Ellene Masri, songwriter, guitarist and performer, has just released her debut self-produced (and arranged) album “Music” a mixture of various cultural influences inspired by her mixed roots, her travels around the world and her many musical encounters, under her own label “Music Talks”, on November 1st. She has already been previewed in the UK on Jazz FM, discovered by radio host Chris Philips (The Jazz Breakfast) garnering single of the week with her track Secret Lover. Since its release, Masri’s album has also received the honor of album of the week on Jazz FM.
Secret Lover is a fun and well put together track and I know I will enjoy the day when I can hear it live!
We had the distinct and exclusive privilege of interviewing Ellene. Check out her lively interview below:
In a few sentences, introduce yourself.
My name is Ellene Masri. Masri means Egyptian in Arabic and Ellene derives from the Greek ,“ele”, which means “shining light”, or “ray of light”. I was born in South of France, close to the Spanish border. My mother is French (grew up in North Africa) and my father is of Lebanese and Egyptian decent.
My parents had to leave Lebanon because of the war, and we would travel around the Mediterranean basin to feel closer to Lebanon, hoping to go be able to go back there and reunite with our family one day.
Tell us about your new project, “Music.”
This project is the culmination of many years of work and introspection. It tells the story of my life from an emotional point of view, transcribed in music. I’ve always loved spending hours in my studio, creating with my music software, writing, playing different instruments, singing melodies, vocal arrangements. I would come up with demo versions of the songs with instruments and programmings to give my musicians a better idea of how I wanted it to sound on the album, as well as live.
Having tried so many different arrangements for these songs, playing them live, I finally knew where I wanted to go, I knew the sound I wanted for this album. I played these songs live hundreds of times before releasing them. I think you can hear this “live” dimension on the tracks.
Also on this project I’ve had the chance to record with some of the best musicians in Paris from various horizons and cultures like Etienne Mbappe on bass, whose musical genius widely contributed to give my album a beautiful melodic groove and Fabrice Thompson from French Guyana on percussion, who has a very unique drum set that also gave a very singular color. Cedric Duc on the piano, from Reunion, the great Hossam Ramzy, Egyptian tabla master and a wonderful person who I sampled and will definitely collaborate with on my next project.
On this project entitled “Music” I wanted to take the listener with me, talk to him through my music. Producing an album requires a lot of work and dedication. You open yourself up to people. It’s an intimate story that you’re telling people.That’s what this project is all about. I just hope that it talks to people.
How many years have you been developing your craft?
Ever since I understood it was easier for me to express myself through music. I want to say forever. I’ve been writing melodies since I was a child. Learning how to play instruments had one purpose, to serve my melodies. I’ve never really been comfortable with expressing myself through words. Probably because I always feel like words are not enough to express my emotions. I think that with the time, you accept that. And find alternatives.
Just like a poet uses words and metaphors (often in a very musical way), the musician plays with sounds, notes and melodies. Music is really my form of expression.
Do you enjoy being an artist?
I am definitely passionate about what I do. And yes, I’m really enjoying that. But it’s not easy being an artist everyday. It’s never been easy. The way the music industry is today makes it even harder. The artist is continuously dealing with material difficulties. Not to mention that he/she often has to navigate his/her path on his/her own.
I spent a lot of time doubting the economic feasibility and marketing viability wondering if the path that I had chosen was the right one. That’s what I sing in the song “Now I Know.” But you need to stick to your decision at some point and say ok, this is where I fit. I’m a songwriter, this is what I do. That’s my role. I think that passion should determine (whether you decide to be a journalist, a doctor or a musician) what and who you really are.
You quoted Ella Fitzgerald on Facebook saying, “This is the kind of business where it doesn’t happen overnight. And sometimes when it happens too fast you’re not prepared for it. Anything that we want accomplished not only in this business but in any business you have to work hard for it…” What inspired you to quote the jazz legend?
These words coming from Ella are now my MOTTO. She’s saying that not only is it O.K if you’re taking time, but it’s even best! With work, everything is possible. That’s exactly how I think, and what I meant before by it not being easy. “It doesn’t happen overnight”. You have to be passionate about what you’re doing otherwise you won’t make it though this difficult business.
It’s different when you’re just selling an image and music that people who dictate your every move are writing for you. If you don’t work for your dream, somebody else will hire you to build theirs. Chances are that the more you struggle and hang on, the more prepared you are to face the hardships of life.
It’s a jungle out there. If “you’re not prepared for it” (Ella’s words), then you’re in danger. Ella was an example of talent combined with hard work. This is what I call genius. I don’t believe in luck. “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” Seneca.
Talk about your experience transitioning throughout the music business.
I’ve done many things that gave me a good sense of what the business is like. Before recording my album I’ve done a lot of things. I’ve sang with a lot of people as a background vocalist, writer, composer, toured with and opened for different artists. From hip/hop to pop, jazz, soul and world music.
Now I’m ready to take this project to the stage with Sir Gant as my musical director for my live performances, who arranged the classic ‘Sweet Love’ by Anita Baker and has collaborated & produced artists Randy Crawford, Madonna, Perri and Regina Belle.
Who are your closest family members? Are they supportive of your artistry?
As an independent artist, you really need people around you that love you and are really supportive. My parents are wonderful. They’ve always been supportive and still are. The song “Unconditional Love” is about them.
What instruments do you play? Tell us about your experiences trying to master these instruments.
I play the guitar and on the album I played some keyboards and programmed drums. I love playing the guitar, especially my new Taylor. Although I never play as much as I should… I love writing. When I start practicing I end up writing a new song! I can be a geek too sometimes, spend 24 hours in front of Pro Tools and forget to sleep! I think I really got better at pro tools after I was done with the editing of my album. It was so much work!
Share your thoughts on the current state of the American and International music industry and tell us how you plan to contribute to its welfare.
It’s a capitalist world… The more money you put on the table, the more visibility you get. Will Downing (well-known smooth Jazz singer) says “A lot of the music you hear now is just like fast food. It tastes good for a minute and then it’s gone; there’s no substance.” And it’s inevitable. When you make music for purely financial interests you could care less about its depth and artistic aspect. But there are exceptions.
Fortunately there will always be people making and promoting music out of love and passion for music. For example, Jazz FM UK and talented dj/radio host Chris Philips. He loved my album; Chris and Jazz FM decided to give it a push. This is priceless for an independent artist like me, as I am my own producer. I also think of IrockJazz magazine who’s constantly looking for new emerging artists and has interviewed me.
We also have projects for next year together. And now you, Follow the Experience! As long as there will be people who are curious, skilled and passionate about what they do, there will be quality music. And I think that’s the best way to contribute to the welfare of the music industry: work hard to make quality music and be passionate about what you do.
Where can our readers find your music?
My music is available on my website www.ellenemasri.com in the online store section.
You will be able to purchase the physical CD which I will be happy to sign for you as well as music charts, and the link to download it on ITUNES.
What is next for you?
A flight to Paris in a few hours! Lol! Other than that, I’m looking forward to go on tour with this project. All the upcoming shows and news will be announced on my website, so stay posted! Thank you Ali/Follow the Experience