July 20 Dizzy Girl mixes up Indian classical music and jazz

SINGAPORE - Having a mixed heritage and growing up in three countries in three continents - Singapore, the United States and Wales - have certainly helped neo-soul singer Mariam John develop her unique sound.

The Singapore-born, 28-year-old African- Indian's recently released sophomore EP, Dizzy Girl, mixes R&B, Indian classical music and pop and jazz, and features musical instruments such as the djembe, a West African drum, and the darbuka, a drum used in the Middle East and North Africa.

"This EP is very much me finally discovering myself after much experimentation with the music of my heritage and the soul music that I was into," the full-time singer tells Life! in a telephone interview from Santa Monica, California, where she has been based since May.

Her mother and brother are also living there.

Born to a Singaporean Indian mother and a father from Gambia, the graduate from Boston's acclaimed Berklee College of Music is remembered among the people in the music scene here as the Noise Singapore Prize winner in the 2011 edition of the National Arts Council festival, which showcases young artistic talents.

She was known as Mariam Suso back then but took on her mother's maiden name in 2011 in tribute to her late maternal grandfather. She also performed at the Esplanade's Mosaic Music Festival in March this year.

Besides composing all the tunes, John is also proud of the fact that she managed to produce the new seven-song EP all by herself, with help from home-grown talents including producer/ arranger Seow Yi Zhe, classical musicians T.V. Sajith and Kailin Yong and percussionist Nantha Kumar.

It is a contrast to her debut EP, Unreal, released in 2010.

"On my first EP, I was like a headless chicken. I didn't know much about music production and I had no idea what instruments to use," she recalls.

"This time around, I worked on every aspect, from writing to arranging to figuring out the instrumentations, adding the little embellishments and sitting in the mixing process for hours."

The songs were recorded and mixed at Home Ground Studio in Singapore earlier this year.

The album is available digitally on iTunes and Bandcamp from $8.80 while the CDs can be bought from her website - www.mariamjohn.com - and CD Baby at $12.60.

John, who is single, might be comfortable on the microphone today but she admits to being an introverted child.

Her shyness led to her early foray into songwriting. "I would write my thoughts down, rather than say them out," she says.

She got hooked on performing at the age of 12 while the family was living in Texas.

She joined a children's choir that sang at a one-week run for the popular Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

"It was amazing, I had so much fun. It was such an escape, being on stage in a live production, with props and costumes. That was when I decided that I wanted to make a living in entertainment."

While her early idols were pop stars such as Michael and Janet Jackson, these days, John says, she primarily finds inspiration in her three favourite singers - Portuguese folk-pop singer Sara Tavares and jazz icons Ella Fitzgerald and Nancy Wilson.

She last did a show here at Dizzy Girl's album launch party at gallery/cafe Artistry in May but says she has plans to come back to Singapore and do more shows.

In the meantime, she is working on writing new songs for a full album.

"I'm always working on my music wherever I am. I'm always writing new music and practising."

Dizzy Girl is available on iTunes, CD Baby (www.cdbaby.com/cd/mariamjohn2), www.mariamjohn.com and mariamjohn.bandcamp.co

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