Urgently Necessary: An interview with Mereba
Music — 10.12.19
Mereba’s debut album The Jungle Is The Only Way Out feels urgently necessary. There are very few albums from this year that I can play and feel emotionally elevated on a level of what Channel Orange did for music listeners in 2012. That is the only way I know how to explain what I see on people’s faces when I share songs like “Kinfolk” and “My One” with them. I’m the eternal “Do you have an aux cord?” friend, so I live to feel the energy change when I share a fire song. It feels almost as though I am more, simply for knowing it. It’s been over five months since the album’s release and I still have it on repeat. I am more for knowing The Jungle Is The Only Way Out and, as a perpetual fan-girl, and I am grateful.
Marian Mereba’s voice is hauntingly beautiful and here she speaks about trying to be more honest with herself while moving into new projects. Her lyrics reflect a perspective beyond simple honesty. They address internal realities and confronting reflections of herself. Lyrics to her songs like “Black Truck”, “Heatwave ft JID” and “Sandstorm ft 6lack” have become anthems. The kind you can’t get out of your head. The kind you don’t want to get out of your head because they hit so close to home. “...Inside, it’s killing me baby / Outside I’m cucumber cool/ We might just really be crazy/ He might just, She might just…”
Between her travels from LA to Toronto, Mereba fits in some time to discuss her album, collaborations, introspection and builds suspense for what’s to come.
Where does the album title The Jungle Is The Only Way Out come from?
I was going through a really rough time and it seemed that everything that could go wrong in my life was going wrong. I was walking to work one day and for the first time in a while, I was feeling energised and hopeful. At that moment I accepted that the only way out was through. The only way I was going to be able to get to where I wanted to go was through that rough patch I was in. That was the moment the phrase itself came into my head, I connected to it and wrote it down in my notebook.
Where were you working at that time?
As a nanny. I tried to have other odd jobs but I kept quitting them because my patience for adults is very low. I have that patience for kids, so I was working for this family in Hollywood. I would take the train every morning at 6:30 am from downtown LA where I was living at the time and watch their daughter for the day and take the train back in the evening.
Was it the title that conceived this album, or did you have the songs already ready to go and that was the last piece of the puzzle?
I had started working on the album before the title came to me. “Heatwave”, “Highway 10” and “Planet U” already existed. I had a lot of songs on my computer that captured different ideas and I continued to work with the ones that stuck with me and the ones that I wanted to keep on playing. After finding the title, it took another year and a half of making songs that were more intentional. Not too intentional, just songs that were an active reflection of my mental state at that time. Towards the end of the year, I began to feel as though I needed to close it, finish it, and have it come out.
2019 has already been such a significant year for you, that manifested hard work and personal dreams. Have there been miracles you weren’t expecting?
It’s been magical to see the music connect with people in a real way and I feel really blessed because of how diverse the listeners are. I feel as though I’ve learned a lot about my own purpose here on earth. Connecting to the people who’ve been listening to the project has been the most natural surprise. I’ve been making songs for so long, I’ve imagined people connecting to the new album, but the person-to-person connection that’s been established between me and people that are total strangers has been the most humbling experience for me. I can make songs for a million years on my own, holed up in my room with headphones on, but for it to reach someone else has been such a crazy feeling, further feeding my purpose and my passion for music. Getting to perform these new songs has been another highlight, particularly seeing my family really enjoying them and being proud of me because for such a long time I wasn’t.
Describe what the experience of performing your music is like for you.
Performing is one of the only times where not much is on my mind. I’m a heavy thinker, and performing is one of my chances to really be free. I think it’s the closest that I get to freedom. When I was younger, my family always teased me because when anyone would come over I’d always ask them if they wanted to hear a song or see a dance performance. I guess what I do now is a grown-up version of that. I love people. I’m a people person and performing is a chance to look people in the eye and connect to them. It’s an opportunity to not be in my head and instead to be in tune with my body and my spirit.
How do you choose your collaborators?
I’m at a very natural stage in the collaborative process. Right now, I’m moving into a different space where people are reaching out to work together, but for a long time, I didn’t collaborate because I was set on establishing my sound, producing for myself, and doing things all alone. The only people I worked with were my close friends JID and 6lack, who have been my friends for years. I remember sending 6lack “Heatwave”. I sent him the song and asked him to tell me if he thought it was trash. That’s how that collaboration happened. I’m definitely interested in working with more people, connecting organically, it isn’t a DM sort of thing. I prefer to meet artists in-person so that we can share energy and see if we need to exchange that energy on a project. I’m a fan of people who work in different genres and styles of music, I enjoy their individual stories and sounds but sometimes I don’t feel that it’s right for me to work with them.
So there is no one right now you’d DM for a collaboration?
Honestly, I’m obsessed with Koffee. I actually did DM her so maybe I just lied but I didn’t ask to collaborate, I was just like, “Thank you. Thank you for the music”.
