“She picks up speed whenever she’s sinking/ uses that steam to make it up mountains/that’s how they know her/ the rolling stoner…” – Rolling Stoner, Room For Living EP
The "Rolling Stoner" everybody needs to know is Marian Mereba. The 24-year-old Ethiopian-American readily embraces what so many fight: change and the evolution of self.
I was going through an intense moment of evolution when I first experienced her EP, Room For Living. I listened to the first track, "Rolling Stoner," and could barely move on to the remaining nine because I kept repeating the damn song. With every song I became entranced with her folk-sounding voice, soulful vocals, fluid delivery and wordplay (ex: “profitable prophet, pick pocket the non-believers”), Lauryn Hill-esque raps, and compelling storytelling. At any given moment in her body of work, one can find themselves wandering through genres such as folk, pop, and soul; the EP is a museum of audible artwork that captures the beauty and unlimited potential of musical artistry.
So yeah, I basically had an eargasm.
A fellow rolling stoner, I know it’s never easy to catch one [let alone keep one], but thankfully, I had the chance to do so with Mereba—if only for awile —just as she wrapped her tour in France where she opened for Cody ChestnuTT. The Atlanta native opened up about how her life and her dreams of becoming an artist ultimately set her on a journey to “make room” for herself in this world.
EBONY: When did you first discover your love for you music?
Marian Mereba: It was probably the day my mom brought home a tape of the Bodyguard soundtrack. I was like four. The sound of Whitney Houston's voice was like… a siren luring me to a mysterious new island. I learned every word and sang to that tape every day for years.
EBONY: That was a great soundtrack. So as a self-described “rolling stone”, you’ve moved around quite a bit. What was the reasoning behind all of the relocating?
MM: Well, I guess it's in my blood because my parents are rolling stones, too. My father came to the states from Ethiopia in the 60s with nothing but a scholarship to the University of Idaho. My mother is from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where most of her family still resides. We moved based on the jobs they took--they are both professors--and they've taught at a bunch of universities.
EBONY: Speaking of universities, you attended college at both Carnegie Mellon and Spelman University in the midst of those moves. What is your degree in and why did you decide to attend college?
MM: I have a degree in English with a minor in Music. I decided to attend college because of my parents, really. I was set on stepping into the artist life at 17 when I finished high school, but my father especially urged me to go to college. Education was like the ticket to his own personal freedom, so I respected his wishes and got my college degree. Plus yeah, I always kind of liked school, actually. Growing up I kept that on the low, though.
EBONY: Haha! I completely understand; being smart was rarely viewed as cool. How did the reality of being a “rolling stone” affect the development of your music and artistry?
MM: I guess I've always been an observer as a result. I like to chill in the shadows and watch the way the world works. I love to find universal truths. So as a writer, seeing different places/people has done a lot for the way I tell stories in my music. Music was my refuge and my best friend, no matter where we went. I'd spend hours in my room writing, singing, playing guitar, conceptualizing the future… I guess I never really escaped that island I was lured to. Also, being half first-generation Ethiopian-American, I was always the "other," whether it was among African-Americans, Ethiopians, or people of other races. So being a rolling stone felt pretty natural, it felt like I wasn't supposed to be confined to one place or one thing.
EBONY: When did you feel like you had finally found your voice? What was like realization like for you?
MM: I think it was really when I started performing in the indie scene in Atlanta. I moved to Atlanta in 2009 to finish school at Spelman College and I was like "Ok, my four walls have gotten enough concerts, I gotta find a new audience." Once I started performing my style evolved tremendously. I started rapping because I could. It was like poetry, it just flowed. I never wanted to be confined to being just a singer/songwriter girl with a guitar. So, I got a band behind me, started rapping, played my harmonica, and my sound just grew.
EBONY: I must say, upon experiencing Room for Living, I was completely transported to a cathartic place and an instant fan. It was a breath of fresh air in the intensity of life. What’s the process of creating a song or a body of work like for you?
MM: That's beautiful, and a blessing. Thank you. As far as my process, my artistic mind is kind of equivalent to having a super cluttered desk in your workspace. Only I really understand the order to it. I just keep my ears and eyes open and let the world inspire me. Lots of thirty-second voice notes and lyrics written on the margins of my notebooks in school.
The Room for Living EP was my first body of work and honestly, it wasn't created with the intention of being a cohesive body of work, really. Those songs were just ten songs I recorded in my living room while I was trying to save up for the studio time to put out a "real" project. My manager, Brave, and John Key, the one person who helped me produce four of the records on it, convinced me to put it out. I was still kind of content with just my four walls hearing that.
EBONY: You’re very in tune with your artistry and the music industry is by no means a paradise of different sorts of artists. What are some obstacles that you’ve faced thus far and how have you managed to grow past them?
MM: The music industry is pretty much opposite of everything I love about making music. But I feel like the world could be helped by my music, so my conviction fuels me through the industry and gives me purpose. When I was at Spelman, I signed to a label under Def Jam as a songwriter. It was bittersweet because I was writing/recording all of these dope songs, but they were for other artists. I saw what label executives really care about, usually money and a "hot" record that is often times here today, gone tomorrow. Luckily I got out of that situation and continued on as an artist.
I've been told that as a Black female artist I need to keep my hair straight, only wear dresses/heels, sing about more "accessible" topics for young Black women, make "urban" music… I've been told to sell my songs that sound worldly or "pop" to White female artists versus keeping them for myself, because I'm a Black girl and the world won't understand. It's crazy, this industry -- especially living in Atlanta, which generally has a very narrow idea of what Black art can be.
EBONY: Given these situations, what is some of the best advice that you’ve received thus far and who gave it to you?
MM: I talked to an older woman a whole train ride once, going from Philadelphia back to Greensboro, North Carolina. I was like 14. She told me about her life in Salisbury, North Carolina and being a young Black girl like me but in the 1950s. She asked me about myself and I told her my dreams and aspirations and she looked at me really deeply in the eyes and said, "Never stop, then. The only people who will tell you not to dream are the ones who let theirs die."
EBONY: That is awesome advice. So what advice would you give to other Black, Fresh & 20-Something’s who are on the path to finding themselves?
MM: I would say "the world is yours." Pay no attention to those who tell you to be "realistic" or encourage you to fit into the boxes that this society has created for young black people. You are limitless.
EBONY: What’s up next for you?
MM: I am finishing up my next project. It's my first album and it is called, The Radio Flyer LP. Very excited to share it with the world!
Marian Mereba's new album " Radio Flyer LP" is set to be released on July 29; the lead single "September" will be available on May 27th.
Syreeta “Sincerely Syreeta” Martin is a mother, freelance journalist, entrepreneur and creator of SincerelySyreeta.com.