Cool Woman: Marissa Mele (Female DJ and Ayurvedic Health Counselor)
We’re so excited to bring you this very first interview here at The She League! We spoke with Marissa in April of 2017, when she invited us to the WRUW Studio during an episode of her radio show, “Not Your Mother’s Tongue.”
It's been a while since this interview took place, so there have been some changes in Marissa's life since then – she and her husband are moving to Colorado. We're going to miss her and her radio show!
Marissa Mele is a World Music DJ, Ayurvedic health counselor, and koozie-maker. We were introduced to her through her radio show, which brings us joy week after week. It’s easy to tell how passionate Marissa is about World Music when listening to her show – the tone of her voice is exuberant, and she puts so much care into each week’s playlist. She is genuinely enthusiastic to share this music with the listener, and to hopefully show them something they’ve never heard before. It’s such a treat. We asked Marissa about “Not Your Mother’s Tongue,” her practices in Ayurveda, and more.
What or who inspires you creatively to do your show?
Sharing the music is a big thing. Before I did this, I used to make mixtapes all the time and that was my thing. I’m like, “everybody else has to hear this song. This is the most amazing song.” I had a show one time where [the subject was], songs that if I never heard, something would be missing in my life. In terms of specific people, certain world musicians really inspire me, like William Onyeabor...or Fela Kuti. So, a lot of male musicians, but also the Lijadu Sisters – they’re from Africa – they’re some of my faves. They inspire me.
When do you feel like you’re the most authentically you? Is it during DJ’ing? What’s the authentic Marissa?
I feel like the most authentic part would be when I’m super passionate about a song, where I over-hype it – and I know I over-hype songs on my show all the time before I play them, but it’s just because I love them so much, so I’m super excited about them. Because I feel so passionate about it...those are the best moments.
What about outside of DJ’ing?
I feel like in most situations, I try to be authentically me, you know? I think that that can be difficult around certain people or certain situations. But I feel like for the most part, especially because I don’t necessarily have a corporate job, that really allows me to do whatever I want. [I can] wear what I want and be who I am, and not have to feel bad about it. I’m very lucky in that way.
How long have you been DJ’ing?
I’ve been doing this [show] for three years, at this time slot. My husband went to Case for graduate school, and that’s what brought us here to Cleveland. I’m not from Cleveland originally – I’m from South Florida, right outside of Fort Lauderdale. But I was living in Philadelphia for six years before I moved to Cleveland. So we were here maybe like 20 months...and then we left for 9 months and then came back. So I had 9 months where I didn’t do my show. And that was one of the big reasons to come back: I really missed my show. When I sent my email and was like “I’m leaving,” I definitely had tears...it was very sad to go. ‘Cause this was something I loved doing. You don’t really get to do that in many other places. I was DJ at my college radio station, but I don’t know very many places where you can just hop on the air like this. It’s very cool.
What inspired you to start it in the first place?
Before I moved to Cleveland, I had my mixtape club back in Philadelphia. We would meet every month and we would exchange mixes based on a different theme. And I knew when I came here that I was going to miss out on that, but that there was an opportunity as a regular community member to join this station here. So when I came here...one of the first things I did, was...try to get a show at the station. I subbed with Colleen, who did “Museum Without Walls.” And I saw that there wasn’t a lot of world music, and it was something I was interested in. At my college radio station, I used to play an hour of indie rock and things that I liked, and then the second hour – our world section – was divided up by country. So I would just pull things out and play [them], and that was how I did my show when I was in college. I knew when I came here I wanted to do something different, and I wanted to explore a new type of music. So that’s kind of what inspired me to do the world stuff. I didn’t really know a lot – I had a few things that I knew about, but mostly I was a blank slate. It’s just been doing the show that really turned me on to this music and inspired me to explore this, and start buying things, and getting all excited about it, and looking at blogs, and all that.
How do you choose records when you’re buying them?
For the most part, the things I buy are things I know I like. I really do like compilations…’cause you get a little bit of everything. “Real” music collectors would be like, “that’s lame,” but I’m not trying to buy like, $100 records. I just want records that I want to listen to. I don’t buy CDs anymore, and I really don’t buy music aside from records, so I only buy things that I’m like, “do I really want to listen to this? Am I really going to put it on my record player and listen to it and want to listen to the whole thing?” Then I’ll buy it. I try to be really selective about that.
