“She was like a superhero to me….not to everybody else, but to me.”
Marel Alemany has a deep sense of how his Afro, Latin and Caribbean backgrounds have influenced his present-day sense of self. Yet as a person who connects with multiple generations and with people from various backgrounds, what we appreciate most is his proclamation of “I am from Planet Earth” which sets the tone for this interview from the very beginning. After years of unconsciously expressing his heritage in his work, Marel shares how he is leaning into it intentionally now….representing his voice and values through his work as a director, producer, and singer/songwriter across music, film, and children’s media. Marel’s influence on documenting is vast and for that we couldn’t be more grateful. It’s a conversation filled with passion, creativity, and pure joy for music, lyrics, dancing, and more!
About Marel Alemany: Constantly seeking to unravel his musical influences, Marel embarks on a new journey with each song. Tropical and autochthonous rhythms from the Caribbean are mixed in his music, with lyrics that tell stories and a hint of nostalgia that recalls the soul of the 60s and 70s. It is impossible to define his music without fear of falling short.
Although he has been on stage since he was very young (there are stories of a five-year-old boy throwing his jacket into the audience after performing a song by legendary Spanish singer Rafael), his musical career officially began when he won, in 2003, the first prize in the prestigious Casa de Teatro writing and music awards, for the pop category.
From then on, he became a regular on the bohemian scene in Santo Domingo. In 2006 he released his first album De Papel, with which he garnered several "number one" hits on local radio stations and was nominated for the Casandra awards (current Soberano awards). In 2009, he decided to pay homage to his roots and make a salsa-influenced album, Carne. With Carne, he succeeded in Argentina and Peru, reaching first place in several popular lists. He played in Altos de Chavón with Eros Ramazotti and with Juan Luis Guerra in Buenos Aires. After publishing several singles recently, including Tu Guerra y La mía (2017) and Navegaré (2019), he has just released his third production, Salir al Sol, where he mixes all his musical influences. From pop to folk, Marel once again makes it clear that he enjoys the fusion of rhythms and that his lyrics will always be committed.
Marel is also a multi-skilled filmmaker and writer because what he longs for the most is creativity. An accomplished producer of advertising commercials, he has been working in Children's Media for the last 2 years, trying to mix his musical talent with his recent parenthood and his filmmaker skills. This has driven him to move to Canada, where he is a composer, writer and producer for the Story Planet Podcast and runs the Spanish YouTube Channel for little kids Tope Tope. www.marelalemany.com
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Welcome back to Root & Seed. A podcast about tradition seekers who are sparked to explore, define and celebrate their family and cultural identity. I’m your host, Anika Chabra.
Last episode we met with a novelist who came upon writing as a way of managing grief. She wrote a piece of fiction based on her mother's life, in order to document her story for others to know and for future generations to ingest. Earlier this season we heard about how one can document in the form of memoirs as one approaches end of life and we heard how important it felt when an untold story is itching to be uncovered like Grace’s documentary on Việt Kiềus. All of which feel they have a strong purpose and intention to document in mind.
However, not all documentation of stories, legacies or heritage is intentional. Ways of recording can be expressive, they can be fun and they can be rooted and inspired in the way that one’s culture and family heritage has always done it.
As a platform that harnesses the age-old power of storytelling, we knew we needed to speak to someone who agreed and has adopted his way of expression in an innate, in your bones kind of way, in his case through children's stories and through song.
Well-written and crafted lyrics have the power to impart values, imagine characters that preserve folklore and heritage with the potential to withstand the test of time through generations. This conversation with Marel Alemany really helps us to appreciate this on another level. Originally from Dominican Republic, Marel has lived around the world and translates his Afro-Latin-Caribbean influences into his work as a multitalented director, producer and singer/songwriter with work in music, film and children's media. The thing that inspires us the most about Marel is that he started his career in marketing, but pushed against the fleeting lifespan of advertising. Instead, he focused on more enduring mediums, including music and film. Now, with 3 incredible albums under his belt and countless directorial credits, we love the way Marel introduces himself best.
