Be careful not to close your eyes when you’re listening to Mélat or you just might catch yourself staring in a vintage film. At least that’s the feeling her voice evokes as it glides effortlessly over beats inspired by traditional R&B seasoned with unique influences of sounds that run the gamut from tribal chant to hip-hop B-Boys. Her lyrics paint stories so vividly that you could have sworn you were there.
Mélat, pronounced May-Laht, raised in Austin, TX, spent her formative years singing in choirs, carefully positioning herself in the background thanks to an extreme level of shyness. She soon found singing to be a safe haven that put her in a place where she felt free. As she finished school her passion for music was forced to become secondary. As a first-generation Ethiopian-American she was encouraged to pursue higher education and a more “practical” career path.
After connecting with her current music partner and producer, Pha The Phenom, she slowly got back into singing and began breaking down that fear of letting her voice be heard.
Describe your sound, what influences it?
My taste in music spans from Ella Fitzgerald to Mariah Carey. From Ethiopian music I heard growing up to the Kool and the Gang that my dad would play every Saturday. I don’t believe in being bound to the traditional idea of genre. The idea of art is to experiment and produce something emotion driven so that others too can feel and relate. Emotion has no genre, race, color, or creed.
This is R&B, but it’s fluid. I’d like to think I’m just pushing the label of “R&B” forward with songs like “Dance Olivia” that are not necessarily influenced by common tropes of the genre.
What is your creative process like?
When I’m creating a song, whether writing or recording, I always have a movie playing in my mind. I see the whole thing happening. I see the characters and I feel their emotions. Sometimes a beat will trigger a memory or incite a feeling that just flows right out. Other times a melody and just one string of words will come along and one of the many talented producers I know will build a beat around it.
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What inspires your songwriting?
Mélat: It sounds cliché but life is my biggest inspiration. I am strongly guided by my heart – not in a simply romantic way, but in a way of feeling empathy for mankind. I used to think this characteristic made me weak and vulnerable, but I’ve harnessed its strength through my writing. I write about my personal struggles with family, confidence, and relationships, as well as societal struggles across the globe.
Which artists do you idolize?
Mélat: My absolute favorite listens are Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole. I love the classics but will stop everything I’m doing and sing along if Mariah Carey’s “Always Be My Baby” comes on. Michael Jackson is the definition of entertainment personified. Kanye West is a constant inspiration with his fearlessness in experimenting with sound.
What messages do you aspire to give your fans?
Mélat: Love hard. Be compassionate. Be true. Don’t let the world fool you into believing you need to be a hard, brash, selfish, troll to be heard and respected. We are one and united we can accomplish anything.
Tell us about the concept for your newly released video for “Twenty-Ten”.
This video is based on one summer back in 2010 when I slipped into what felt like a completely different world with the relationship I was in. It was like we lived in this universe that was just us and looking back on it, I began to feel like it may have been a dream. Something so perfectly aligned in every way, from night to day, inseparable. Love and lust intertwined. The video depicts this dream like feel. It jumps through multiple images quickly ignoring time, place, and chronology. Everything represents something, from the flame, to the clock, to the lamp, to the bare mattress, like in any dream. Look for the layers and the hidden messages. Love and lust come with so many unspoken truths and hidden motives I felt it’s only right that the video did the same. In the end though the framing of and presentation is very simple and very different from my last video so for those not into layers, they can just enjoy the images.
What’s next for Mélat?
Expect shows in cities I haven’t performed in yet, collaborations with some amazing artists and producers, and all around more, more and more! I’m going to continue to push my message and my sound, hopefully gathering more and more believers in the process and growing as an artist and creator. I’m learning how to love myself to the maximum and putting that feeling in my music so that it influences others.