern-day Pop artists. You get, as I said, Alternative, Indie and Rock ideas mixed within the Pop. There is emotion and energy; colour and fizz – a nourishing recipe that has gained Żabel a lot of fans.
PHOTO CREDIT: Alanisko Photography
I will address the song soon but, before then, all of what I have already mentioned could be used to do a lot of good. Żabel has made an impact in Malta and brought her music to the U.K. Although the Pop tide is turning to artists looking inside themselves and going away from commercial avenues; I feel this is where Żabel can fit in. She has songs under her belt that are resonating with D.J.s, producers and fans. Sloane Square is a song that hints at bigger things. I am not sure how many gigs she has already played but there is every chance she will take her music up and down the country through this year. She has come a long way in the past few years and learnt a lot from her time in music. The music is getting stronger and her performances more rounded and striking. The way Żabel writes and delivers her music not only acts as guidance to new musicians coming through – it will inspire her younger audience and give them direction. Modern artists should think closely about what they are putting out and whether they are making music for themselves – or they have the aim to help their listeners and act as role models. Another fine aspect of Żabel is the modesty she has. There is no ego regards the musicians: humbleness and a hard work which means she differs to a lot of the mainstream artists around. Many people have been excitedly chatting about the young artist. She has crafted some excellent songs but, in my view, Sloane Square, is the most interesting and developed song Żabel has put her name to.
PHOTO CREDIT: Alanisko Photography
The vocal takes a while to come back in but, when it does, looks at Sloane Square and its relevance. It reminds the heroine of a special person and something deep and meaningful. I got impressions of a love affair or meeting that happened there – and how the two have drifted apart and cannot reignite that fuse. Prior to the vocal coming through; there is a build-up that creates impressions, imagery and ideas. The music is subtle and crackling. Occasional, mannered beats and twinkling electronics – darker and lighter ideas – mix together to provide images of Sloane Square. I heard twilight and moonlit suggestions come through in the notes. The song does not race in and takes its time getting to the listener. The introduction sets the scene and makes one think about the song and what it means to them. The electronic moments are seductive and intriguing; there is a softness and sense of expectation that puts you in the mood and gets the mind thinking. What resonated with me is the way Żabel let the music speak first and, when she does come to the microphone, there is a calmness and maturity. She is remembering this special place and what it means to her. I am not sure whether Sloane Square is a meeting spot for two lovers – their place and position in a busy city. Maybe it is the first meeting and where that date began. Whatever the reason and impact of the London location; every listener can relate to having a very meaningful place in the world. For an artist that has a bright look and bold personality; Żabel produces a song that puts its heart out there and does not feel the need to aimlessly embolden and run. That is a reflection about the changing nature of Pop and how artists are maturing. This rather adult approach to love does not mean the song lacks interest, memorability and fun.
The vocals harmonis and the composition shimmers and entices. The heroine remembers that meeting in Sloane Square but there is a void and need for someone to return. Home is where the heart is, she says, and there is somebody missing from her life. I am not sure whether the heroine is talking about a long-term lover who has left her or gone abroad; maybe she is referring to the way we can get caught up in the romance of a place and time but leave it all too soon. She is there waiting for her sweetheart to return but her words are hanging in the air – a supplication and plea that requires an artist. Before she gives in and thinks about moving on; we get an itinerary from the heroine as she travels home. She takes the Tube and negotiates the District Line; walking to her place and complete with a heavy heart. When she gets to her door; there is the man waiting for her. There is a vulnerability to the song, as well. It seems a lot of what is being talked about is theoretical and imagined. She wants the romance to work and find satisfaction but that longing and desire is being overshadowed by disappointment and a lack of respect. Maybe the man did turn up or he left her waiting – I think there is that dreaming and hoping but nothing tangible and real. When things go bad, the young woman still goes to her mum to find that comfort and solace. It has been a hard time for Żabel and she has put her heart out to someone who does not appreciate it. The heroine has waited and assessed her life. Home is most important to her and the recollections of Sloane Square seem to be rooted in the past. In a wider sense, Sloane Square is about belonging and where home really is. Thinking about the heroine’s travels on the Tube and trudging home makes me think about her life in Malta and adapting to a scary new life.
PHOTO CREDIT: Alanisko Photography
There is that connection to family - but Żabel has moved to a new nation and getting buried beneath feet and rushing bodies. I have seen many artists talk about transition and change and, when you look at Żabel’s latest cut; she is finding who she really is and needs direction. She is making music here and showcasing her stuff to the people. Maybe Żabel has a love/sex life and being social but there seems to be deeper issues and problems that are coming to the surface. That desire to return home is bubbling away and compelling her decisions. I would love to see a video for the song as it would bring new light and insight to a song that has a personal edge but, at the same time, will connect with many other people. I got the impression Żabel was content in London but missed some of the comfort and familial wisdom she had in Malta. I am not sure whether her family are over here or in Malta still. It seems, in some form or other, there are those conversations that are keeping her level-headed and moving forward. The production and composition are never too intrusive and dominant. It is all about the vocal and letting the lyrics shine. At times, the song moves from Pop to Soul/Gospel – dropping the background and letting the vocal stand alone – and then it goes back to something hotter and more insistent. Sloane Square is a fantastic song from a young artist who puts an original spin on common themes. What position Sloane Square takes on VITA has yet to be seen. I am not sure what other songs will be featured alongside it but the latest track from the Malta-born artist has turned heads and captured hearts. It is a brave confessional from someone reacting to the challenges placed before her – the need to look at what’s important and where she feels home is.
Take a look at her social media pages and you see a young artist embracing music and excited to see what comes next. She brings a sexy and bold show to the people and has been performing around London. Her latest song has collected thousands of plays and getting to many new ears. The sets are well-received and critics are responding to an artist throwing her everything into music. Żabel has seen her music get onto the radio and pick up reviews. These steps are important for someone who has dreamt about success since a girl and worked exceptionally hard. It has been a tough road for Żabel but all her hard work and effort is paying off. Moving to the U.K. is a risky and strange move for anyone – not least someone who grew up on Malta and enjoyed a very different way of life. Żabel is settling into London and has been here a while now (about five years). The capital is welcoming to anyone who wants to get their music to a broad and hungry demographic. I have seen many artists come and go but, when thinking of Żabel; there is every reason to suspect she will be in music for many years to come. Her album is due later this year and she’ll want to see how Sloane Square does and what reaction it receives. The song is a lot deeper, more interesting and fresh than a song about love where the heroine gets her heart broken and regrets meeting the guy. I cannot wait to see what more is coming from Żabel. She has so many ideas and song brewing; some real passion and that desire to get out to as many people as possible. If you have not discovered the music of Żabel and what she is all about – make sure you remedy this and listen to Sloane Square. Here is a young star working in an industry/genre that has many players but very few who does things…
QUITE like her.