Dance music deals with the magic of energy, and energy is a guiding topic during my recent conversation with Brooklyn-based talent BEMATA.
As we near the one-year anniversary of locked-in living, and snowstorms ravage the United States, let’s not lie; our collective energy is down. We can craft as many routines and concoct as many indoor hobbies as we’d like, but we haven’t been able to replicate the social, communal power that dance music offers in a non-pandemic setting.
BEMATA, who just released her second single, titled ‘New Level // SUPERWATER,’ was faced with a bit of a conundrum in late winter 2020. Her debut single, ‘Need U 2,’ was ready for release. After moving from a corporate communications job to a freelance set-up, committing herself to making music professionally, the start of the pandemic peppered the beginning of her career with uncertainties.
“I remember at the beginning of the pandemic, I shared ‘Need U 2’ with my dad. And he was like, ‘Oh wow. This is really a club song, a dance song. Is this the moment to share that?’ And I was like, ‘You know what, yeah, this is actually THE moment to share that.’ I wanted it to cut through everything going on.”
BEMATA’s music will sound familiar if you’re a fan of dance auteurs like Aluna or KAYTRANADA, or vibe purveyors like Kelela. When asked about who her dream collaborators would be, she pauses to think, then rattles off an eclectic collection of names: Cher, Timbaland, Toro y Moi, Little Dragon, M.I.A. Her taste is impeccable, of course, and her influences span genre and time.
Before getting to the point of releasing music, Boston native BEMATA was following a curiosity for knowing the world, working at a small brand strategy agency and taking a logical next step after studying communications in college. She and her coworkers were collaborating on agency projects with people all over the globe.
“I love learning about people and humans and cultures,” she said. “That job was such an amazing opportunity to do that, and the work was directly inspiring my songwriting.”
Eventually, she realized making music couldn’t just happen on the weekends. ‘Bemata’ means ‘by night’ in Amharic, the language spoken in her native country of Ethiopia, and she began staying up on weeknights and after hours to make her music. Despite her name, it was early mornings while growing up that she began to get attuned to music, hearing her mom playing the radio before dawn.
“My mom would wake up at like four or five AM for work,” says BEMATA. “She would play the radio to get her energized.”
“So I remember hearing a lot of Fleetwood Mac and soft rock. Other than that, there were a lot of CDs in my house. Tina Turner, Cher, Miles Davis, Bob Marley, Curtis Mayfield, and then a bunch of Ethiopian sounds too, like Aster Aweke. She’s like the Beyonce of Ethiopia. Music was everywhere in my house, and oftentimes my mom, dad and sister would have dance parties while cleaning, and that’s when artists like ABBA and Tina Turner would get their moment.”
BEMATA also grew up adoring Mariah Carey’s vocal abilities. At the end of the day, listening to many different kinds of music is almost spiritual for her.
“I like listening to music from so many different cultures– it makes you so aware of your place in the world and your connection to other folks. It was powerful to know that music was bigger than my friends, my school, my town. In my music, I’m always pushing for that global sound; I know that sounds cliche, but I want to cultivate a sound that reminds you that there are other worlds outside of the one you know, that energizes you to imagine.”
For those whose lives are intertwined with music, dance and togetherness, like many of us at Indie Pong, the pandemic makes us painfully aware of what we don’t have access to. It’s the same for BEMATA.
“Man. I really miss dancing. I really miss going out in Brooklyn having really late nights. I miss being at Elsewhere or Baby’s All Right, or just having unpredictable nights, sweating it out.”
BEMATA isn’t the biggest fan of Zoom performances and digital connection, which were popular especially in the early pandemic months.
“I think we’re all in this moment of adaption and just being like, ‘okay, if this is our world right now, how can we really make the best of it?’ We used to have the dance floor, a place we could all come and have unforgettable experiences together. I think we need to keep being creative about what we can offer in the meantime. Maybe it’s not a live performance on Twitch. Maybe it’s crafting something that’s mailed to your house that feels really special. Or maybe it’s a different way of connecting with someone across the screen.”
“We definitely need to keep that humanity and rawness from dance culture alive. And I’m sure it’ll come back. But man, I can’t wait for that moment where I can create experiences for people in real life.”
For now, we rely on fantasy. Dance music and dance communities have always been a vessel, helping transport people from their darkest problems or from their most mundane trivialities. What does BEMATA think about the word ‘fantasy?’
“I love that word. Fantasy means many worlds are possible. Fantasy means knowing ambition… it means dramatic on purpose. It’s unhinged and artful and beautiful.”
Follow BEMATA on Instagram at @BEMATA__ and find her music on streaming services. BEMATA is also part of the Pushing Buttons Collective, an inclusive community of creators making progressive instrumentalist music.