Yes, my name is Marel Alemany and I come from the Dominican Republic and from planet Earth. I am a children's media creator, singer/songwriter and I am a filmmaker. I am also a father of two and I am one of the founding members of the team, Alemany-Lora which is my family with my wife.
I love that! What did you say? You're also a human of the earth?
Yes, I am from planet Earth. I think that's one of the reasons we have so many conflicts because we don't acknowledge that a lot. Although we have unique cultures and characteristics from wherever we come from and language and all that. We are still members from the same race and we live in this planet. So I think if we acknowledge that a little bit more, we wouldn't have so many conflicts.
That's such a great way of putting it and a great reminder, especially for those of us interested in identity. We are all humans and that very notion puts us on a level playing field and emphasizes inclusivity. Respecting that we all have our own cultural, familial and chosen influences and the idea that that doesn’t make any of us more superior than the other is critical no matter what or where we are in our journeys. Marel set the tone for the entire interview with that introduction at the beginning, so we decided to give you a peek into my conversation, our back and forth unedited. We started by talking about the influences he feels make up his cultural background and heritage.
Okay, I like to think that one of the distinct aspects of my cultural heritage is the joy and will to live a happy life. So I see this both from my Dominican Afro-Latin background and also from my Hispanic background. We are happy people and this may seem like a hippie statement, but it’s intrinsic to the way we conduct business. It's intrinsic to the way we gather as families and the way we dance and sing and also the way we love and what we look for in a partner. We are okay with a certain level of discomfort, but not a lot and I think this is a natural state.
I love how you have taken the commonalities from each of those backgrounds and decided the theme that runs through those two or three backgrounds. Geographically, historically, ethnically you've come up with your own sort of way of describing those influences in your values.
So, talk to me about your relationship with your culture as you've moved through the different phases and stages. So, I'll give you a small example from my history. My parents came here as immigrants and now I'm a second-generation immigrant. When I was growing up, I was growing up in a largely white neighbourhood, not a lot of diversity, I had a lot of struggles with my identity. I wanted to be white, I wanted to be a little bit more Canadian. I rejected a lot of things early on, but as I've gotten older, I've understood and appreciated the beauty in being Indian and Canadian, South Asian and you know also passing that on to my children's generation.
What does your relationship look like as you've gone through the different stages of your life?
Well, I think when you grow up in an island you are more sensitive to outside influences and also you are in a constant state of exploration. I think because you are surrounded by water, I think water draws you like come on, explore. I think this is one of the main reasons I ended up in Canada. Suddenly like the happy life and then the carefree life, but surrounded by social injustice and poverty didn't feel right anymore. When you have a family, you start becoming more strategic. I wanted my kids to grow up in a place where it's also about accepting others differences and accepting their sexual orientation and I think we are in a place in history where that’s pivotal.
There's this notion and idea that you can at the same time love your culture, your home culture, your family culture, but you could also have issues with it.
I think life was less complicated when I was growing up. The city was not that big, so I got to really create primary relationships that I feel have lasted. I love that we have merengue and that I know how to dance salsa and there is a bonding that happens every time you do that with every person. I've gotten to learn about my Afro heritage and we keep some African traditions really pure. Well not pure, but that joy that comes from African culture. I love that aspect of where I come from and the sea and the Caribbean and the beaches, all of that I love. What I struggle with the most is I feel that because we haven't let go of the negative aspects of Catholicism and the judgemental part of that religion we're still way behind in terms of accepting differences and in terms of being an open-minded culture.
So what led you to come to Canada outside of the draw of wanting a more free society for your children to grow up in.
