interview: marian mereba on her musical journey, her tree hugging ways & the atlanta music scene

September 16, 2014

A New Atlanta is emerging. The traditional sounds and musical styles of the past are still relevant, but now the indie kids are making their mark on the industry. Leading the charge are Brittany Bosco, aka Bosco, Raury and Marian Mereba —the latter recently hailed by Ebony Magazine as a “black, fresh & 20 something” that “everyone needs to know.” Mereba has performed at Austin’s SXSW music festival, and both Jazmine Sullivan and Cody Chesnutt have enlisted her in the past as their opening acts. And it’s easy to see why; her truths resonate. Mereba’s first EP, Room For Living, is a tribute to the wandering spirit, where the most notable track, “Go to London,” speaks to the inevitable strain geographical distance can put on a relationship. In “September,” the lead single off her forthcoming LP “Radio Flyer,” Mereba declares her queenship while dismissing a former lover who has forgotten her royal standing. The track points to a change in her artistic style, exhibiting the musical evolution necessary for a true artist.
Mereba has imprinted herself in the industry as a woman who can do it all. She sings, writes, plays the guitar and raps—a modern day Renaissance woman. I had a chance to chat with the Spelman grad and discuss her many talents, her tree hugging ways, her unyielding love for Ethiopia, and the impact that the past and present Atlanta music scene has made on her journey as an artist.

By Andrea Dwyer, AFROPUNK Contributor *

Andrea: Please tell us about yourself and what you do.

Marian Mereba: I’m an artist, a singer-songwriter, who’s kinda lived all over. I basically construct my music based off of my unique life experiences that I’ve had so far.

Andrea: You’re part of an emerging cast of young, talented musicians coming out of Atlanta. What’s the music scene like and who are some of those talents we should keep an eye on?

MM: There’s been something special going on in Atlanta for a whilebut especially for the last few years. Since I’ve been in Atlanta, I’ve watched the scene kinda grow into this beautiful amalgamation of so many different styles and stories. I’m definitely excited to be a part of it.

There are so many different talented people coming out of the city. Everyone is thriving. Raury is the shit! We kindred souls musically; I really support him. My fellow female artists, Miloh Smith, India Shawn, (Brittany) Bosco – they’re all incredible. As far as rappers go, Konan is dope. I’ve known about his music and movement for a couple of years now. EarthGang is another. There are so many other amazing talents I could name but those are a few.

Andrea: You stated that being part of the music scene in Atlanta has forced you out of your comfort zone. In what ways specifically have you evolved?

MM: One of the reasons I moved to Atlanta and went to Spelman was because I felt that it’s the center of black culture in America and I wanted to absorb it. Atlanta helped me tap into my potential. I started rapping and I found myself getting more creative in the way I was expressing myself, listening to different types of music and just immersing myself into the culture. It forced me to spread my wings as a writer and a creator in general because I was around so much diverse talent and innate creativity. It forced me into a new level of creativity.

Andrea: Take us back to the beginning. When did your interest in music start, and how did you come to have such eclectic interests (rapping, playing the guitar, and singing)?

MM: As a kid I was always making up stuff up, whether it was songs, a skit, or choreography. I started singing when I was super young, just to my mom’s tapes and stuff. My family noticed that I had something. They didn’t know quite what it was yet but they noticed and they nurtured it. I started singing first, and then I started making songs in elementary school. I continued on with writing and singing but figured if I knew how to play instruments too I wouldn’t have to rely on someone to make music. I started playing the piano first, then I picked up guitar soon after. I really fell in love with the guitar. You can take it anywhere with you and I loved how it felt when I played it. The guitar became my partner in crime in making music.

As far as my different musical interests, I had such a huge range of musical tastes. I would listen to my brother’s music, which was a lot of 90s rap a lot of Biggie and early Jay Z. And then I was listening to a lot of Alanis Morissette, TLC, Michael Jackson, Madonna, all sorts of stuff like that. Going to school with a lot of different races, I was being exposed to different music culturally. My best friend in elementary school was Chinese, so I would hear traditional Chinese music from her and I’d then go home and be hearing Nirvana. It all mixed together to form my style now.

Andrea: You worked for some time writing songs for a living. What did you take from that experience, being on a different side of the industry so to speak?

MM: It really just taught me how to make songs that are universal, making songs that everyone can feel in one way or another. Luckily, at no point did I have to compromise myself as an artist. What it actually did was push me as an artist to believe in my talents. The feedback I was getting from other artists was positive. They were all basically saying that I had “it,” that I should be making music. It taught me that there are no boundaries to music and that there are so many ways to be creative and whether you are creating something for someone else; you’re actually still creating for yourself. You’re just expanding your own voice and style; everything is on the list when it comes to creating.

Andrea: The statement you tweeted some weeks ago – “artistry vs. industry” – can you speak to what that means to you?

MM: Ahh O.K. [laughs].

