Girls Need Music
talks to: Marla Kether
WRITTEN BY ELLIE CARTER
To feel Marla Kether’s passion for music and its craft, you only need to dip a toe into one of her killer sets or performances to get a sense of what the 22-year-old jazz musician, producer and DJ has been scrupulously curating over the course of her music career.
She’s only taken to decks since lockdown, but it is extremely clear that Marla gives us only a peak into her rich and in-depth knowledge of music she’s been honing since she can remember. ‘I’ve really been able to nurture my creativity and step out of my comfort zone, especially since DJing because I’ve started to think about making music that I can play out, and so have started working on a dance music EP! ‘ she says. ‘Getting into the habit of digging for house and disco music from Brazil and Africa in particular has opened my eyes to what’s out there and really inspired my sound and my taste.’
Having spotted Marla and her insane talent across Women in Jazz, Foundation FM and BBC Introducing to name but a few, I was lucky enough to catch her in between her session musician-ing, touring and studying for her degree in Chemistry to pick her brains about her impressively multifaceted career to date.
EC: What initially attracted you to playing the cello & bass and how has it shaped you as a musician & artist?
MK: I was initially drawn to playing the bass guitar after a two year-long stint as a Guitar Hero addict. I was playing the same few songs because I only liked a handful, and so once I’d played them on the hardest setting, I felt like I’d completed the video games. To me the natural progression was not to branch out and play songs by artists I wasn’t familiar with, but to just matriculate to the real thing.
I had my first bass lesson at the end of year 7 in 2011; my teacher Marco Panzarella was great! I of course would come into lessons with printed off tab sheets of the songs I’d played on Guitar Hero to learn, but to my amazement the songs were a lot harder on a real bass than on a plastic one with five coloured buttons (I don’t think I could even play ‘Brianstorm’ by the Arctic Monkeys to this day).
Also during this time, I was absolutely obsessed with Vampire Weekend, and Rostam (the producer and keyboardist) had released a song called ‘Campus’ on his Soundcloud that was basically the prototype for the song of the same name on the band’s debut album. It’s an incredible 2-minute track featuring a beautiful string arrangement, and I was just so captivated the cello parts.
I discovered ‘Le Cygne’ by Camille Saint-Saëns and would watch SO many videos of people playing it live. These cellists played so evocatively and emotively that the instrument sounded like it was singing, lamenting. I was really drawn to playing myself, and with the amount of Yo-Yo Ma videos I’d watched I assumed I could pick it up quite easily!
Luckily for me, I was involved in a lot of Barbican Creative Learning projects like Drum Works and Future Band and through that was selected to be part of Connect ID, a year-long mentoring program. I’d [previously] had a mentoring session with Natasha Zielazinski, a cellist who co-leads Future Band, [… ] she’d asked what I wanted to achieve musically by the end of the year. I said I wanted to play cello, and so Natasha brought a cello for me to play! It was absolutely crazy, by this point I was gassed to even touch one. Natasha asked what I wanted to learn, I showed her ‘Campus’ and she transcribed it super fast […] not knowing anything about positions or the technicalities of the instrument I just gave it a go and learnt it quite quick!
All these experiences completely shaped me as a musician: the Barbican projects were run by amazingly supportive musicians whose ethos is basically to see young people (as young as 6!) as collaborators rather than pupils. My ideas were always valued, and I was given so much creative freedom in composing the music we made on each course.
EC: How has Covid effected or changed your creativity since live performances have sadly been a no go?
MK: I had the privilege of living at home with my family for most of 2020, and had just completed two tours, so I was in a position where I could afford production and DJing equipment! I was really gutted about all my gigs and festival shows being cancelled, but also saw it as an opportunity to work on my own music. I was accumulating a number of voice notes and generating lots of little ideas that I really didn’t have time to develop or explore because I was dedicating a lot of time to other artists, as a session musician.
Since Covid had stolen my gigs and livelihood it felt like a great time to resume my studies; I suspended them in December 2018 after being invited to play with Yazmin (Lacey). I didn’t really know what to expect and I didn’t know how the music world worked, but at the time of me sacking uni off there was literally one gig booked in, in Poland. I wanted to be impulsive and free after 14 years in educShunaji’s ‘Blue Melon’ EP late that December, and gigged with her throughout 2019.
EC: You’re clearly a huge influence to other women who aspire to work in the jazz scene and beyond, but who would you site as your musical influences?
Aw thank you!! My musical influences are so varied now! I’ve been producing music of different genres so have drawn inspiration from a range of artists: Madlib and MF DOOM for my hip-hop beats, Gafacci and Sico for my remixes; Black Coffee, UNIQUU3, India Jordan, Mr. Fingers, Peggy Gou, Aroop Roy and Henrik Schwarz for my house tracks, as well as numerous Brazilian artists! I sampled Milton Nascimento on one of my beats and the EP I’m working on features a few more samples–praying they get cleared lol!
EC: We can’t wait to see you in action asap! Where can we catch you playing over the next few months?
I’ll be playing with Ego Ella May at a few festivals including the Copenhagen Jazz Festival in July, Cross the Tracks in August and Naked City in September, and with Yazmin Lacey at South Facing Festival, We Out Here and Green Man in August. Fingers crossed they all go ahead!
You can keep up to date with Marla’s gigs through her Facebook page, as well as her beats, mixes, and remixes releases over on Soundcloud. You can also find her on ︎Instagram
Listen to Marla’s takeover for Saffron Records on Foundation FM below: