An Austin native and proud Ethiopian, Mélat is a shining musical anomaly, crafting songs about the many forms of love as a way to empower herself and her fans.
We’re grateful to be hosting the singer’s first live performance in almost a year for our upcoming Front Porch Session on Feb. 25 (RSVP here). Before she takes the stage, however, Mélat spoke to us about everything from the solitude of COVID-19 shutdowns and how it’s affected her writing process to what it’s like being an R&B singer in a city dominated by guitar heroes and folksy singer-songwriters.
How did you first get started as a vocalist and songwriter?
I would always write as a kid. My parents were super strict so I wasn’t able to go hang out with my friends. And I didn’t want to tell my parents how I was feeling or whatever. So I just resorted to my journal. And so I would journal all the time. But I had also been put into piano lessons for four years of my really young life. I had that musical sensibility, so sometimes I would write little songs and things. But it wasn’t until I got a little bit older, like in high school, probably to where the things that I was writing in my journal, the feelings I was feeling, would translate into more of a poem and more into song. And it took a while before I was really confident. It took a while to admit that I was writing songs and to feel okay with that. But, you know, once I made my first project, which is called Canon Aphaea, I received a message back from a girl saying she was contemplating suicide, and this EP helped her out and made her change her mind. And I had been going through a lot of stuff personally, at that point. And so I was like, Wow, my struggles, my issues, my lack of confidence, my lack of all of that, allowed someone else to feel like they weren’t alone in their own struggles as well. So I was like, Okay, maybe this is where I’m supposed to be. I continued making music because my goal, my lifelong goal, for as long as I could remember was just to help people. And if this is a vehicle that I can use to make people feel less alone (and in turn, make myself feel less alone), then I’m just going to continue doing it.
How has your lyrical approach changed since your earlier releases?What inspired you early in your career and what is inspiring you now?
I think earlier on it was harder—it still is—but it was harder to be more vulnerable and more transparent. I was a little bit more vague in what I was talking about, or how I talked about things, rather. And it was very focused on what I was going through. And I think through the years of doing it, I’ve started to incorporate more and more of other people’s stories into my music, reflecting what I see. As well as being a little more transparent with the things that I’m going through or the way that I’m writing these things. They’re not as vague as they used to be. I’m a little more like this is what I’m going through, this is what it is. The more I’ve done it, the more I’ve realized there will always be people who relate to your story. And sometimes being more specific about your story helps someone else relate to it even better. So that’s probably one of the main differences of how, just in general, how all my music has evolved.
What impact has your Ethiopian heritage had on your musical style?
Oh, it’s imbued in everything that I do. It’s how I was raised. It’s who I am. It’s the first language I spoke. It was difficult at first to embrace my heritage. I didn’t want to be pigeonholed as a world artist. So it was hard for me to embrace that without being like, people aren’t gonna understand what I’m trying to do. And as I’ve evolved through my career, so has the world. People have become more accepting of like, not genre-bonding somebody. You don’t have to be this one little thing. As far as, like, the public’s eyes. So I think it’s something that I’ve always treasured, but had a hard time expressing. As I’ve gone through my career, I’ve grown to embrace it. And hopefully later this year, you guys will be able to see more of that side of me. That’s all I’m gonna say about that. But hopefully, you’ll be able to see more of my Ethiopian heritage come through my work.
What’s on the horizon for you in 2021?
Well, definitely a lot of new music–a lot of stuff that I’ve just been cooking up after being in quarantine for about a year at this point. So a lot of new music and a lot of new visuals and things like that. The manifestation of the creativity I was able to explore during quarantine would be the short way to say it.
How do you think R&B will fit into Austin’s music scene in the future?
I hope it’ll be seen. I hope it’ll be understood. I think that’s one of the biggest issues R&B has in Austin at this point—the fact that people are so used to rock, Americana, and blues that they don’t quite understand what R&B is. Because I’ve been lumped into hip hop so many times, it just makes me want to throw up…and it’s not a knock on hip hop. There’s a huge difference between R&B and hip hop. And the fact that people don’t understand that is a big learning curve that needs to happen in the music scene. So, what I hope for R&B is that there is a bigger understanding of what it is and what it sounds like, the variances that it can have that. I mean, if there’s one thing that I could ask for it, it would be for an understanding of what it actually is.