And compilations introduce you to new people, right?
Exactly. And that’s a really cool thing. I bought a record at Young Kings Records – it’s on 29th in Hingetown – it’s owned by two women. They had a Mahotella Queens album there, which is from a [compilation] album...and when I saw the full album, I was like, yeah totally I’ll buy that.
How do you relate to feminism? What does being a feminist mean to you?
I grew up with a mom who was a super strong feminist, and was not shy about saying that. So I think that that certainly influenced me. And she very much pushed certain things on me, which I think were fine, but she was like “you’re really good at math, and you’re really good at science,” and I was really good at math and science, but I didn’t particularly like it. But I appreciate that. She was always like, “you’re supposed to be an architect,” – like all these jobs that men had, so I always thought that was very cool. I never thought that there was something outside my reach.
My mom had a lot of sisters, and they had this weird little language, and I always thought that was cool too. They would talk in front of men, but in their own language, so the men didn’t know what they were saying. It was kind of like this version of Pig Latin.
When I went to college, I took Women’s Studies classes. And I had a professor who wrote this book called “Where The Girls Are.” It’s by Susan Douglas, and she was my Comm 101 professor. I remember reading that book, and it talks a lot about portrayals of women in the media. That was so much of what I studied: media literacy, and how the images we see influence the way we think. That’s something that very much influences my feelings on feminism – what are the images we see, what are these stories and stereotypes that are constantly portrayed to us, and how that influences us.
I was recently talking with some women, and they used the word “70s bush” to me, about women and hair. You’re saying “70s bush,” so you’re putting this timestamp on it. This idea of what women should look like, and women and hair, and women and all sorts of things – these things keep changing, and there’s ways to evolve them to a place that’s much better than where it used to be. And we used to be at a time in the 70s where, you know, having hair was okay. And now we’re in this time where you can’t. These things, I think, are really important when we talk about women, and what we say to other women, and how we feel with other women, because it really does matter, these stories we tell.
It’s been inspiring to see women come together, especially with the Women’s Marches. I went to the one in DC and that was just incredible to see how many women were there, supporting each other. I feel like there is a lot of media now that is created by women and has a feminist message and I think that that’s really cool. I think it’s so important to have more blogs out there and more media and images that are showing women in a more holistic light. We’re not these sex objects, we’re not the other kind of stereotypes that are portrayed to us.
Can you explain how you got into Ayurveda and what your connection is with it?
Ayurveda and yoga, a lot of times, go together. We call them two sides of the same coin. Ayurveda is basically a science, and it’s all about the things that we eat, and the lifestyle we lead. Yoga is more about the spiritual side of ourselves, and the spiritual practice. I started practicing yoga when I was 13, my mom introduced me to yoga when I was very young. And then I did teacher training when I was 16. Then I taught when I was in college. I would practice yoga but there would be times when I was really dedicated and times where I wasn’t. But always during times of my life when there was some kind of struggle...I would always come back to it. Recently, in the last probably 4 years, I became really dedicated to my practice again. I was just not feeling well in my body, and not feeling good, and I had known about Ayurveda. I went to Sedona 2 years ago for my birthday, and when I came back, I was like, “I have to make a change. I want to start learning about Ayurveda.” I bought a book, and I was just like, this makes perfect sense to me. Then I bought more books, and I started training with an Ayurvedic doctor in Pittsburgh, and now it’s 2 years later.
How is that involved in your day-to-day life?
