Mariami - A New York based R&B Singer whose Georgian folk influenced music has won the hearts of Americans
24 September, 2015
Mariami - A New York based R&B Singer whose Georgian folk influenced music has won the hearts of Americans
The name Mariami is already well-known to the American public and now it is time for Georgia to meet its incredibly talented daughter with a magic voice whose songs have conquered New York. Mariam Bibilouri, who has been named a versatile R&B singer & arranger by the  American media, moved to USA together with her family at the age of six. Despite living abroad for many years, the young singer has managed to retain her Georgian roots – this is
clearly felt through the folk elements in her songs. Thanks to her grandfather Shota Bibilouri , who was a musician for Georgian National ballet Sukhishvili, Mariam has not lost the connection with Georgian folklore. Mariam’s songs span jazz, soul, pop and R&B genres, allowing people of different tastes to enjoy her music. Georgian Journal sat down with the successful singer who has recently paid a visit to her hometown, and asked her share the story of her career.

“When Americans hear my Georgian songs or their distinctive elements in my music, they simply jump to their feet and dance.”

- Mariam, tell us how your career in the U.S. started.

- I grew up in a very musically-inclined household in Vermont, a mountainous American town. My grandfather, who was a musician and came with us to America, taught me to play the piano as well as sing Georgian songs. Once we even performed together at a concert held at the American school there: I danced Mtiuluri (one of Georgian dances) while clad in national Georgian dress and he played the accordion. Georgian folk music and melodies have always been somehow infused into my music during my entire life.

I graduated from Emerson College in Boston and received degree in Performance Arts together with the minor degree in Berklee College of Music. It was there that I met the musicians with whom I created my first album. I was still studying at the university when I came back to Georgia in 2007, for the first time after so many years. I had a cultural shock upon arrival: I could not speak Georgian very well, but I fell in love with my culture and people once again. I was so inspired by my country that I even dedicated the first song called Mother of Mine from my album to Georgia. Later, when I moved to New York, I started working with a new band and eventually published my second album called Gates. Everywhere I go, I take a Georgian flag with me and I proudly speak about my country and its culture. After my first visit to Georgia I started to experiment with Georgian music without knowing what the final result would be and how both American and Georgian audiences would perceive it - I simply followed my heart. Luckily, the American public accepted the songs I performed in this style with great excitement. When they hear my Georgian songs or their distinctive elements in my music, they simply jump to their feet and dance, despite the fact that they don’t understand the language.

“Fortunately, the way Georgians accepted my music exceeded my expectations and I am really excited.”
Photo courtesy of Sabrina Friebis-Ruiz

“The main purpose of my visit was to introduce my music to the Georgian public.”

- What was the purpose of your latest visit to Georgia?

- To introduce my music to the Georgian public. It was something that I wanted to do ever since my second album was finished. I did not come last year because the album was not yet ready and I kept saying to myself that I have to complete it before I go to Georgia because on a personal level, this album is a new chapter of my life. In comparison with my first album which is more in the  jazz style, Gates is rather modern and incorporates R&B as well as Georgian folk elements. Together with my American guitarist Justin Mathews, I had an opportunity to perform at the Movement Theater in Tbilisi and at Leo Grand Hotel in Batumi, as well as the U.S. Embassy in Georgia and I was honored that the ambassador’s wife understood my music and story.It was a big responsibility for me, since I wanted to represent both Georgia and America positively through my performance. Fortunately, the way Georgians accepted my music exceeded my expectations and I am really excited. Before I return to the U.S. I also plan to conduct master classes for internally displaced people in the village of Koda. Moreover, I plan to shoot videos for my songs in Georgia in the near future that will include Georgian national dances.

Performing at the U.S. Embassy in Georgia. Photo courtesy of US Embassy, Tbilisi, Georgia.

- What does Georgia mean to you? Could you single out your favorite places?

- Unfortunately, due to my busy schedule I have not managed to visit many places. Still, I went to Rabati Stronghold, Batumi city, walked around the capital and am also planning to pay a visit to Kazbegi. I wanted to see the mountainous regions of Georgia - Svaneti, Tusheti and Khevsureti - very much, but I hope I will manage it next time. I was amazed by the capital as well. I like the contrast of old and modern architecture, yet I think too many skyscrapers will not fit with the city’s overall appearance. I also have to mention the immense number of tourists. I met a lot of foreigners almost everywhere I went in Tbilisi, at the Glass Bridge, in the cable cars ascending to the Narikala Fortress and at other sites as well. It is also impossible not to mention Georgian cuisine. It was hard to resist the temptation and not to just dive into Georgian dishes. It is difficult to single out one of so many: Chakapuli, khinklai, pkhali, khinkali, satsivi and khachapuri.

- Could you tell us about your future plans?

- I am going to release a third album and come back to Georgia with my full band. Also, as I have already said, I want to shoot certain parts of videos for my few songs in Georgia.My only hope in coming here was that people  could relate to my music and my story, and that has come to fruition. Now I want to make the work I have done here relevant in America and continue to bridge the gap. I think once both markets and countries accept my work, then it will be easy to take it to a global level. In addition, I am preparing for an important show that will take place in January at BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music) that I got an invitation to. It is a very prestigious multi-arts center located in New York. Additionally I plan to tour America & Europe in late 2015 and early 2016. There is a lot of exciting work that lays ahead with spreading the music and my Georgian inspired messages globally.

Author: LIka Chigladze

Related video:

A successful Georgian-American singer to perform master classes in Georgia

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