By Ami Komai
While LA based recording artist, Jarina De Marco, describes her music as 'world, hip hop, and jazz,’ it’s impossible to describe her music without first telling her story. Born in the Dominican Republic, De Marco was forced to flee the country at an early age after her musician parents wrote a song against then current President, Joaquin Balaguer. She then grew up in Brazil and Montreal, before moving to New York as a young adult. After a few years in Brooklyn, Los Angeles was calling her name. With so many cultural influences in her upbringing, De Marco’s music is an incredible infusion of all things modern, soulful, old, and new, while never sounding lost or confused. It's as if she has an inner Jarina filter that absorbs everything past and present, then spits it out as her own. None of De Marco’s music feels contrived and I am more than envious of this super power she seems to possess.
Bright Lite: Who are you most influenced by musically?
Jarina: When I was around 8 years old I was very much influenced by Blues and Jazz artists like Billie Holiday and Chet Baker. The first time I ever wrote a song was around this time - the song was called "Baby Blues" and it was about by my first crush. A few years later Brazilian artists like Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil made me musically swoon. As a teen it was Bjork, 90's hip hop, Portishead, No Doubt, Radiohead. Trip Hop and electronic music started to open up new possibilities for me and shaped my musical taste. I'm still interested in finding new modern artists that I love but what I have found lately is that I am more interested in Brazilian and Dominican folk. It’s the style of music my parents played in their band together and I was exposed to as a young girl. I think it has had a very heavy influence on me.
BL: Your mother and you seem to have a very close relationship. Has it always been that way?
J: As far back as I can remember my mother and I have been kindred spirits. She is one of those magical beings that are full of light and kindness. She's also an incredible musician and musical anthropologist. My whole childhood she would take me on these song-catching trips, up the mountains of the Dominican South West. She would also encouraged me to write songs with my father and I'd sing them on stage with their band. She loves adventures and to laugh loudly. And so do I! I'm very grateful to have been raised by such an extraordinary woman.
BL: What are “song-catching trips”?
J: Song catching is a term used in musical anthropology that refers to finding and recording songs that have been passed on from generation to generation. These folk songs can be exclusive to a geographical area and or family line. It can tell a story about the history of the region or it can be a specific rhythm and musical phrasing that can't be found anywhere else. It's like going on a musical treasure hunt. These songs, once recorded and classified, are then archived in musical libraries for safe keeping. Sometimes a song or rhythm is not passed on to the next generation and musical anthropology prevents that song or rhythm from extinction.
BL: What is your favorite thing about singing?
J: It's turning myself inside out. Singing is the most raw and real way I can express myself. It's freedom. I can channel strength, vulnerability, sadness, love, anger. I can feel those emotions and revisit experiences and moments in time and perhaps work some things out.
BL: What do you find the hardest, as a female, about the music industry?
J: The industry is a tough business no matter what. There is endemic sexism in the business like there is in the world. I'm proud to be a female artist, and I've worked with many amazing musicians and music industry players but I would love to see more women involved on the production and business side of things. Girls should be encouraged to learn to produce and engineer as much as they are encouraged to sing. I love working with women in general. We need more of that!
BL: Do you have any advice for aspiring singers?
J: Be true to what sets you apart in this world. What you think may be strange and different about yourself can be what makes you great. We don't need more of the same so don't be afraid to surprise.
BL: What is your process when writing music?
J: It's never really the same. Sometimes I come to the studio with a fully formed song. The melody and lyrics already done. Sometimes I don't have anything at all, and the producer and I make a whole new song, on the spot. Sometimes the producer has a melody idea so I write lyrics to it. It's different, fun and challenging every time.
BL: Do you have a special notebook with all of your ideas?
J: I do! I have two. A journal and a lyrics notebook. A lot of times I get ideas from my journal, a phrase or a feeling I can turn into lyrics.
BL: You recently moved to Los Angeles. Was it hard adjusting? Is it hard for you to make new friends?
J: LA has been one of the smoothest moves I've ever made. I moved around a lot as a kid but it's still challenging as an adult. It's also inspiring and takes you out of your comfort zone, which I like. I was lucky that when I moved here lots of my close friends from New York City were here already. They moved here first so I had a very cool community of artist friends to receive me and show me around when I first got here. Since then, I've made new friends and I started hosting a creative women's dinner which welcomes women from all walks of the creative world. I love it; dancers, actors, set designers, writers, even a world record-breaking hula hooper!
BL: Did you always know you wanted to be a singer?
J: As far back as I can remember I did. But I told my parents I wanted to be a lawyer when I was 15. My mother broke down crying. My father said, "How could you do this to me and your mother??" (laughs). It was my way of rebelling, believe it or not.
BL: How was growing up in the DR but having to move to a different country?
J: I lived in DR as a baby and came back when I was 10 and stayed there until I was 17. Being a teenager there was really fun. Tropical islands are full of beautiful beaches and nature with adventures at every turn, for sure. Leaving my home was something I needed to do to be able to grow as an artist. Big fish in a small pond, you know? So I was excited to move away when the time came.
BL: What did you miss the most?
J: I miss my family, friends and the Caribbean ocean.
BL: Do you think it affected you in a good way?
J: Absolutely. I lived in Brazil, DR and Montreal and because of this I was able to learn French, Spanish, English and Portuguese. When you learn a language it opens you up to an entire new culture and way of thinking which in turn allows you to shift perspectives and have new insights into people in a way that is very immersive and can be missed without that language connection.
BL: Was it hard going to a new school in a new country?
J: At first it was. When we moved to Montreal I had to learn French from scratch. I went to a special school for immigrant children and once I had the language I got the chance to audition for a school that specialized in music, and I got in! Sometimes, it just takes a little time to find your place somewhere new.
BL: Who was your best friend growing up?
J: Her name is Bettina Garrido. She was my first best friend. Our mothers are both singers and were close friends so you can say she was my bestie from birth. Bettina sings beautifully and is an amazing Ayurvedic chef. She is still my bestie/sister and I miss her so much!
BL: Did you have anyone to play music with growing up?
J: I sang Jazz and Brazilian music with my father's band, and then I was in this electro/funk/hiphop band with 6 boys called "The Santo Domingo Funk Crew". It was a loooootttt of fun.
BL: Who is your favorite artist?
J: That's a hard one. I can't just pick one but I can can tell you who moves me lately:
James Blake kills me every time, especially his song "Retrograde". I'm really liking a new artist that is coming up by the name of Kali Uchis. I love me some Janet Jackson, Prince, Michael Jackson, A Tribe Called Quest, Manu Chao, Zap Mama, The Specials, Rye, Kendrick Lamar...the list is infinite.
BL: Do you have a favorite museum that you like to visit?
J: The Guggenheim in NYC. I love Frank Lloyd Wright as an architect and he built that museum. It feels and looks like you're inside a sea shell. Looking at art inside a building that is pure art is a special thing.
BL: Why are museums important to you?
J: How wonderful is it to be able to experience artists' expressions, feelings and desires throughout time? It's a great source of inspiration and a reflexion on our own humanity no matter the period it was created in. Art is a unifier of the human experience.
BL: Do you have any advice for aspiring musicians?
J: “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.” - Pablo Picasso.
This is the phrase I live by. Nurture your talent and work your butt off!
BL: Can you tell us about the music you are working on right now?
J: I'm currently working on several projects. I'm recording a mix tape with the very talented Nate Donmoyer, that should come out this summer. I have some collaborations with DJ's on the horizon and a song on GTA's new album I recently recorded that I'm really excited about. LA has been great and I love making music here!