A hymn to nature

10/31/2023 · By Roberto C. Rascón
Maréh, colombian singer-songwriter
Maréh, a Colombian singer-songwriter, is nominated to two Latin GRAMMY™ in 2023. © Chucho Tragaluz.

Prairies, mangroves, deserts, snow-covered mountains, jungles... These landscapes, which are part of different Colombian ecosystems, fill Maréh’s latest album (‘Tierra de promesas’). Nominated to two Latin GRAMMY™ Awards, this young singer-songwriter highlights the rich natural landscape of his homeland, Colombia, through songs full of emotion and commitment that compel both heart and mind.

His Latin GRAMMY™ nominations (Best New Artist and Best Singer-Songwriter Album for Tierra de promesas) caught Maréh about to go jogging. This Colombian singer-songwriter confesses to the news being unexpected. The recognition of The Latin Recording Academy has been an endorsement for Federico Galvis (Cali, 1991), the person behind Maréh, an independent project built on 11 years of “obstinance, perseverance, and conviction.” Maréh, who will perform at The Latin GRAMMYs™ ceremony —event sponsored by Iberia (16th of November in FIBES - Conference and Exhibition Centre of Seville)—, seems excited at the prospect. “The decision to hold The Latin GRAMMYs™ Awards in Spain, the cornerstone of the Spanish language, is really significant because music in Spanish is dominating the market,” he assures us. Beforehand, this artist from Cali will launch his second album, Tierra de promesas, inspired by rich Colombian ecosystems, in Barcelona (Sala Nota 79 - 8th of November) and Madrid (Sala Vesta - 9th of November). “When I’m asked what music I do, I always invite people to listen to it,” he shares. Don’t think about it and accept his invitation.

Are Federico Galvis, the person, and Maréh, the artist, very different?
I believe Maréh is like a stroke drawn by Fede, one that starts to form an outline. There’s a very thin line between the two, I don’t feel like they’re two separate beings, rather that Maréh is a very special part of Fede, which also helps him to grow as a person.

Where does your passion for music come from and who were (or still are) your role models?
My passion comes from my parents and my city, Cali: we’re deeply musical people. I grew up listening to salsa at home, Rubén Blades, Héctor Lavoe, Ismael Rivera or Buenavista Social Club. Also, great singer-songwriters like Caetano Veloso or Chico Buarque, and Argentinian rock, Charly García or Fito Páez. And more current artists like Jorge Drexler, Natalia Lafourcade or El Kanka. There are so many role models in Latin American music.

“I’ve felt connected to my homeland throughout my life, and I’ve always been moved by its wealth. The world is condensed in Colombia”

As well as being a musician, you’re an anthropologist. How much anthropology, or observation of human reality, is in your music?
I was lucky enough to grow up in a family focused on humanities; my father is a philosopher and my mother is a gardener and social worker. Beyond what I studied, I’ve been more influenced by the conversations I’ve had at home. Talks that lasted well into the night and have ended up nourishing my songs. Anthropology gave me another perspective, in fact, an album like Tierra de promesas wouldn’t be what it is if I hadn’t known that scientific and academic rigour typical of research. My grandfather’s work, who was the forefather of agroecology in Colombia, was also a great inspiration.

Your music is closely devoted to your roots. Are Colombian nature and land a source of inspiration for you?
Absolutely. In my case, it’s not a decision, it’s part of my history. I remember going for walks through different Colombian landscapes during my childhood. Then, as a singer-songwriter, I’ve been through them again. I’ve felt connected to my homeland throughout my life, and I’ve always been moved by its wealth. The world is condensed in Colombia, it’s home to almost all ecosystems: moorlands, deserts, jungles, lagoons, oceans... It’s a crazy paradise!

There’s always a connection, a moment, or an encounter that changes our lives. In your case, what was it?
My life changed when I went to a festival that is held in my city, Petronio Álvarez, when I was very young. I must have been 6 or 7. The festival condenses all Afro-Colombian heritage and percussion features prominently. I felt the power of African drums and I’m not a percussionist for nothing (laughs). But also, my encounter with nature, as I said before, my grandparents’ stories and knowing certain role models, like master Rubén Blades. We met up in Austin (Texas) and he enjoyed my music and even recommended it on his social media. It was a dream!

“Independence is freedom and having worked hard on my career, without asking anyone for permission, is priceless; I wouldn’t change it for the world”

Your album Tierra de promesas has been made thanks to crowdfunding. How hard is it to start out in the music industry?
Tierra de promesas is my second album as Maréh and I started this project 11 years ago, so you can imagine. And before that I was part of a band for six years. Carving out a career as an independent singer-songwriter has been a rollercoaster of a ride, full of obstinance, perseverance, and conviction. I’ve been lucky to receive support from my friends and family, which is essential, and I’ve been able to do this thanks to them. The crowdfunding didn’t even cover 10% of the cost of the album, but the connections established with other artists, like designers, painters, or filmmakers, around the conversation of biodiversity and environment, have been the best. That wasn’t the main goal, but it was wonderful that it happened, and that people took part.

Were you expecting to be nominated for The Latin GRAMMYs™ Awards?
We all have dreams and who doesn’t dream of winning a Latin GRAMMY™! When I heard the news, I was about to go jogging and it was really moving, it felt like the scales were moving in my favour. I’m glad they’re taking me, an independent artist, and my album, which is the result of more than three and a half years of work full of love and commitment, into consideration. I firmly believe in hard work, and it’s been a breath of fresh air that’s pushing me to continue. Independence is freedom and having worked hard on my career, without asking anyone for permission, is priceless; I wouldn’t change it for the world.

“The Latin GRAMMYs™ Awards have managed to find a balance between industry and art, just look at the list of nominees”

Since they were created in the year 2000, The Latin GRAMMYs™​​​​​​​ Awards have turned into a hallmark within the industry. Have they managed to place value on Latin musical talent?
100%. The Academy, through The Latin GRAMMYs™ Awards, rewards talent and raises awareness of projects that wouldn’t otherwise receive that kind of attention. I really appreciate that because it has great historical value. All the bells and whistles of awards sometimes distort the purpose of art, they’re like a mirage, but The Latin GRAMMYs™ Awards have managed to find a balance between industry and art, just look at the list of nominees.

Finally, what does the word talent mean to you?
Talent is the vitality within each of us, that creative spirit. And nobody can get away from that, everyone is talented in one way or another. It’s also related to our ability to listen to our inner child and let ourselves shine. First comes recognising talent and then working on it, because talent is nothing without hard work, rigour, and discipline.