Her Heart is in Music

Musician Lilly Martian is the kind of artist that has been shaped by music from a young age. Martin grew up within a Cuban family of artists and musicians and was influenced by the cultural and musical diversity of the New York music scene according to her web site. She has focused her music, style and passion on an artful blend of blues and soul music.

Martin has performed at the Baden Blues Festival, the Festival da Jazz, and Basel Summerblues among many other music festivals. The native New Yorker has made Switzerland her home and has just released an EP of four songs. In this interview Martin talks about her work and the future of blues and soul music.

G.M. Burns: Talk about what drew you to compose and play blues and soul music?
Lilly Martin: As I grew older, I was drawn to the performance and interpretation of Blues and Soul music more than ever before. It was always a genre I enjoyed. The first ever live music concert I attended - albeit by sneaking off at the edge of 13 - was to see Janis Joplin perform with Full Tilt Boogie Band and The Paul Butterfield Blues Band. This more modern style of Blues spoke to me already at an early age. Later on, I immersed myself into the more traditional roots of Blues music. But that was not the only genre that moved me; New York City had radio stations for every style of music you could imagine and I listened to most of them! From Country to Jazz and Soul music as well as Motown and mainstream. Now, in the past 20 years or so, I have made my home with Blues and Soul music and write my music in this category. The biggest gift of getting older has been the ability to express myself more freely, unencumbered. At this point in time, attaching the experiences of life to my music is perfectly suited to blues and soul music. I also love to interpret existing songs, looking for the personal meaning of the story I hear and recounting it in my own personal way.

When you lived in Greenwich Village, New York -- what was the blues and soul music scene like for you?
I lived in the Village while I was too young to go out and enjoy the scene. But it seeped in under my skin, regardless. We lived next to the Big Fat Black Pussy Cat, around the corner from Café Wha and The Bitter End. But there were also a host of free concerts in Washington Square Park or Central Park. My mother was a painter and had parties with very colorful guests from the art and music scene who attended. One very special guest who I remember was Tiny Tim – unmistakable in voice and character. We moved to other locations in New York City and I attended school at the Fiorello La Guardia Performing Arts. After moving abroad to Madrid for one year, and then to Miami, Florida, I was sadly uprooted from the scene. Only when I was 20 did I get to come back and enjoy more of the city and returned to the mighty series of music in the park.

You live in Switzerland now -- talk about the soul and blues music there such as on the radio. What is it like for you as an artist?
Living abroad in Switzerland for nearly half my life now has been wonderful. I found the transition rather easy. But finding my music “tribe” here was a timely effort. In this small country of under 8 million, dividing the population who attend concerts by favored music genres results in a comparably small piece of the pie consisting of Blues music fans. Venues dedicated to only Blues are far and few between. We have a good following now, but the numbers cannot be compared to other countries. Sometimes we are asked to perform in neighboring countries such as Italy or Germany.
In the past few years there have been more community radio stations dedicated to Blues music as well as featured slots for local artists on the national radio stations. Web radio has been a blessing! However small they may be, they are all well connected and so we are aired in many countries around the word. Our music has been particularly well received in the UK, with airplay and highlighted by IBBA nominations.

Blues music is full of artful and creative musicians. Who are some of the artists you have been listening to of late? And which qualities do you enjoy about their music?
The artful and creative descriptive you used here makes me think of newer, younger blues music. And although the “older” and the more traditional artists and songs sounds are also artful and creative, I’ll focus on the newer performers that come to mind.

I quite enjoy listening to Fantastic Negrito, very modern elements that I find intriguing and often only borderline to blues … Sunny War is wonderful and more traditional in sound, her style of storytelling seeps in deep.
For me it means the most to have a good story and a great storyteller. Blues topics are just life topics. So, whether it’s a modern interpretation, a rockier interpretation or a down-home style – I will always be drawn to a good story and a great storyteller.

Recently, you released an EP of four songs. Talk about this new release and why you choose the song by Bobby "Blue" Bland’s classic "Ain't No Love In The Heart Of The City"?
While I do really love the blues, I equally love a lot of old and new soul music. I was recently drawn back to this classic soul piece because of its timeless appeal both musically and emotionally. Sometimes I miss the Big Apple, sometimes I don’t. The memories of big city life, including the anonymity and forced stimulation, often come back to me through song – like old photographs in an album. “Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City” struck up many emotions which I can easily empathize with in song delivery. I just felt it and wanted to re-tell it.

Where do you see the future of blues and soul music heading?
These days I am often surprised to find what kind of music is even catalogued as Blues and Soul music on streaming / digital download platforms. And then it reminds me how purists may have felt when Blues music mutated from Delta and roots and went on to so many other forms of Blues over the ages. The future adaptations to blues and soul music will certainly continue. Adaptations will be influenced by regions, cultures and younger generations. The sub-genre classifications will grow beyond my comprehension. I can’t even keep up with those now…. I believe there will be wildly interesting adaptations made to these genres of music in the future. They will never die. Anyway, good music is always revived!

Many artists are still busy despite the Covid-19 pandemic. What new projects are you working on now with your music?
I guess everyone reacted to and adapted to the pandemic differently. Personally, I felt a bit shell-shocked for over a month. I was unable to wrap my mind around anything creative. With the dismal news of ongoing cancellations and an uncertain future, I found it difficult to find my muse. I was also ill for a few weeks during this time (non-covid related) and my energy level was depleted.
Other than a live interview combined with a home concert on Blues Radio International, I had not done much. Then, last week, the muse returned. Baby steps for now, but a new song is in the bag and I am planning to put it out there soon.

Despite the difficult situation - I try to find a bright side to it all. It just needs more effort on certain days. As one of 3 nominees for the Swiss Blues Award 2020, you can imagine how much we were looking forward to the ceremonial event originally scheduled for last week. Although I was disappointed to hear that they had to cancel, the bright side quickly became clear; all nominees get to hold on to the title for an extra 9 months!!! A new date for the awards ceremony has been set for end of this year.

In your spare time how are you relax?
Reading and walking are my favorite relaxation go-to’s. The weather here has been steady and glorious! And that’s an unusual state to find our part of the world in at this time.

Thank you for your time.

It’s been a pleasure!

by G.M. Burns