After I had my family, I was like, I am a singer/songwriter and I do all this and it's really good. But if I devote myself to being a singer/songwriter full time, I'll probably take a lot of time away from my family, so I didn't want that. And I started looking for career paths that allowed me to be a father and allowed me to run away from the commercial aspect of creativity. I found this program at Centennial College called Children's Media and then everything seemed to click. Canada has this amazing children's media industry and I also had a lot of friends that had come here and there is an immigration path that's different from most of the countries, so it seemed like the best option, the rational choice to take if I wanted to make that leap into the unknown.
Wow, what an insightful human, but not sure we're super surprised. Some of the most talented artists tend to be the ones who see the world in a clear and connected way. We love how Marel’s passions for creating, documenting and producing can come in the form of so many mediums that appeal to entirely different audience demographics. So, before we get into Marel’s current work in children’s media, we wanted to understand his passion for music since these things are usually steeped in history. We asked him if any of his ancestors or elders were in the music industry.
Yes, my great-grandparent from my mother's side was a pianist. My great-grandmother, also my mother had a passion for theatre and music and she wrote a lot of songs too and my father loves to sing. So I'm kind of following in their footsteps, but yes music has been present in my life and I think coming from the Dominican Republic, you are really exposed to that because that's the way we relate. It's impossible not to have a connection with music in the Dominican Republic.
Is there a piece of work that you have done that thematically speaks about your culture in some way? And could you talk about that?
This last album I think reflects more of my culture, it has a bit of everything. It has merengue, it has bachata which is the song I wrote for my daughter. And every time I sing it she almost cries. That should be the best song I've ever written. It has gaga which is a rhythm that comes directly from the African heritage, but also thematically the lyrics speak about my rejection to certain values. So everything I talk to you about. There is a song there called Sangre Brava, which is Brave Blood in English and it talks about my rejection of the negative threats in our culture right now. My rejection of colonialism and racism and homophobia. For me, if we stand up against that and we understand the things that connect us and also if we live with an open mind, we will live a happier life.
What is the reaction of people back home and what's the reaction of people here to your work?
I think back home I am known by a good percentage of people, especially around 30-40 years old and because I stepped away a little bit from music, not so much the younger generation. I hope they do now when I release this new album. When they hear my work, they communicate to me through social media that I should be doing more of it. I think they value that I put effort on the lyrics in a time where that's not attractive for mainstream music.
Really sounds like the music and the lyrics are in his blood. It comes from his experiences with the people and culture around him. Could Marel ultimately be documenting a connection to his family? His history and his heritage? And in a sense, helping to inspire the next generations: his children and everyone after that. So we asked him just that. Here’s a bit from our conversation after I asked Marel to talk about how he’s taking the inspirational lyrics he’s known for into his work in children’s media.
As a filmmaker and as a singer/songwriter, I think our voices and ideas reflect who we are and where we come from, even if there isn't a conscious desire to do so. My heritage, I think it's documented every time I write a song or a script. I'm doing a conscious effort now.
For example, when I'm writing scripts for children's media to include characters that come from my folklore. I think because I am also trying to connect to that part of myself. I'm learning things that I think are rich and I want to pass it on to not other generations of my country, but also the kids of Dominicans and Caribbeans that live here.
And we have a lot of connections, like a lot of folklore that happens in the Dominican Republic is also folklore from Puerto Rico or from Jamaica and they have different names where it is the same stories even from South America as well. In my country, there has been a revival of young artists that have embraced especially African folklore because our colonial past had always pushed against that.
So I've been doing a YouTube channel in Spanish that is for children. I'm trying to get all the positive messages I want to get across there, but because I want to go into the industry here in Canada, I went into the BIPOC TV writing for Children's Bootcamp. Now I can say I am a writer because I just finished my first original script fully fleshed and I am starting to pitch that around. I'm also starting with new ideas, so I am going to go into the path of scriptwriting more.
We have no doubt Marel is going to be super successful and we know that his experience with children’s content is amazing because when we first met Marel it was through his relationship with Story Planet. An organization that inspires young people to be creative and effective communicators. We dove into that next.