I’m out in Los Angeles and I would say it’s the center of the music industry. That tweet came from a positive place and from a conversation I was having in the studio that night. I feel like we’re approaching this time, a revolutionary feeling of artistry coming back and ruling over the industry, instead of vice versa. Some of the artists I mentioned earlier in terms of Atlanta are at the helm of this new wave of real artistry coming back to the forefront in music and I think they are absolute disciples. Is the industry going to respond to artistry or is artistry going to respond to the industry? I feel that there’s a shift completely. That juxtaposition will always exist.  The truest artists are usually the ones who are least likely to conform to industry standards, the ones that end up shaking shit up. They are the ones who care least about what the industry says and that’s exactly what me and my people are about.

[Laughs] I’m impressed. My tweets!

Andrea: People assume that you’re an r&b or neo-soul artist but you’re a mixture of everything. How would you describe your sound?

MM: I would say there’s more things you would call my sound than you couldn’t call it. It’s soulful, it’s hip-hop and it even has hints of neo-soul and so much other stuff. But if I were to put it in a particular genre I would have to say new wave, alternative or a new classic.

Andrea: You’re of Ethiopian heritage. Would you say your African heritage has influenced your music?

MM: Yes. More than anything I think it’s influenced my story. I’m half Ethiopian, half Black American. I was raised in the balance of those two things. My father is traditional: he raised us sheltered and religious, raised us with certain idealsthe biggest of those being family oriented and not materialistic. When I went to live in Ethiopia [seven months in Addis Abba], I realized that a lot of those ideals was simply a product of him being in that environment. The vibrant nature of Ethiopian culture was instilled in me from such a young age; therefore my heritage definitely reflects itself in my music. Once I went and lived in Ethiopia the influence came even more. My family there was listening to my music and giving me input as far as how I could be a voice for Ethiopia, it was inspiring. I completely embrace my heritage and uniqueness so my culture has certainly influenced my music. 

Andrea: On your EP, “Room For Living,” there’s certainly a recurring theme of travel. Were those songs inspired by your experiences while on the road?

MM: Yes definitely. The essential theme of the project is about leaving behind the things of the past in order to reach your truest self. It’s a lot about traveling, letting go of people and things that are slowing you down, things that are hindering you from evolving. The title, “Room For Living,” explains that in a nut-shell: what are those things in your life you need to let go of in order to thrive. Travel will always be a theme in my music because it is so much a part of who I am and how I grew up. Travel is a passion of mine.
Photo by Tristan Irvin

Andrea: You’re currently working on a follow up to your EP, an LP “Radio Flyer.” Can you tell us anything about the project?

MM: There are definite undertones of themes I explored in “Room for Living” but I expand more into other subjects like love and things like that. I’m also speaking about my pursuits and the things that’ve gotten me to where I am and where I’m trying to go. I talk about my childhood and those experiences that have made me who I am. There are more themes that are addressed on “Radio Flyer,” when comparing it to “Room for Living”.

Andrea: Folks are definitely feeling your song and video “September.”

MM: Yeah. “September” has gotten a great response because people are surprised. If you’ve only heard my acoustic stuff from “Room for Living” people are like “this shit is jamming!” The production is a little more advanced and the vibe of it is a better representation of where I am now than where I was a few years ago when I made “Room for Living.”  It shows the evolution and that’s what I’m hearing most— the response about my music is that it’s an evolution. I’m very excited about the growth and the album coming out.

Andrea: You’re a Bob Marley fan. How would you finish his famous quote: “One thing about music…”?

MM: I don’t know if it’s possible to finish it in a better way but I’ll try for a different way. I would say one thing about music – when it’s real, you feel it.

Andrea: When you’re not making music what do you like doing for fun?

MM: I love nature and being outside and would say I’m completely like a tree hugger. I enjoy hiking, running and exploring in general. I love reading as well as cooking (still growing in that area). I also love meeting new people and spending time with my people (my friends, family, and fellow artists). In Atlanta, I do this weekly thing, where I invite other creatives and influencers over to bounce ideas off each other. That’s the kind of stuff I really enjoy. And I really love writing of course but not just writing songs. I enjoy writing in general.

Andrea: What’s next for you?

MM: Well of course my LP, “Radio Flyer”.  I am signed to an indie label out of Atlanta called Red Kotton and we’re working on putting the finishing touches to it.  I’m also out here in Los Angeles working on a more experimental, dance, folk-infused project with Gianni Lee that I’ve been working on for a while. There are certain collaborations coming up that I think will lead to a new era, a new sound I’m going after. While I’m here in L.A., I’ll be performing, as well as back home in Atlanta.

Photo by Samson Debela

You can follow Marian Mereba on Twitter and on her website for more updates.

* Andrea Dwyer is a freelance writer based in Atlanta. She’s a writer at Superselected and you can follow her on Twitter @musingandrea.