Nini & Ben
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Nini & Ben

New York City, New York, United States | INDIE

New York City, New York, United States | INDIE
Band Americana Folk


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"A chance to try out a song among friends"

CAMBRIDGE - If it's Wednesday, it must be Monkey Rock night. In fact, just about everybody here at All Asia in Central Square knows what night it is.

At All Asia (334 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge) every Wednesday from
6 to 9 p.m. Free. MonkeyRockFamilyTree
Even Volker Bielfeldt, a 47-year-old farmer who lives in Germany, is here to check out the three-hour song-swap session - formally called the Monkey Rock Writer's Circle, a free weekly showcase of original music played by local singers, songwriters, and musicians. The bulk of them tend to be drawn from the Berklee College of Music, but Johnny Nicholson, a 21-year-old Berklee singer-songwriter who hatched the idea almost two years ago and persuaded All Asia to let him give it a try, wants to expand the pool of talent and programming.

"Some weeks early on we had a really good turnout, and some weeks we'd have five people in the audience," says Nicholson, who named the series after the mountain he grew up on in northern California. "For a year, it was probably just people learning about it. So we've kind of built up this thing by word of mouth, and we get a lot of submissions from artists who hear about it and want to come participate."

If Nicholson sounds jazzed, it's because he is, and for good reason. He's been steadily booking the shows in advance - anywhere from five to 10 songwriters are slotted into the 6 to 9 p.m. Wednesday time slots - and has also staged shows at the Lily Pad in Inman Square and in New York City. The next local show is scheduled for July 23 at Church.

The musicians who have become regulars say they look forward to the sessions, which give them the support to try out songs, bounce ideas off one another, and connect in a nonclassroom setting. The nights, they say, have helped to build a close kinship among the musicians.

Speaking of family, this is Bielfeldt's first trip to Boston and Cambridge to visit his son, Jorn, a drum major who just finished his first year at Berklee. Volker's English is a bit broken, but it's clear that he's here to have a beer and listen to his son play the drums, not talk. Jorn, meanwhile, beams broadly, grateful for his dad's company and the friends and classmates around him. He watches as Flightless Buttress, a jazzy guitar-and-cello duo, takes the bigger-than-you-might-think stage on the right side of the room.

"We're getting our dreams together," says the younger Bielfeldt, whose percussive flair is made all the more remarkable when you notice he plays a snare drum and bangs on a cymbal with his hands, sans sticks. "It takes a lot of time to go out and find the right people and the right energies. I'm really glad I became part of this and that I get to play with these people."

Nini Fabi of the folk-blues duo Nini and Ben echoes those sentiments. It's the sense of community that counts, she says after the pair's spirited, high-lonesome songs have filled the room.
"You come to play, but you also come to listen," says Fabi as her partner, Ben Gebert, nods in agreement. "It's not about competing. At college, often times you lose that initial love of the music that you had."

In some cases, the nights allow artists to explore a wholly different aspect of their performance. Andrew Burri, for instance, is the charismatic lead singer for Sex!, an up-and-coming Berklee rock band now recording its first album. But Burri says he's been writing folk songs for a dozen years and gets to present that side of his musical personality in front of his peers every Wednesday.

And the best part of the night? "Sometimes it's the response you get after your set," Burri says. "Other times, you are very inspired by watching another songwriter perform. But just being here allows both of those things to happen."

As well as other creative sparks. One intriguing element of Monkey Rock that you can't help but notice is Terry Kiminta, painting on a canvas off to one side of the stage. Kiminta says he paints whatever the music makes him feel and even invites audience members, curious passersby - anyone who takes an interest, really - to add their own flourishes of color and imagination to the canvas.