I try to live in a balanced way. I practice yoga every day. I’m not a saint, you know, I don’t always eat all the best things, I drink sometimes and stuff like that, but I try to live in a balanced way. And I try to be mindful about the things I do. I try to meditate – and not just sitting and meditating – [but also] making meditation a part of other things I do. That’s a big way [Ayurveda] has helped me, and more recently to change negative thought patterns. I’m somebody who’s always in my head a lot, I think a lot, I’m very analytical. That can, a lot of times, send me down a more negative or darker path in my thought process. I used to always think of all the ways something wasn’t possible, all the road blocks. And I realized for a long time, that just meant I didn’t do anything, because I was always thinking of all the ways something couldn’t happen. It’s been in probably the last 8 or 9 years that I’ve tried to actively work [to] stop doing that. If I just think of all the possibilities instead of all the road blocks, you would actually do something. And that’s what I realized: when I stopped thinking that way, I actually started to do things, because I wasn’t afraid of all the things that went wrong. Because it goes wrong, you know? I started a business, I had a cease and desist letter – bad things will happen. People are going to copy your stuff, people are going to tell you that whatever you’re doing is lame, they’re going to send shade your way...that’s going to happen. But it was pointless for me to do it [to] myself. Ayurveda has helped that. That is such an important thing that I’ve learned in my life, is that it’s a waste of time to think about all the negative things. It doesn’t help you – it’s not like when those things happen, you’re better prepared because you thought it was going to happen. You’ve still got to deal with it when it comes around.
Can you tell us more about what Ayurveda is?
Ayurveda is basically called the science of life. It’s about living in a way that’s in harmony with your own individual constitution, and then also in harmony with the seasons, nature, and the world around you. We basically call it the five elements. It’s earth, water, fire, air, and ether (or space). Everything is related to these five elements, and that’s where everything kind of comes out of. In Ayurveda we have this idea of cosmic consciousness, so there’s this natural order to things, and then we all have our own individual consciousness. One of the things we’re trying to do is connect with cosmic consciousness. You’re basically connecting with this higher self, or this universal knowledge that we all have. It’s how we know certain things, or how our bodies work in this perfect way – it’s considered cosmic consciousness. So that’s the background to Ayurveda.
When we think about the five elements, everything we do we want to balance. For somebody that has a lot of fire in their body, we tend to be really hot, we want to do things to cool off the body. Or for someone that has a lot of wind, a lot of air in the body, and we’re always dried out, we want to moisturize, we want to use oily things. If we’re somebody that has a lot of water in the body, we want to dry it out. The two basic tenets are “like increases like” and “opposites balance each other.” Everything we do in Ayurveda comes from this idea of trying to balance these opposites. When we’re in the summertime and it’s really hot, we wouldn’t want to overheat ourselves. We want to cool ourselves down. All these things make common sense, but [Ayurveda] just lays it out for you.
Ayurveda is 6000 years old. It’s from India, it’s considered one of the oldest forms of medicine. These are things that have been tested throughout time, throughout these 6000 years. We use texts that were written 2- or 3000 years ago, and [they’re] still the texts that we learn from today. Ayurvedic doctors still learn the texts and recite the lines from the Charaka. That’s how my teacher taught me – she would recite to me in Sanskrit, and then she would translate it, and that’s how you learn from the book. That’s really interesting to me too – that it’s been around so long and nothing has changed. It still applies. Because it’s just distilling down the basic things that we need to know into actionable plans. I think that’s why it makes a lot of sense to me – you’re just doing common-sense things you would think to do anyway.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received, or that you feel you could give? Or both?
It’s something I was thinking about recently a lot, because it was a piece of advice my husband gave me, which is not dwelling so much in the past. It’s already happened, so thinking about it and overanalyzing it and [thinking] “how could I have done that differently?” – it doesn’t serve any purpose except wasting time in the present. As simple as that message is, being in the present moment and living in the present moment is the most important thing. And on the road trip [that was true], because [I was] forced to be in the present moment all the time; all that time wasted on thinking about the future or the past isn’t necessarily helping you now.
Anything else you’d like to share?
One of my favorite stories from my show: this guy called and I had this album that I had just gotten at Loop, it’s called Choubi Choubi, and it’s all music from Iraq. And I had played it on my show, and this woman called me, who works somewhere around Case. And she’s like, “there’s a man here who is from Iraq, and he says you’re playing music he used to listen to when he was a kid.” And I was like, “that’s awesome!” And she was like, “can he talk to you?” And I was like, “Yeah, sure!” That’s an awesome thing. How cool is that that I’m playing something, and somebody hasn’t heard Iraqi music on the air in America, probably ever? I think that that’s the coolest thing.
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