The national final season for Eurovision 2016 is heating up — in Switzerland at least. The voting on SRF’s internet selection started last week and Swiss fans have until 16 November to cast their votes. One of the artists generating a lot of buzz is Maria Christina. Her song “That’s What It’s All About” marks her fourth attempt to become the Swiss representative at Eurovision. We recently caught up with Maria and asked about her connections with music, Eurovision and this year’s national selection.
Special shout-out to Eurofan Olli Tamminen for helping set this up.
Hey Maria! Most of our readers don’t know who you are. Can you introduce yourself?
My name is Maria Christina Van Hemelrijk. I was born in a small village in Belgium near Antwerp as the oldest of four girls. I grew up and went to school there and went to university in Brussels to study economics. Then, while on holiday, I fell in love with a man from Southern Tirol. We got married and moved to Switzerland.
When did you realise that music was the most important thing in your life?
At home in Belgium the radio was always on from early in the morning till late in the evening. My parents liked music very much. I bought my first guitar at the age of 15 and began to write my own songs. It was my dream to be a singer on stage but studying music was a no-go at that time. So, I studied economy. When I came to Switzerland at the age of 24, I got in contact with music through my husband, who worked in a theatre. I met a band and I still perform with this band today. Thanks to my bandleader Ernie Soller, I am where I am now in terms of music and performance.
What is your association with the Eurovision Song Contest?
I remember that the Saturday evening of the Concours Eurovision de la Chanson — which is the Eurovision Song Contest nowadays — was a special occasion for the whole family when I was a little girl. Mother cooked earlier so that we could all watch television. It was so exciting for me: the big stage, the big orchestra, the conductor who came on stage and greeted the audience and then the singer. Most of the singers were all alone on stage and then the conductor raised his arms and that amazing big orchestra began to play. I always had goose bumps. This was one of the only nights we kids could stay up till very late and then the next morning you could hear the songs playing on every radio station.
You have been competing in SRF’s internet selection since 2013. Why do you want to represent Switzerland at Eurovision?
I love Switzerland, it really is my second home and I want to get a lot of points for Switzerland. I want to give something back to the country for giving me many chances of all kinds in my life.
What is the meaning of your song “That’s What It’s All About“?
This is MY song. It’s a song of my way of trying to encourage myself and others to believe in life itself; to believe in the things we are to believe in, the things we do with the talent we have — small or big. Do more of what makes you happy and what makes you feel strong.
Most of the songs which you have sent to the Swiss internet selection are quite happy and cheerful — even a bit camp. Is happiness the way you see the world and life?
Yes, I think so. Even if life is not always a merry-go-round, it helps a lot if you try to see it from the positive side. It’s not only a matter of happiness. It is more being grateful for the good things, hopeful for the things to come, powerful for the things you dream of and to keep being confident if things don’t go the way you would like them to go.
Who are the people behind your songs? Do you write the lyrics and the music on your own?
I learned to “live” my music by singing cover songs (I don’t like the term “cover song“ because playing the 5th of Beethoven also is playing a cover song). My bandleader gave me the freedom to sing the songs on stage with which I can identify the most. I learned that for every mood I had, there was a song that expressed my feelings. And — if I may say — I feel a lot of different emotions. The good thing is that in my stage repertoire with the band, I have about 800 songs in 7 different languages. So for me it was not necessary to write my own songs because I always had a song for all my own emotions written and composed by someone else.
Then I met Sergio Fertitta who came back to Zürich, Switzerland after 6 years of songwriting and producing in the United States and we met after he became my neighbour and had his studio next to my door. I asked him if I could do some covers in his studio. After recording some 30 covers of all kinds, he asked me if he could write a song for me. He liked my voice from deep to high with a touch of “life experience” as he called it. So it began with a James-Bond-like song and now we have 12 songs ready-mastered for my first own album. After hearing a new song, he always asked me to say what I felt when I heard the new tune and what I would like to express with it. Then we talked about things that happened in my life and about feelings I had deep inside. Then he wrote the words and they always fit my feelings deep inside. Of course we also recorded some tunes that are not so deeply-rooted, but most of them are really connected with my emotions. So, let’s say we are a music “dream team”.
What’s your strength compared to the other contestants in the Swiss selection?
I want to show authenticity. This is me, myself and I. Pure emotion with all of my being. I think my voice and my performance on stage fit me and my life experience. I want to touch my audience. Therefore, for me there is no comparison, no competing. I don’t even listen to the other songs until the selection is over. I fully concentrate on my song and work towards my goal: having enough votes to have the opportunity to convince the live jury in the next step for reaching my goal: standing on the stage in Stockholm, representing Switzerland!
If you get chosen to represent Switzerland in Eurovision 2016, how will you celebrate? What would representing Switzerland mean to you?
It would mean everything to me. I think I would celebrate it with several big concerts with free admission, as my way of saying THANKS that I have the talent, the health and the power to achieve this. After partying, I would work hard in the preparation to be able to give MY ALL on the stage in Stockholm.
What would your winner’s speech be like if you win the Swiss national selection?
I think first of all, there would be tears of happiness. I would thank all those people who believed in me and helped me in some way, my husband who helps me with the technical part on stage and who has to do a lot of things alone because I have no time for him, my father and my sisters in Belgium who understand and accept that I often cannot be there at family events, my bandleader from whom I learned everything I now can do on stage and who had a lot of patience with me and my producer who wrote all these wonderful songs for me and tried to put my own special feelings in his music. And of course all my friends and people who in all those years helped me to keep believing in my dream.
What do you have to offer the Eurovision world and fans of the show?
Me, myself and I and a wish for the ability and the power to believe in a goal, even when the goal is far away. And to carry on, on that road that helps you to overcome little or large obstacles in your life. Believe in this: there are small and big lights on your way because they are the GPS to your goal. It is also one of my dreams to have a song for everyone out there to listen to, when they need it: in a moment of happiness or sorrow, of hope or disappointment.
Which songs are your all-time Eurovision favourites?
There are so many of them, but some of my favourites are “Rise Like a Phoenix”, “Hou toch van mij”, “Hold Me Now”, “Net als toen”, “Ding-a-dong” and “Eres tu”.
What would you like to say to your fans and all the people who are reading this interview?
I would like people around me and the world to know that continuing to believe in a dream is most probably the only way to live a life that is worthwhile. Be yourself and believe in what you are doing. Every human being has some kind of talent. Always keep in mind what you are strong in. Show this and work it out. This all may sound like only “beautiful words”, but I really do believe in this.
Thanks to my music I have met so many interesting people, each one with their own story; I have the privilege of being able to touch people with my songs and the way I sing them. One of the most beautiful moments is when I am on stage and sing a song and someone comes to me and says, “Thank you so much for this song, it makes me remember my first love, someone I lost, something that happened in my life”, or something like that. For these moments, I am so grateful.
Thanks so much for this interview and for giving me the possibility to get in contact to all those people that love the Eurovision Song Contest.