I am working at Story Planet as a media producer there and I'm working with kids as a facilitator also in workshops. Even if I get into other jobs, that I would love to continue doing because working with kids it gives you back a lot because they are so authentic and they trust you and you have this responsibility to behave and teach them a good example and also give them tools to explore their own creativity.
So I love that part and also it's a great place to be at because of this search for a more inclusive culture. I also produced the podcast and that's really fun because we began not knowing very well what we were doing and now I created a program for Story Planet called Song Maker and we're creating songs that then make it into the podcast and we get the children to make their own songs. They come into the workshop with no idea how to write a song and they make a fully produced song. So that's something that brings a lot of joy to my life.
Oh, I love that so much. You are inspiring the next generation to have an understanding of themselves, of their identity, of their connection to their culture, of what makes up them. You know I would call you a platform. You've got all these different channels that you can inspire through. Why do you think it's important?
I think it's critical because some of the schools and kids we worked with at Story Planet would be left out of society if they didn't get these tools. I've seen children change because one facilitator goes, sits down and talks to them in their level and at the beginning, they don't wanna share anything and then they start sharing. And you see the evolution of this kid when the workshop starts until when the workshop ends and they change, they become prouder. They are more keen to participate and to create and they stop feeling that their ideas are not good enough. And I think that's critical for them to grow up and to be able to socialize and to be able to take that label off them, that they are not good enough. And to become unique people that are going to contribute in the future.
The world needs more people like Marel. Check out their Youtube channel and go support the amazing work Story Planet is doing. We will be sure to include the links in our show notes.
Ok, as this episode comes to a close, we had one more question and we figured a guy who had so much energy for his culture, music and creativity is likely a driven person in general. So we decided to close with a question from the Root & Seed Conversation Tool under the Traditions category and we asked him, "Is there a family pastime, hobby or sport that brings out your competitive spirit?"
Well, I have a really high competitive spirit that I've tried to tame throughout the years, but I found an adoptive family in my wife's family because it's a huge family compared to mine and this is one of the reasons I fell in love with her. We used to gather every Holy Week. So we get like four or five weeks vacation for Easter in the Dominican Republic to do this big treasure hunt in a place in the country surrounded by nature and the clues of these treasure hunts were all related to trees and fruits and the flora and the fauna of the place. It was really, really competitive, we were divided into two groups and we had to rush and so all these accidents happen and then it's like a really exhausting challenge, but it's also a really great bonding experience for the family. We laugh, we cry, then finally when we find the treasure, we get bragging rights over the rest of the members of the family for a year. This is something I wish to keep doing with my kids.
You know when you're glad you asked the right question for no other reason than your gut you could just tell that this is the right thing to say or to ask? That’s how we felt after getting such a great answer from Marel from our conversation tool. It certainly proves the power of asking the right questions and underscores the potential loss of not asking the question in the first place.
What an incredibly talented person and someone who is so generous with his sharing of his gifts with the world. Here's a snippet from one of his new songs <MUSIC> listen to the full track, and more of his albums on Spotify.
Ok, so we're mixing it up for the next episode. We never thought chicken pot pie would be a trigger to document and preserve your heritage, but that's why we love Root & Seed! Everyone’s story is so so different and we get to hear amazing new cultural sparks every day. We'll be speaking with Peter Pham who uses food as a language of love and a way to stir up nostalgia for those who get to enjoy his cooking.
Root & Seed is hosted by me, Anika Chabra, Executive Produced by Jenn Siripong Mandel, and Edited by Camille Blais.
Hosted by: Anika Chabra
Brought to you by: Root & Seed
Executive Producer: Jennifer Siripong Mandel
Edited by: Camille Blais
Music credit: Something 'bout July (Instrumental) by RYYZN
Creative Commons — Attribution 3.0 Unported — CC BY 3.0
Free Download / Stream: http://bit.ly/-_something-bout-july
Music promoted by Audio Library https://youtu.be/OFga9pkl6RU