Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT -

Y re­ac­tion was, ‘Who cares?,’” re­calls Nowack. “My as­sump­tion she was al­ready signed be­cause she was all over the news. But I was cu­ri­ous.”

The head of S Records drove over to the The Gap, where 150-200 peo­ple watched Maria Aragon sing I Love Candy, which she had per­formed in a TV com­mer­cial for the cloth­ing out­let, as well as her sig­na­ture cover of Born This Way, which had al­most 50 mil­lion YouTube views. The fast-talk­ing 49-year-old en­tre­pre­neur was very im­pressed, es­pe­cially with her un­com­mon poise, and af­ter­wards talked to Maria and her leery older sis­ters Ro­juane, 23, and Linger Ann, 22, who served as Maria’s man­ager.

Nowack was won­der­ing whether this cute lit­tle girl could change the direc­tion of his life, again. In 2005, while work­ing as a money man­ager, he had dis­cov­ered a golden-throated 23-yearold singer — Naomi Streimer, a former Man­i­to­ban — in a Toronto book­store, and promised to make her a su­per­star. But it never hap­pened.

Seiz­ing the mo­ment, Nowack in­vited the trio over to his Rosedale home that af­ter­noon, where he had the 11-year-old Maria sing a cap­pella so he could get a true fix on her tal­ent. The home-schooled Grade 6 young­ster was not flus­tered by the im­promptu try­out, and ripped into I Will Al­ways Love You, the Whitney Hous­ton smash, fol­lowed by Michael Jack­son’s Man in the Mir­ror.

“I thought, ‘Do I have the op­por­tu­nity of a life­time?,’” Nowack re­calls. “‘Is this young girl an­other MJ (Michael Jack­son) in the mak­ing?’

“My style, typ­i­cally, is that if she was 19 or 25, I’m go­ing to sign you. Let’s go. But I had to be del­i­cate, and I wasn’t go­ing to ne­go­ti­ate with her sis­ter or with an 11 year-old girl.”

Nowack, an in­tense and driven man, im­me­di­ately tele­phoned his Amer­i­can cre­ative part­ner, Narada Michael Walden — the Grammy-win­ning pro­ducer of hits by Hous­ton, Mariah Carey and Aretha Franklin — about his dis­cov­ery. Walden was al­ready aware of Maria through her ap­pear­ance on ABC’s Good Morn­ing Amer­ica in Feb., 2011, and urged him to sign this “true tal­ent.”

Nowack con­tacted her par­ents, Veni and Menchie Aragon, in Win­nipeg the next day and flew in to meet them the fol­low­ing Thurs­day. Maria, her par­ents, sis­ters and 16-year-old brother Jezette sat down in the liv­ing room of the Aragon’s Elgin Av­enue home to hear Nowack’s pro­posal.

“At first, I don’t trust him be­cause I don’t know if he will take ad­van­tage of Maria,” says Veni, who as­sem­bles trac­tors at MacDON In­dus­tries.

“The fam­ily stared me down,” says Nowack of the sit-down. “Six pairs of eyes beamed through me. Her mother did not crack a smile. She just stared at me for a solid five hours. She did not take her eyes off me.

“It was one of the rough­est meet­ings I’ve ever had in my life.”

He made his pitch, out­lin­ing what he thought was wrong with the mu­sic busi­ness that had yet to sign Maria. While they all chowed down on pizza and salad, he told them he could help get her more favourable busi­ness deals and had deep enough pock­ets to make her a global name.

Nowack sent the Aragons a contract in early De­cem­ber and, af­ter get­ting no re­sponse, called to learn Veni wasn’t happy with the terms of the pro­posal, which was five years in length. Nowack, who is leg­endary for not tak­ing no for an an­swer, flew to Win­nipeg on Dec. 27 in­tent on ink­ing a deal.

This meet­ing was much more emo­tional as the fam­ily grap­pled with what to do about Maria. Veni was es­pe­cially feel­ing the pres­sure. He wanted to make his daugh­ter’s dream come true, but wasn’t sure this was the way to make it hap­pen. When he was close to back­ing out, Maria cried, say­ing, “Papa, this is my dream.”

“I told Steven that I re­ally care about my fam­ily,” Veni said. “I told him to swear that in my ab­sence you will be the fa­ther of Maria.”

“Veni told me he didn’t care about the money but I would have to agree to be her fa­ther (in his ab­sence),” says Nowack. “He said to me, ‘I don’t want her to ever cry be­cause of you.’”

The contract was then signed, and they all went to The Keg to cel­e­brate.

The first order of busi­ness was to get her into the stu­dio.

So, on Feb. 23 this year, Maria and her fam­ily headed to San Fran­cisco, to Walden’s Tarpan Stu­dios. He is a much sought-af­ter ses­sion drum­mer — who backed gui­tar wiz­ard Jeff Beck when he played Win­nipeg last Oc­to­ber, and is re­garded as the great­est pro­ducer for fe­male vo­cal­ists in his­tory.

Walk­ing into the place fes­tooned with gold and plat­inum records was some­thing Maria will never for­get.

“When he opened the door, ev­ery­thing was run­ning through my brain and I was cry­ing,” says Maria. “It’s a once-in-a-life­time to get to do some­thing like this. When I walked in I felt like the luck­i­est per­son in the world. Peo­ple who have recorded there are the peo­ple I look up to.”

Walden had de­layed their stu­dio ses­sion be­cause of the sud­den death of pop diva Whitney Hous­ton on Feb.12. Walden had been close to Hous­ton — not only for pro­duc­ing Gram­my­win­ning The Body­guard movie sound­track. In her hon­our, he penned the Whitney-es­que tune When I Dance With You for Maria while help­ing her write her first song, You Are Enough.

On a gloomy April 18, Nowack flew to Win­nipeg with the fi­nal mixes of You Are Enough and When I Dance With You and picked up the en­tire Aragon fam­ily in a black stretch limo so they could all hear her first songs together. As the car cruised around Assiniboine Park, Menchie slapped her thigh to the beat of You Are Enough while Ve­nie grinned and gave it the thumbs up.

(See the mo­ment for your­self at win­nipegfreep­

“She’s go­ing to cre­ate a real com­mo­tion in the mu­sic in­dus­try,” says Walden, 60, who plans to re­turn to the stu­dio with Maria this summer to a com­plete an al­bum’s worth of tunes. “You think back to Michael Jack­son be­ing 11. I think she has a lot of the same qual­i­ties. She has this youth­ful spirit, but you al­most feel there is a 30-year-old inside there.

“Only God knows who’s go­ing to be the next big thing. The trick is ex­po­sure.”

Maria per­formed at the annual Google’s Zeit­geist con­ven­tion in Lon­don last month, and re­cently per­formed in Dun­das Square in Toronto in sup­port of Sick Kids Hos­pi­tal’s Her­bie Fund. Nowack threw out the pos­si­bil­i­ties of a Today show ap­pear­ance in July and guest­ing on Satur­day Night Live this fall.

“Th­ese op­por­tu­ni­ties don’t come along all the time,” says Maria. “I’m try­ing to grab it while it’s there.”

Nowack has beg plans to rein­vent the mu­sic busi­ness next week with the de­but of welove­freemu­, a mul­timil­lion-dol­lar web­site that can be ac­cessed all over the world. The plan is to in­tro­duce a new artist each month and give away one song a week. Maria will have July to her­self. Not only is it gratis, but there will be no advertisements or re­quire­ment for per­sonal in­for­ma­tion.

“I be­lieve 80 per cent of the peo­ple who read this ar­ti­cle are go­ing to hit the web­site,” he says. “I be­lieve 500 or 600 mil­lion peo­ple will be­come aware of Maria within six weeks. I an­tic­i­pate 20 to 30 per cent of those peo­ple will down­load her mu­sic. That would be 150 mil­lion sin­gle down­loads.

“Even if we had 100 mil­lion or 50 mil­lion, it will be the sin­gle most suc­cess­ful song in his­tory. I will be able to say that You Are Enough by Maria Aragon is the sin­gle most suc­cess­ful down­loaded song in the his­tory of the mu­sic busi­ness.”

Maria and her fam­ily were picked up at their home by a li­mou­sine to lis­ten to her sin­gles.

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