‘Sweet & Lovely’: an interview wit’ vocalist Meres-Sia Gabriel

Meres-Sia Gabriel invites you to an EP release performance on Friday, Aug. 22, 6:30-9:30, at The Golden Stair, 608 55th St., near Shattuck, in Oakland

by The People’s Minister of Information JR

Meres-Sia Gabriel has been rhyming for decades around Oakland, but she just now released an EP titled “Sweet & Lovely” that will lead up to her much anticipated album.

Meres-Sia-Gabriel-295x300, ‘Sweet & Lovely’: an interview wit’ vocalist Meres-Sia Gabriel, Culture Currents
Meres-Sia Gabriel

I first became aware of the rhyming talent of Meres Sia Gabriel when rapper and activist Boots told me about a decade ago that she was one of the people who inspired him to rap. Coming from the front man of the internationally known, Oakland bred rap band known as The Coup, that compliment says a lot.

Being the daughter of the internationally known Black Panther Minister of Culture Emory Douglas definitely does not hurt you, either, when you have something to say in the Bay Area’s conscious and artistic circles.

The multi-talented Meres Sia recently published a book; now she has released an EP and is working on an album. What will she do next? Check her out in her own words.

M.O.I. JR: Can you tell the people a little bit about your history with music? When and how did you start?

Meres Sia: My official introduction to recording in studios was when I joined the rap group Cell Dwellaz in high school. Andre Neal (“the Emperor”) was one of the rappers and our producer. He really took me under his wing, guided and protected me while providing a solid foundation for me to be creative and free.

The other member, Joseph Stultz (“The Renegade Lord S.J.”) helped me expand lyrically. And Superstar Quamallah was our DJ. At the time, Andre was affiliated with Hieroglyphics so I was around all of them as well, taking mental notes on everything.

That was the same time that I befriended Boots from The Coup before he had a record deal. From Quame, there was association with The Justice League. All of these influences and this creative energy bubbling around me was very exciting, but I didn’t take rapping seriously yet. I took writing seriously and I loved the experience, but I was kind of nonchalant about getting a deal.

Still, Andre pushed for perfection. We eventually got a manager, made a demo and shopped it to different labels. I’m grateful for this time because it made me more comfortable in the studio now 20 years later.

M.O.I. JR: Who were some of your early musical influences? Why?

Meres Sia: Of course Roxanne Shante when I was little. She was like all the girls I grew up with. By middle school I’d stopped listening to rap. But a good friend of mine, Charles Lyle, played a huge role in guiding my awareness of hip hop’s many expressions.

He played Queen Latifah’s “Princess of the Posse” for me and told me to listen. I liked it! She was elegant, conscious and hard. Then when I heard MC Lyte that was it! That’s when I started writing my own rhymes.

I had many non-rap musical influences, including Minnie Riperton, Stevie Wonder, Angela Bofill, so many, too many to list here. I loved Minnie’s soft power, Stevie’s lyrical genius and compositions.

M.O.I. JR: What made you transition from rapping to singing, or do you just see yourself as an all-around vocalist?

Meres Sia: Oh, I haven’t transitioned from one to the other. I see myself as a creative being. While I love rap, my delivery of it has changed since I was a teenager.

I just love the feeling that singing gives me, so I sought out teachers who could help me develop my voice. I’ll keep learning and practicing singing until I’m where I want to be with it, but I’ll never abandon rapping. On my EP I have two rap-inspired spoken pieces along with a reggae song. You’ll hear more of that and other styles on the full-length album!

M.O.I. JR: Can you tell us a little bit about the EP that you just released?

Meres Sia: I released a three-track EP entitled “Sweet & Lovely” which is available for streaming and downloading at www.meressia.com. I worked with David Goodlett at his studio in Oakland (Hetepu). He was generous with his time and creativity so I was able to develop confidence in my new style.

‘Sweet-Lovely’-Meres-Sia-Gabriel-EP-cover-300x300, ‘Sweet & Lovely’: an interview wit’ vocalist Meres-Sia Gabriel, Culture Currents The reggae tune “Sweet & Lovely” was the first song that I had ever written. Erika Lawrence and Ajuana Black provide background vocals. Kele on percussion, David on guitar. “Bliss” is a rap-inspired spoken piece, but it’s very mellow, jazzy. The flute makes it feel almost tropical to me.

