Nilia Berkin
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Nilia Berkin

Montréal, Quebec, Canada

Montréal, Quebec, Canada
Band Pop Singer/Songwriter


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Nilia Berkin
Whirlwind (independent)
With T.J. Plenty of Asexuals fame handling production, guitar and bass, Montreal’s Nilia Berkin introduces her style of thoughtful piano pop with subtle jazz, cabaret and, on “Strange Days” for instance, roots inflections. Her lyric sheet gives the listener a lot to chew on, served up in a voice that, like the music that carries it, is resistant to emotive excess, playing in the grey areas. If anything, Berkin’s too cautious with her vocals, but her tunes are in tip-top shape, elegant and understated in their careful ornamentation—“Life’s Wondrous Mystery” has a nice bump to it, as does the playful “Dusty White Moon.” 7/10 (Rupert Bottenberg) CD launch at Jello Bar, Fri., May 23, 5 p.m., free
- Montreal Mirror-May 22, 2008

Nilia Berkin CD Launch - "Whirlwind"
May 23, 2008 @ Jello Bar
By: Carey

Every once in a while you have to venture out and try something new. Well, I don’t know how adventurous it was for me to ‘try’ Nilia Berkin’s music out, but it turned out to be a well-calculated risk.

Nilia Berkin is a Montreal native (originally born in Sherbrooke) who studied music at Vanier College and Concordia University. A classically trained pianist who has been playing since the age of four and she also studied choral music. The woman has put time and effort into learning her craft! At the end of her time at Concordia she joined a male friend’s band called “Les Poupées Gonfables” as a background singer and dancer. This lasted a few years and was her first dose of playing in front of crowds and rock music.

Next up she began to study piano under Lorraine Desmarais for two years. Nilia started playing at small cocktail clubs around Montreal as part of a duo with ex-The Asexuals guitarist TJ Plenty, a partnership that continues in the present. After playing for an extended time in Japan, Nilia returned to Montreal and started writing the music for what would become her debut 12-track album, “Whirlwind”.

At the CD launch at Jello Bar (funky place, which I have not been to in a dog’s age and have to try and make the effort to get to more often), where Nilia showcased 9 tracks (most from her debut album), she performed with the aide of partner in crimeTJ Plenty on guitar and two female background singers (Danielle and Stephanie). Everything about the hour-long set was very intimate and cozy. From her cute banter in between songs to her clear, sweet voice to how each of her songs gave you insight into how this woman views the world she made you feel like you were in her living room listening to her sing a few songs.

After commenting on how pleasantly surprised she was that so many people turned up as she had feared she would be playing in front of an audience of seven, she continued to charm everyone in attendance for the duration of her set. Several of her songs have a kind of childlike quality about them, which is different sounding and easy to listen to. Playing music that is a mix between pop and jazz, Nilia sound is easy on the ears and quite catchy in a fun kind of way.

Playing keyboards for the most part, except for one song she did on acoustic guitar, the room was almost completely silent while she sang except for several toes tapping and hands clapping in time with the music. This coupled with the loud, warm applause that greeted the end of each song indicates to me that she has made music that people connect with. It is an album of music full of heart and wonder and Miss Berkin should be proud.

Towards the end of her set, Nilia told the audience that from beginning to end the CD took her roughly three years to complete. I believe that she can rest assured that it was time well spent.

1) Whirlwind
2) Full Well
3) Land of the Dim
4) Just Like You (?)
5) Feast
6) Strange Days
7) Naughty Boys
8) Buckaroo Bunny
9) Ain’t Got No – I Got Life (Nina Simone cover)

Additional information:

- Orcasound online


Debut CD Whirlwind
Streaming tracks @
Radio airplay on CKUT for Naughty Boy



Nilia Berkin has been pounding piano keys from the tender age of four, when she started her classical
training. Like many others before her, she felt a great relief when she finally found the courage to quit
the forced lessons and become a normal booze-swilling, class-skipping teenager. Still, music was never
very far away as choral singing soon replaced her first instrument and continued on for many years.
At the end of university, she tagged along to a friend’s rehearsal space to watch his band. “I was instantly
mesmerized,” she recalls, “I kept thinking, ‘wow, this reminds me of Iggy Pop’, yet I’d never even seen him
before. I knew I had to join this group.” By the end of the month, she had joined Les Poupées Gonflables
as background singer and center stage dancer. “I wasn’t really doing too much up there but I got to wear
go-go boots and be in a rock band. It’s everyone’s fantasy, really.” After playing Montreal and the Quebec
region for a number of years, band members went their separate ways. “In the final months I was dead–set
on being a guitar player but the band already had three of them and really needed a bassist. Everything
became a lot harder for us and I just wanted to write songs on my new acoustic.”
Fast forward two years and Nilia found herself immersed in piano playing once again but this time under
the tutelage of Montreal jazz pianist, Lorraine Desmarais. “I studied with her for two years. She was such
a dynamo and a real musical force and I could barely remember any of the voicings she taught me. I had
to write everything down and was by far the slowest in the class.” Nevertheless, Desmarais had enough
faith in Nilia to offer her cocktail gigs around the city. She would find herself frequently performing as a duo
with partner-in-crime guitarist, TJ Plenty (the Asexuals).
In 2000, she met a local agent who booked her a 3-month cocktail pianist gig in Matsuyama, Japan. “I was
worried about all the wrong things before going,” she remembers, “I thought it would be hard to play but in
the end, it was the isolation that got to me. It was a bit like the movie Groundhog Day: waking up and doing
the exact same thing for a hundred days. Still, it was a beautiful country and a great professional experience.”
Upon her return she started writing songs for her new album. “I knew it was something that I had to do so
I just sat down every morning for half a year until I had 12 songs. I’d think about the lyrics while walking my
dog, Beast. We’d wander around endlessly sometimes; me, just mumbling to myself like a lunatic while he
took a half an hour to sniff a snowbank. Those walks served a huge purpose for both of us.”
Whirlwind is Nilia’s debut album and an intensely intimate work. “The songs are mostly little musings on
my view of the world and question what happens in the spaces that we can’t see. Where do we go when
we fall asleep, when we die, when we daydream? I’ve always been interested in symbols and coincidences.
Sometimes when you’re perfectly still, the world starts to reveal itself in ways you can’t pick up on when
you’re distracted by all this living.”
Whirlwind was produced by TJ Plenty at their home studio. “I paid him in pizza, mostly.” The baby grand
piano was recorded in the sanctuary of the church that Nilia sang at for over a decade as soloist. “I was
lucky to have extremely talented musicians and the luxury of as much time as we needed to get things
perfect. It would have been a very different album if we’d had limited time in an expensive studio. TJ has
the rare gift of taking raw music and working at it until it sounds very polished and professional. But most
of all, everyone involved really put their heart and a strong focus into it. I think the album really reflects
that loving care.”