Do you have a particular place you go to when you create, be it spiritually, mentally or physically?
Not so much physically but more so spiritually. I think it’s a lot like how I described performing. The truest songs for me come when I’m not thinking. I can sit down and write a song any day like a homework assignment but all the songs that are my favourites are the ones that are not over-thought. Usually, my process when I’m writing is to smoke weed. I know it makes some people overthink but it puts me in a meditative state that lets me listen to myself in a way that I struggle to when I’m overthinking. If I’m in a studio and there are people around and I can’t get to that place. I can generally feel when a song is going to come or not and I’ll just be like, ‘Let me take this home and work on it on my own time, just to make sure I’m not wasting my physical or spiritual energy.’
Let’s talk about “Sandstorm”. It was the song I deeply connected to and that brought me to the album. Tell me about the video and the creative process of bringing it to life?
I had worked on two visuals with the director Dawit N.M before we got to “Sandstorm”. He already knew the song well because we shot it after the album was out. The main theme both of us were interested in exploring was reflection. I wanted the video to be literally dealing with reflective themes and visual representations of reflective objects. The concept was that if a mirror could see a relationship from start to finish, what would it observe? When you’re in a relationship, the other person tends to become a reflection of you and you become a reflection of them, which is why your parents usually encourage you to be careful of who you’re friends with as you are a reflection of the people you spend your time around and vice versa. We wanted to explore the idea of two people reflecting each other and reflecting the internal conflicts that maybe one of them is feeling inside. When relationships end, your ability to see things clearly, to understand the anger you feel towards the other person, and admit the role you played in the demise of the relationship is a perspective that is difficult for lovers to operate from. There’s an African proverb that says: “If you are pointing one finger, there are three pointing back at you.” The song itself was written while I was going through a breakup, confiding in my friend about it, which turned into a song that we wrote together. I wanted the video to encourage reflecting at yourself by looking at your relationship with someone else.
How have you been spending your time this summer, outside of making music?
I enjoy nature and I spend a lot of time seeking nature. I haven’t been camping this summer and I’m trying to make time to, soon. Right now, I’m trying to get into cooking and my aunt is teaching me how to make Ethiopian meals which aren’t very easy meals to make. She feels like it’s time. People tend to think that because I don’t eat meat I’m super healthy but I eat fries and pizza, and I know it’s really not okay so I’m trying to fix that. I’m spending more time growing and becoming an adult, just trying to get some healthier habits going.
Have you had an opportunity to work on any new projects?
I’ve been working on new songs a lot these last few months and it’s making me very inspired. I’m supported in a way that I’ve never felt and I think the new projects will reflect my feelings of being more hopeful. After everything I’ve been through, I still feel hopeful about love. I think the next project is also going to feel lighter. I played some of the songs recently for someone and they said that The Jungle Is The Only Way Out felt as though I was putting my hand out to motion for someone to come closer and this next project feels like I have opened my arms to let someone hug me. I am more open to the world now and I hope the music will reflect that and hopefully, it helps someone else be open too.
What does it mean to remain open to believing in love and how do you sustain love in your work, because it also must feel liberating to start a new project and realise that love is here in abundance.
It felt like I was betraying someone because I always prided myself on being honest about love. Instead of perpetuating the love song phenomenon, I chose to talk about love that was indifferent to the fairytale. I wanted to be the voice that was more honest about both sides of love but I later realised that the only way I could express love was through my discontent with it. I’ve witnessed my parents grow out of love, and have been in those relationships myself. It became necessary that if I were to remain true to myself, I had to express the way I saw love through all of its disappointments. I attempted to warn people about how good love felt in the beginning and how for most love always turned sour. I began to realise my own role in the demise of love but also how okay it is to still have hope. You can be both real and hopeful. That is not to say that my music from the past wasn’t hopeful but I think now I’m in a more optimistic place with love. Not only with romantic love but also just being a human who’s alive and who has a lot of love to give. Even if it’s small acts of everyday love, it’s not corny, and it’s real to be hopeful about the promise of love. I had to grow in my way of thinking about love because I didn’t think love was truthful and now I’m seeing the truth. I would rather be honest and hopeful than honest and jaded, and that’s where I’m at right now.
The Jungle Is The Only Way Out was just the beginning for Mereba. She’s been growing her sound and working on more collaborations. Her most recent projects include a feature on the highly anticipated Jidenna album 85 to Africa. “The Other Half” is the final [beautifully constructed] song on the album, which also features the female duo, St Beauty.
Mereba also appears on Revenge of the Dreamers III. A project which recording label Dreamville and musician J. Cole invited Mereba and other artists to, making a collaborative album in Atlanta in just 10 days. “PTSD”, a track featuring Omen, Mereba, Deante’ Hitchcock and St Beauty, carries an infectious energy throughout its compelling storytelling.
Mereba is as Rickey Thompson says “booked and busy” and we can’t wait to see what sounds she chooses to share with us next.