“It’s Complex” is a critique of the music industry and media and some commercial rap that seems dubiously linked to the sex trafficking industry. It calls for us to remember who women really are and remember that children are listening. All music produced by David Goodlett, who also played all the guitars. David arranged all the music. Kele played percussions. I am the executive producer

M.O.I. JR: What is the concept behind the upcoming album? When are you trying to put it out? Who are you working with on it?

Meres Sia: Much like when I wrote my book, “I Twirl in the Smoke,” and when I made this EP, the concept is forming along the way. It’s forming as we speak, so it’s not solid yet, but it will include songs, raps and spoken pieces. I would like to release it next summer.

Now that I’ve done the arduous task of making a small album, I’ve learned certain crucial steps, made mistakes and made connections, so in some aspects I can go faster than I did with making the EP, but I want to make sure I give you the highest quality of my expression, so I won’t rush it. You can’t rush beauty.

I’m working with David Goodlett again for a lot of the pieces because we are musically compatible. I’ll be collaborating with Nuraw Rebellure and my former group mate, Andre Neal. Ajuana Black has been coaching me with my voice lately and I look forward to benefitting from her songwriting expertise too.

M.O.I. JR: How are you planning to fund your independent project?

Meres Sia: I have an Indiegogo Campaign running right now. You can go to my website for all the details at www.meressia.com or you can go straight to the Indiegogo page at https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/meres-sia-album.

I am planning EP release events for mid-late August and September so keep a look out. Otherwise, I’ll continue to fund it the way I funded my EP – myself, little by little.

M.O.I. JR: Can you speak a little bit about your creative process? What goes into making a song for you?

Meres Sia: I talk a little about it in some of my YouTube videos. It’s difficult to explain right here. Often I listen to a final product and wonder how I did it. I can tell you that rarely have I written a complete piece in one fell swoop – although it has happened – but more often I write and rewrite until it registers inside me as complete. That may mean thousands of revisions or edits along the way. I can work on several pieces at once and go back to them daily to try something different here or there until it feels complete. Every writer knows that the magic is in rewriting.

As for the reggae song … I thought of a concept, then some lyrics and the melody all came at the same time while I was driving down MLK near 55th. I kept singing it and playing with it every day until I had more lyrics. Then I usually record lyrics on my phone or video really quickly. I practice with my vocal coach, bring it to David, who hears a melody and strums his guitar and we go from there.

But to really understand more, go to my YouTube channel, Meres-Sia Gabriel. I plan to share that process more in-depth with Indiegogo updates.

M.O.I. JR: You recently released a book. Is releasing an album different? How so?

Meres Sia: The process of making and releasing an album is similar to writing and publishing a book in certain ways. For both, I have to develop my concepts, write my pieces and see how they fit together to tell a story or develop a theme.

Gotta find collaborators. For the book, it was finding a copy editor and, in my case, a coach to help me develop my confidence. With songs and rhyming, I don’t feel the need to have someone edit my words, but I do run pieces by people I trust once I get them to a certain stage of development.

A book is a solitary endeavor for the most part because writing is pretty solitary, whereas an album requires working with others. Now that there’s so much one can do alone on a computer, I guess making music can be solitary too, but I prefer to collaborate with human beings. That’s the beauty of the process.

Both projects require strategic promotion and marketing or else it’ll be just another brilliant piece of work lost in the wind. With an album, there are digital distribution sites that allow for more internet visibility than with a book, I think. But it’s still an undertaking I’m learning about as I go.

M.O.I. JR: How do people stay up with you and your artistic adventures?

Meres Sia: My virtual home is www.meressia.com. But you can also find me on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram check out my pages at Bandcamp (www.meressia.bandcamp.com/releases) and Reverbnation (www.reverbnation.com/meressiagabriel).

In all my endeavors, I reach back for others. And this album project is no exception. While making the EP, I hired former high school students to help with video, photography and creative advising. If you believe in “Each one teach one” and arts education, if you believe in good music and supporting independent artists, then here’s your opportunity to create great karma by spreading the love!

Contribute to my Indiegogo fundraising campaign at www.indiegogo.com/projects/meres-sia-album . Thank you!

The People’s Minister of Information JR Valrey is associate editor of the Bay View, author of “Block Reportin’” and the newly released “Unfinished Business: Block Reportin’ 2” and filmmaker of “Operation Small Axe” and “Block Reportin’ 101,” available, along with many more interviews, at www.blockreportradio.com. He can be reached at blockreportradio@gmail.com.