Marla Mase is a writer, performer, producer, singer and songwriter from New York City. On top of being multi-talented in the musical and artist side of life, she has been awarded an honorary ‘Messenger of Peace’ award by Friends of the UN for her work as a visionary artist and songwriter. Marla Mase isn’t your typical punk rock chick.
Marla Mase and the Tomas Doncker Band
Marla Mase has become known for her provocative and raw live performances and thought-provoking lyrics which focus on the injustices of the world, media pressures upon women among other political and social issues. Marla Mase isn’t a passive member of society. She uses her thought-provoking songs to inspire others (just as others like Bob Dylan did in the past). However, unlike those huge inspirational artists of the 60s and 70s, Mase doesn’t take a back seat. Whatever she sings about, she also puts into practice. Songs like Queen of Imperfection and AnnaRexia highlight the issue of the pressure that is put on women by the media and society to look a certain way. Mase sings about this while also actively campaigning. AnnaRexia is spearheading the StayImperfect Project or Love Your Butt Campaign which Marla created to empower women to not only accept but love themselves and their bodies. Proceeds from AnnaRexia as well as emerging artist, Lael Summer’s track, The Good Fight (whose EP Marla co-produced with Doncker) will go towards theprojectheal.org, a non-profit organization founded by two teenage eating disorder survivors, that raises scholarship money for girls whose families cannot afford to send them to treatment.
For the above reasons among others, Mase has been noted as being a true musical pioneer of our time. She is about to release the deluxe edition of her album Speak. Speak was first released in 2010. The deluxe edition features the ten original tracks plus six extra ones such as AnnaRexia and Piece of Peace.
Marla Mase has been compared to the likes of Jim Morrison and Patti Smith. Two of the most inspirational musicians of the 60s and 70s. Mase certainly has a Patti Smith feel to her music and to some extent, her appearance and attitude to life. Songs like Open Up My Heart and Queen of Imperfection really do ooze Smith’s attitude and spirit. Her musical style reflects that of Smith’s as well. Her music is poetry in song. She mixes spoken word, punk, rock, global soul and reggae influences to produce a sound all her own. It seems Mase belongs in the 70s but is a few decades too late.
Lyrically, Mase is not as strong as Smith or Morrison, she is less literary and more factual. Her songs’ messages are easier to understand than that of Smith’s or Morrison’s. For example, the lyrics of and meaning behind track five, New Cell Phone are pretty obvious – the world has become too digitalised, mobile phones and the internet are the only way people communicate now. Mase sings about changing her number and trying to escape the world around her.
Marla Mase performing live
Mase is more straight forward in her approach to lyrics, she’s clear and direct. However, saying that, Open Up My Heart is a narrative about a protected princess who longs to witness real life and experience true love. It reminds me of the story of the Buddha in some ways, a protected being who wishes to see the real world and how others live, even if that means witnessing love and hate.
Other favourite tracks on Speak are Queen of Imperfection, She Hooked Him Up, Divine Restlessness and Dance the Tango. Usually it’s easy to distinguish your favourite tracks on an album but this time round it was hard. Most of the tracks are outstanding due to the way they open your mind and make you think about the world and how we all live in it together.
Queen of Imperfection sees Mase singing her heart out about how she is not ‘perfect’. No-one is perfect and this is something we should all celebrate. The lyrics, “I’m cracked, flawed and defective just like you are…My body has some wear and tear because it ain’t been airbrushed and I don’t care…Ain’t no cover girl/Ain’t no pornographic supermodel movie star/My hair ain’t combed/My house is a wreck…” are all too true. We should embrace that we are all real and unique and not false like Hollywood movie stars.
She Hooked Him Up has a great funk beat that will instantly have you tapping your feet. This song is about the power of sex in society. Sex sells as we all know far too well. Divine Restlessness is one of the few slow numbers on the record where Mase sings about switching off and fully relaxing in an Eastern meditative way; reaching the Divine. Dance the Tango is a song that feels separate from the rest of the album which is why it’s a favourite. This is the only track on the album with folk influences and is a welcomed break from the punk influences found in the rest of the tracks. Vocally, Mase sounds more angelic and less angry in Dance the Tango. It has a great melody and beat that will have you bobbing along in no time. It’s a narrative about a woman who died and her obituary was read in the paper. However, it missed out how she enjoyed dancing the tango, “They forgot to mention how you liked to laugh and how you loved to dance the tango”. Dance the Tango focuses on remembering the little things about those people you love; those things that made them happy, not about how much you miss them when they’ve gone.
Mase has the ability to write lyrics and create songs that open your mind. They will get you thinking. There are layers to her songs meaning you can take what you want from each one. Those interpretations above are my own but you might listen and find other meanings in the songs. There are not many artists that can write in that way these days. There are not many artists who can create songs that make you think about the wider picture. For most songs we are a passive audience but when you listen to Mase, you will become an active audience member.
Speak (the deluxe edition) will be available from Thursday 28 February. You can listen to the stream here.