"We don't have space in here for a boccie court," Kiminta says, "so if you're not going to have boccie, you might as well bring in a canvas and paint for some people. I like coming here to paint, shoot pool, talk to women, dance, and be myself - and be somebody else." - Boston Globe

"NINI+BEN: The Reasons We Try"

NINI+BEN: The Reasons We Try
Posted on December 8, 2009.
By Zac Taylor
Managing Editor

Nini Fabi sets the mood of the record in the first few moments: “One, two, three.” Childlike. Poignant. Bare-bones simple. More than a hundred folks shouldered into their CD release show last month at the Lily Pad, a small, quaint art gallery in Inman Square. Recorded at world-renowned Avatar studios, which has had recent projects by Norah Jones and Ryan Adams (Fabi sang into the same microphone as Norah. Not the same brand—the same one), The Reasons We Try was produced by Rich Mendelson, (Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton, Paul Simon); the sonic quality begs to be listened to on hi-fi speakers, i.e. if you open it up with iTunes on your laptop—you’re doing yourself a giant disservice.
The moniker of the band as a duo is mildly misleading: it is indeed the ensemble dynamic that gives the sound a face. In addition to penning the tunes together, Ben Gebert supports the leading lady with care through sparse acoustic guitar picking, a warm tenor voice, and elegant piano. Add to the mix Jake Cohen’s precise drumming, Johnny Duke’s absurdly tasty guitar playing, Derek McWilliams’ spot-on grooves and vocal harmonies, and Tommy Bohlen’s buttery pedal steel—you have all the vital ingredients for a soulful Americana pie.
Themes of death and wandering hearts echo through the songs’ narratives. The songwriting is charming in a clunky way, and always honest, never showy. “I feel your breath wrapped around my spine. Why can I be yours, I’ve never been mine,” she sings in “I Won’t Look Back.” Next up is crowd favorite “Go and Fill Your Cup,” which is as close as the duo gets to an actual duet. Gebert’s breathy cooing supports the female lead, both of them longing, desperate. Duke’s tasteful Dobro licks support the earnest vocals, which has a hint of Bonnie Raitt when Fabi pushes the pedal down a little further.
They re-recorded a couple tunes from their debut EP Rise and Shine: “Down to the Road” (The lead track on Heavy Rotations Vol. 6) and “Easier.” While the arrangements are pretty much the same, the fresh renditions illustrate the band’s growth over the last couple years. They’ve been touring their butts off around New England, and have perhaps been caught in a position that many young bands find themselves in: playing too many gigs. But Nini+Ben are one of those young bands that makes you think: “Wow, I’m glad I’m seeing them now before it costs $45 on Ticketmaster.”
- The Groove


"This innovative Boston-based band writes ballads that rise towards the level of anthems and up-tempo musical tales that shimmer with energy." -

"Nini+Ben Get Rootsy"

"Next up were local darlings Nini+Ben, who have since morphed into a quintet, since guitar slinger extraordinaire Johnny Duke is Nashville-bound. Their Americana-meets-Norah Jones sound has been perfected over the last few months with relentless touring in support of their debut LP The Reasons We Try. Tommy Bohlen’s pedal steel melts into the thumpin’ groove provided by bassist Derek McWilliams and drummer Jake Cohen. The chemistry between lead singer Nini Fabi and her beau Ben Gebert is undeniably moving. Crowd-pleasers “Shine” and “Mother” held a firm grip on the audience, many of whom were singing along to just about every tune." -

"Nini+Ben: A musical love story Berklee duo off and running"

One advantage of living close to the Massachusetts border is frequent visits from Berklee School of Music alumni. The Boston arts college has an embarrassment of talent, and many of these bands choose to play out in New Hampshire. The latest is Nini+Ben, a young sextet with an original repertoire that melds folk pop, rustic Americana and country rock.

Named for leaders Christina “Nini” Fabi and Ben Gebert, the band released a full-length album, The Reasons We Try, last November, and it’s a gem. Frequently, it’s hard to translate a good studio effort to a live setting, and vice versa, but Nini+Ben have no such problems. They have an easy onstage chemistry, and possess a knack for performing note-perfect versions of the album’s songs in concert.

Their music evokes many familiar elements without being derivative. It’s not hard to spot Edie Brickell in the lilting, laconic rhythms of “You Don’t Love Me” — until the song is punctuated with a sly dobro straight out of a Ryan Adams record. Fabi’s voice bears an eerie resemblance to Stevie Nicks on “Down to the Road,” but the bluesy riff driving the song gives it a sinister edge. Such surprising elements turn up on just about every one of the album’s 10 tracks.

This unique sound has drawn the attention of producer Don Was, who tapped them for a recent showcase of selections from the producer’s many works. Two of their songs appeared on a school-produced showcase album, Heavy Rotation Records: Dorm Sessions Volume 6. Nini+Ben was among only nine Berklee bands chosen for the project.

Nini+Ben’s history is both a love story and a musical tale. The Ohio-born Fabi moved to her mother’s native Germany at a young age. Growing up, she spent a lot of time shuttling between Europe and her father’s home in the United States. She met Gebert in high school, and the two quickly found a common bond, which eventually led to something deeper.

“We were a couple after we started making music together,” the 25-year-old Fabi said recently. “It wasn’t serious at that time, but the music was definitely our connection.”

The pair sharpened their songwriting skills, performing throughout Europe and as far away as Australia. On the road, they lived out a rough and ragged fantasy life of club and coffee house shows, rides in rickety microbuses and collaborations with like-minded players; everything became the stuff of art. “The Reasons We Try is all about personal experience,” Fabi said. “Not always 100 percent autobiographical, but the gist of it is … we really want to create songs that are true to us that can apply to people.”

Around this time, Fabi and Gebert set their sights on a formal music education in the United States. During a visit with friends in Boston, they checked out Berklee and decided to audition, something they each did separately, not as a duo. Gebert focused on piano; Fabi studied voice, harmony and ear training. Each took classes in business and theory.

Early on, they took a semester off to record an EP, Rise and Shine.

“We just got the feeling, it was pretty intense,” Fabi said of the decision to make the recording. “When you first go to Berklee, you get caught up in all these other things and doing other people’s music and honing … your craft.”

Fabi and Gebert will both graduate in May, and they’ve already begun to make the most of the new record. A show at Nashua’s Studio 99 this Saturday (March 6) is part of that effort. When they finish at Berklee, the couple plans to move to Brooklyn for the many artistic opportunities there. “It seems like there is a scene for our kind of music, and we just want to be performing a lot,” she said. “We’re getting a manager, so we don’t have to pull out our hair doing that stuff all of the time.”

“Sometimes it feels like this is the only thing we can do,” Fabi said, adding that the creative rewards outweigh the business challenges. “This is a tough time, but if you stick with people of your generation and kind of go with it, it can be a really exciting time for new ideas and creating a new kind of music business.” - By Michael Witthaus


Nini+Ben enetered the CMJ Top 200 as the 18th most added band in early 2010. They have had airplay on the following stations: WERS, WONY, WDOM, WSFX, WUNH

Nini+Ben have just finished recording their new full length album "The Reasons we Try" at world famous Avatar Studio's (NYC) engineered and produced by Rich Mendelson (Rihanna, Boston, The Cars). The record has recently been released and is available on iTunes, amazon, etc.

Nini&Ben's debut album "Rise and Shine" (2007) recorded at Rear Window Recording Studios in Boston, MA

Nini&Ben have recently been signed to Boston's Heavy Rotation Records and are featured on their 2009 compilation available on I-Tunes.



"Their live performance is a beautiful combination of delicate songwriting and masterful musicianship."-- The Groove
Two sixteen year olds were en route to a birthday party, and realized they didn’t have a gift. “Let’s write him a song,” they thought. Unbeknownst to them, that afternoon sparked a partnership between two songwriters who would fall in love with the gypsy lifestyle they were bound to lead. After extensive travels throughout Europe and Australia, they settled in Boston in 2007 where they found their musical family bassist Derek McWilliams, drummer Jake Cohen, and pedal steelist Tommy Bohlen. In 2009 Nini+Ben were selected out of 400 acts to be featured on the Berklee College of Music Heavy Rotation Records compilation, which debuted to a sold out crowd of 1,200 at the Berklee Performance Center in 2009. This past November, they self-released their debut full length LP “The Reasons we Try”, produced by Rich Mendelson (The Cars, Boston, Paul Simon) and recorded at legendary Avatar Studios in Manhattan. They have also worked with producer Don Was (Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt). The Boston Globe described the music of NINI+BEN as “High-lonesome folk-blues” and the Lowell Sun says, “This innovative band writes ballads that rise towards the level of anthems and up-tempo musical tales that shimmer with energy.”