Marla Mase is leading a reggae/jazz social movement via music compilation. While it’s definitely not something you want to listen to lightheartedly, she manages to create whimsical tunes on heavy subjects. A strong female looking to empower those around her, she borders on slam-poet at times. Her songs cover female societal issues ranging from body image to sexual freedom. But she wouldn’t classify herself as an activist.
She’s got the on-again, off-again vocals of The Moldy Peaches and the message of Bob Marley. She’s given an important adult spin on life-altering topics without getting too “dark” or preachy.
Marla Mase will be making an appearance at the Central Park Summerstage on August 17th. The show is free and starts at 8pm and runs 90 minutes. Afterward, The event will be a mix of music and multimedia–expect lots of dance and visuals. The show aims to portray the “universal woman’s confinement” and celebrate the human condition through the eyes of women. Seven dancers will accompany Marla and tell their own stories as the night goes on. The stories will run together to embody what it means to live as a modern woman. In other words, if you’re looking for a new perspective on the importance of personal freedom, this would be a good event for you. Or maybe you’re just looking for a new kind of music event. Either, way make sure and get down there to check it out. Get to know Marla and where her inspiration comes from below.
Q: I can only imagine how hard covering such important and heavy social matters through music. What’s your creative process like when it comes to song writing? Do you ever just need to take a break?
A: Actually the songs just come to me. I don’t actively seek them. They appear. I hear the words and a melody in my head and then I grab the closest recorder I can find (my cell phone, or photo booth app on my computer and I grab it before it disappears). It’s the same with all my writing, whether it’s songs, poems, monologues, scenes. Of course once I start on a project like a play and I see that I need to create a specific moment or scene then I sit down and write it. But the initial impetus comes to me. I guess what I’m saying is that I didn’t know that SPEAK (DELUXE) was going to be what it was. I just had these songs and when it was all done (after the original SPEAK) I thought, Oh, there is more of a concept here than I thought. As far as taking a break? Hah.
Q: When was your “aha!” moment in knowing that you needed to share stories of female oppression through music?
A: Again, the aha’s come song by song — I never had the intention of creating an album about female oppression but there are certain themes that keep repeating themselves in my work. I always joke that I only write about war and sex (the fun aspects of it) and a song like Scream (the original and Scream Reprise) is clearly about a woman who has been abused, trafficked, tortured. That came to me in two parts. The first part was when I was with this incredible woman Tara (a healer with a brilliant mind who is is the embodiment of the female archetype of ‘witch’ ‘shaman’) and she and I were discussing my knowing about things I shouldn’t know about, meaning wars, torture, abuse, political coercion and she pulled out a painting she drew of a Tree Woman. Roots Woman is what she called her and as soon as I saw the drawing I started to shake and cry hysterically. (And I’m not a crier.) I knew this woman. I’ve seen her thousands of times. Anyway, the next day still shaken up by the experience I wrote pages and pages about her (all stream of consciousness, it comes to me and I just go with it—I have no idea what it’s about, I just follow the lead) and out of those pages came my song That Wall which is on my debut album A Brief Night Out (the only song in my show SPEAK from that album) and my song SCREAM. I had to write it because I had no choice.
Actually there is always a choice — that being making the decision to take the “call,” the “‘inspiration,” “grab the pen, the computer, the recorder” and capture it before it floats on by. These two songs are very IMPORTANT to me. VERY. The second part of this, is that this woman, this roots woman, that I sing about in SCREAM has come to me many times—particularly in yoga. I literally see her in the distance, hiding (often with a young girl) and she is obviously haunted, tortured, very damaged. I’ve burst into tears upon seeing her (this is all silent of course in my head while I’m holding some yoga pose, although the tears are real and visible) and say, “I am so sorry.” How could I not write about her?
Speak, the show, is very much about this woman, about these roots women.
Q: Do your songs have any special relation to your own life?
A: Absolutely. For example, A Brief Night Out (BNO) is a rock opera about a woman falling apart and then coming back together (“Break-up, Break-down, Break-Through”)—I call it a Mid-Life Rock-n-Roll Crisis — much of that came out of my personal story. AnnaRexia which is on SPEAK DELUXE came to me while I was at Coney Island one day playing frisbee with some fans/friends I met on Twitter who were visiting from Switzerland and there was all this reggae playing and suddenly I stopped and sang into my phone – -Anna Anna Anna Anna Rexia Anna Rexia — and then called Tomás Doncker my producer, co-writer and told him: “I want to write/record a new song and it’s a reggae tune and it’s called AnnaRexia.” The subject is personal to me. My daughter has struggled for years with anorexia, depression, etc., etc., etc.—it has had a big impact on the entire family. It is important to me that Women (Men, too) see things as they are and love themselves as they are. Way too many messages telling us we are not right and if we just fix this a little, or do that a little, or buy this, we will be PERFECT. As if PERFECT is attainable. Or perfectly happy. Believe me I too wish I could capture Happiness and keep it frozen or contained under airtight glass, but alas, it’s not going to happen. It’s a lesson I keep living every day. I guess you could say my song Queen of Imperfection and RHM (from BNO) are my ‘f—k you’ stance on all THAT.
Q: If you had to share any piece of advice for musicians taking on social issues in their music, what would it be?
A: That’s a tough question—they, the social issues, take me on. When I first started working with Tomás I adamantly sad, “The one thing I am NOT is an activist” and here I am being touted as that. It’s funny, you know — but sometimes what and who we think we are is NOT the perception that we give off. Or there are other plans for us. My advice: Write from your truth, your heart, what matters to you. Authenticity is apparent, you don’t have to work for it (other stuff like skills, technique, talent, marketing yourself, takes lots of practice and tons of work). Simply let yourself be you.
Q: What’s the most prominent fan story you can remember that made you really realize the impact you’ve made through your music?
A: I received an email from a soldier living in a rehab for injuries, physical and mental, that he had sustained during his work overseas. He told me that my music gave him some hope and a bit of peace, a reprieve from the trauma and anguish he continually lived with, and he said that it wasn’t just him but all of the ‘boys’ over there at the rehab. (What can I say about that really. I have no idea how he knew of me and my music, which songs he was referring to, but there it was. I am silenced and humbled by that. A vessel. )
Q: If you could choose any person, alive or dead, to perform with, who would it be and why?
A: I guess I’ll take a living person because who knows it might just happen. Well, my kids tell me Macklemore. They think we’re similar. I do love Eminem (for his passion, his irreverence, his speaking of the truth and his humor) and I’d love to take on James Brown. (Ok, so he’s dead but I’d love to take on his sexuality on stage— what fun).
There is Joe Bowie (from DeFunkt) and he is alive and a possibility. When I saw him perform I was stunned—I never saw a more ‘in the moment’ performer, so grounded in who he is and what he’s doing, a thousand percent “IN IT.” I can learn a lot from someone like that. Oh wait, one more: THE BLOCKHEADS (from Ian Dury and the….Blockheads) they would be the perfect band for me (other than my own- The Tomás Doncker Band). They are killer musicians, funky as anything and fun, fun, fun. They’re great and yet they don’t take themselves so seriously. Maybe we could team up… Marla Mase, Tomás Doncker Band AND the Blockheads — what a show that would be. Can’t wait!