Martel calls it as she sees it

Oakland singer/performance artist comes to La Di Da this weekend

By Stacy Trevenon
Half Moon Bay Review
January 31, 2001

Oakland resident Kristi Martel, who alternately describes herself as a performance artist, musician, songwriter and artist, is bringing her on-the-edge songs to Half Moon Bay in an appearance at La Di Da this Saturday.

Martel will perform at the coffeehouse, which is located at 500 C Purissima St. in Half Moon Bay, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday.

Singing in a delicate, almost little-girl voice, Martel deals in big issues. Stylistically reminiscent of Joni Mitchell in her phrasing, lyrical content and vocal sculpting, she delves into identity, memory, gender issues and relationships. Occasionally, as on her CD "Give Me a Little...," she enhances her songs with sound and vocal collage, singing a line against an audio backdrop of her own voice.

Lyrically, her songs paint varied pictures of a modern-day soul on the edge. She delves into issues with parents, wonders why loneliness is everywhere and what might be an antidote, spits out anger against games and miscommunication in a failing relationship, spiritedly kicks a lover out of her bed and her life, and proclaims her own strength.

"I tell hard stories because I want out of the oppression of our society, and breaking silence in a moving and artistic way seems as good a way as any," Martel told musical publication Lummox Journal in November 1999.

She found early that she was a natural for that artistic way. Growing up the only child in a working-class New England family, she started making up harmonies to songs when she was 3 and started piano lessons at 7.

In her interview, she paints a picture of a rocky childhood, which laid foundation for her own artist-activist stance. Based on issues from her past, she said she wrote about aspects of body image, body memory and her own family history.

These issues comprised her three-year project, "Flood," a 70-minute collection of stories told with spoken word, dance, sound collage and traditional vocal work for solo and multiple voices, which she hopes to perform widely.

She studied classical piano as a child. Two decades later, having graduated from Mills College in Oakland, she continued composing, recording, teaching, and performing music.

Music, she said, "feels like it was never a decision on my part. It was sort of a given to me, from a very young age."

In 1994 Martel won the ASCAP Foundation Grant for Young Composers for a two-voice piece, "When Outside Gets Inside Through the Skin." With that grant, she moved to New York City and formed her own publishing company, Sealed Lip Music, which she describes as dedicated to crossing boundaries and giving artists a venue to speak.

She has performed her experiemental, folk rock music on both coasts, both solo and in collaboration with other artists. She has openend for artists including Margie Adam and Allette Brooks. Currently, she conducts an East Bay high school a cappella choir and teaches piano and voice also in the East Bay.

La Di Da can be reached at 726-1663.

Oakland performance artist Kristi Martel will bring her unique sound to La Di Da this weekend.

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