There’s something deeply contagious about the life affirming music of Mariel Mariel. Its melodies brim with rhythm so insistent no one can stand still when she plays. The Chilean singer has made an impact with listeners who are not attached to one any one style of music; what she does is a hybrid sound for people who like everything, especially when it’s served with a dash of euphoria.
Mariel is the daughter of Pedro Villagra, a folk music figure in her native country, which might explain her early love of music. In 2007 she debuted with the decidedly less rhythmic “No Me Despierten,” serving as the spark that made her move to Mexico City and look for a different sound. The result was 2011’s “La Música Es Buena,” made with the help of Leonel García (ex Sin Bandera), Natalia Lafourcade and Juan Manuel Torreblanca; for her next act, Mariel made the Foto Pa Ti EP at home with help from main collaborator/bandleader/guitarist Andrés “Sonido” Landón. This recording has opened the most doors for Mariel, and 2015 is looking like an even bigger year for her, since she’ll be playing festivals like NRMAL and Vive Latino, as well as appearing in collaborations and touring more. We spoke with her via Skype before her show at festival NRMAL.
How’s it going, Mariel?
I’m in Santiago, right now. I’ve been here two months and now I’m going back to Mexico but it’s been great. It’s summer and getting back in touch with my roots has been intense.
I saw you play the NRMAL 2015 announcement party a couple of months ago. That was quite a show! Care to talk a little bit about your experience?
That day was crazy! I arrived the same day from Santiago. We landed, ate fast, changed clothes and left for the show. It felt like a trance. There was another band that had a completely different style from us [Mexico’s industrial/sample cult figures Oxomaxoma], but it’s sometimes common to play with bands that are very different from you. There’s a positive side to it, you get to be surprised, and everything comes together in a show or a festival. I love that NRMAL are daring to do that, I love eclecticism. And the show was great, a girl came onstage with us to dance and I felt like she was a ghost [laughs], because she came right at the moment when my regular dancer, Maria Delirio, comes in; and Maria couldn’t make to the show, she stayed in Santiago. It was like it was planned but it wasn’t, and then I asked her her name and she answered with a straight face “Mariel”…it felt like it wasn’t real. [laugh]. I love the creative risks implied in our shows, you don’t know what’s going to happen. Something always happens at our shows.
Mexico has figured in your career for a long time. What is it about the country that inspired yo?
Mexico is my home. It’s where I managed to make my dream happen and made me look at things in a different way, which made me gain a lot of knowledge. That’s the main thing that Mexico has brought me. [Also] accepting who you are and being proud and dignified about it, with more self-esteem. It has made me know myself better musically, it made me do something that I might not have dared to do back in Santiago. Mexico has lots of colors, temperature and flavors, DF makes me fall in love. I have met people with human values that I don’t think Chilean people have. Good, beautiful people. Us Chileans are less likely to trust someone right away, we don’t believe anybody at first; and meeting people who open their arms and share everything they have with you was a huge lesson that Mexico gave me.
Mexico is where I managed to make my dream happen.
How did you arrive to this sound?
I had to try many different sounds and voices. I tried being a singer/songwriter, emcee or whatever. When your priority is the message, the style can change. I’m more about lyrics and sound colors…I like to develop a sound more than a character of a virtuosic diva. Every experiences teaches what you want or what you don’t want to do.
I toured as a member of Carla Morrison’s band for a year in 2012 and that was also a huge learning experience. I had a job, my mind was in a different space; I was also very protected. Because working independently can eat you alive, so it was breath of fresh air. We toured all over Mexico, it gave me an outsider’s perspective, especially with all the social emotions that were brought forth with the elections, it was interesting. And it’s how me and Landón conceived a record that we made in the basement of my home with the instruments that I had and nothing else. We would hit a trash can with a stick and see if it would work as a kick drum for a song, we didn’t want to envision a studio recording because we were not going to go to one.
It’s important for you to make a intimate album even if it’s aimed at the dance floor.
We speak the language of an urban tribe, but a tribe in the end. We’re indians with cool sneakers but indians in the end. I want to represent that. We should carry our mestizo blood proudly. Our Latino race is very beautiful, it’s young so we still have a lot to say. Right now, I don’t need a gringo to sprinkle some bills over my music…I mean, if it happens, that would be great [laughs] but it’s not what I’m looking for.
We’re indians with cool sneakers but indians in the end.
You’ve mentioned that you try to speak against injustice against women from an urban music point of view. Women are misrepresented in this type of culture. What made you want take this narrative and cause?
I have never dabbled in social criticism or aligned myself with a cause. I’m a very sensitive person, if I get involved with something like that, at this time in my life, I would get lost in it. I’d rather give more importance to music. I think it’s a more effective way to heal myself and heal others…there’s this instant healing factor that happen at concerts. Maria, my dancer, represents that side of my music; Landón is the machine, what’s sounding in my head all the time, Cristobal [Tobar, drums] is the bom-bom of my heart, and Maria represents the mysticism of women and their abilities of creation, of healing, knowledge.
I am part of the social discourse because I live in the city. This is an urban album, it’s a record of the streets, and sometimes us women have a hard time in the streets just because of who we are. In Mexico, I have to cover myself up more than I would want to, especially if I ride on the metro. I like it when women take to the street to speak out about respecting their rights, when they do interventions or artistic protesting, when they get naked to defend themselves, it’s a beautiful contradiction, it’s poetic language. My mission right now, I feel, is moving sensibilities from a standup that you can’t really explain.
What do you have in store for 2015?
There are remixes that we are about to release. There’s one by Douster from France, he’s on Mad Decent and will be playing Vive Latino as well, so hopefully we can play together. Erick Rincón made another one. We’re still not sure if we’ll release them all in a remix album or not, we need to figure that out. I’ll be touring those remixes with DJ Caso, who made an edit of the whole EP, and he’s a friend from Santiago. There’s a tribute to Juan Gabriel, a tropical bass thing where I covered one of his songs. There are some collaborations with rappers that I made last year. There’s one with Alvaro Díaz, he’s great, he’s like the boyfriend we all would love to have; I made two tracks with him. The plans keep piling up!