Margie Perez is a vivacious Singer and Songwriter specializing in a versatile blend of Blues, Pop, and Latin with a New Orleans Funky touch. Dubbed by Offbeat Magazine as "One of the hardest working musicians in New Orleans" she leads her own band which performs her original music and is also lead singer of the Latin big band Muévelo. She performs all over New Orleans and has made multiple Festival appearances such as The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and French Quarter Fest. Margie has been making her soul right through the pandemic doing live streams, porch concerts and other outdoor shows. We had the pleasure of sitting down with Margie to discuss music, mental health, and more!
Can you describe your music in three words?
Fun, Funky, and Thoughtful.
What is your earliest music memory? The thing that made you say, “I want to do that!”?
It's funny, because when I was a kid, I would watch all the music shows like American Bandstand, and Soul Train and the Grammys but it wasn't until I was much later in life that I started singing. Some work friends signed me up to do karaoke without my knowledge; it was the first time that I'd ever gotten in front of an audience to sing, and I really enjoyed it! Then one of the girls that I worked with was in a band and they were looking for a backup singer and that's how I started becoming a musician. I was in my late 20s when that happened. I'd always been really into music and I would just absorb everything like listening to the Beatles. I grew up in the 80’s so I was all over that New Wave stuff. The Police were my favorite band, but I never thought that I would be up there on the stage. Looking back on that now, if somebody said, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” The last thing that I would have said was, ‘I want to be a singer.’ But I haven't grown up yet, so there's that.
That's awesome. What was the song they made you sing in karaoke?
The song was “Like a Virgin”! I knew all the words and it was the right song for me to not have any inhibitions. If I were to sing “My Way”, I probably would have been terrified, but it’s Madonna.
How do you think your music making has progressed/changed/evolved over the years
since your Madonna karaoke debut?
The first band that I joined was called Then There Were None as a backup singer. They were doing all original music so they let me write my background parts, which was really cool because I was able to collaborate with the songwriters for my parts. That was a unique experience. It was cool to have that as my first music experience. I started writing my own music when I came here for Jazz Fest and there was something about the live music scene and musicians playing original music. That really left a mark on me. As I was leaving to go back home, I had this song in my head and I started writing it. It was called “Ooh Baby La La”. From there I kept writing and each song would be a different experience. Sometimes I could write it in a couple of days, other times it would take me a year; You have the chorus and you want to have it make sense and sometimes it doesn’t, so you put it on the backburner and move on to the next one. I go through long periods of, I don't know if it's writer's block, but nothing comes to me. I don't try to force it. I know I will come back to it and it’ll just flow. With my music making and songwriting processes, I just don't push it. If I feel inspired, then I'll go with it.
As far as making music with other people, that's a whole other thing that I love about being a musician here. I have the opportunity as a vocalist to work with a lot of different people on different projects. I've done everything from being a duo with somebody on guitar or keys to my Latin band, Muevelo which at the most is 11 pieces. That's a wide spectrum to make music. I just have fun.
As Allen Toussaint once stated, “Music is everything to me short of breathing. Music
also has a role to lift you up, not to be escapist, but to take you out of your misery.”
Reflecting on the sentiment, how has music gotten you through some hard times in your
Every memory that I have, whether it's good or bad, there's always a song attached to it. It's the soundtrack of life pretty much and it's that love of music that keeps me going. There are times if I’m down, I'll just turn on WWOZ and I will be right back to when I first started visiting here and listening to the radio. Music just sort of gets you out of the bad and brings in the good. And if you're in a good situation, you can turn on the radio and just start dancing around and having a good time and it's all because of music. It just puts you in a better place. Even the bad memories, if I think about something, there'll be a song attached to it. It’s always there. As Mr Toussaint said, music IS everything, I think, short of breathing. It's what’s keeping me alive. I can't think of anything else that affects people like that. There’s some value to food, books and TV shows but there's just something about music that’s just so different. It's in my blood, it's in my DNA.
What does the phrase Music for the Mind mean to you?
When I first heard the phrase, I was thinking music for the mind, music for the soul, music for the brain, music from the heart. It's what keeps us going. Music for the mind is like food for the soul; it's nourishing, and it can be life changing. It changed my life.
Especially with this pandemic you really have to take care of yourself. Throughout this process, I was doing live streams from the beginning. I figured if I can't perform in front of an audience, I’m going to do what makes me happy, and that is singing with other musicians. We were six feet apart in my friend Sula’s backyard every Saturday doing a live stream called “Not touching, yet Touching” where we would invite different musicians every week. It was just so soul satisfying. Every musician that we played with said the same thing, because a lot of them hadn't played and weren't planning on doing anything until the clubs opened back up so it was nice to provide that for them. I've heard from people who were watching our live streams and they said that it was helpful for them too.
How was adjusting from live audiences to playing for a single camera in a livestream?
It was easy because I love playing with other people. Instead of looking out at the audience, I was able to put my attention towards the people that were on stage with me. As a performing artist, not having that connection with the audience felt weird, but I just transferred it to my musicians and that made me feel really good.
And how has the transition been from live streams now back to live audiences?
It's been good. I was doing a lot of outdoor stuff to audiences throughout the pandemic, doing porch concerts and performing on outdoor stages. The transition has been smooth since I’ve been doing that anyway. The first time I walked into Tipitina’s, as an audience member recently, I was overcome with emotion. Tipitina’s was one of the first clubs that I'd ever been to in New Orleans and I've seen so much music there. I've grown as an artist here and I've been able to perform on that stage so it's really meaningful. It was nice to be back and see so many familiar faces, and to see all these musicians up there on the stage.
Besides music, what are some skills you’ve been using to cope with things?
During the pandemic, I’d never cooked as much as I did because normally I'm never home. But I was doing a lot of cooking because, as musicians, we were getting so many food donations and people were so kind, so I was spending a lot of time in the kitchen. I started experimenting making simple syrups and then eventually I started making popsicles and ice cups. Then I moved on to making those simple syrups with alcohol and so I've called them Boozy Pops. I also make a mean flan and have been freezing them. I've been selling these at my porch shows so I’ve got a little side hustle going, along with music.
As we wrap up, are there any final thoughts you want to share with our readers?
I just want to tell everybody it's going to be okay. I'm sure that most people know that but it's nice to hear somebody say it. Everybody is going through this whether you had good experiences, and or tragic loss. We're getting through it and the best way to do that is to do it together. Nobody is alone and you just have to remember that and just reach out if you’re feeling alone. If you're feeling lonely, or if you're angry, just talking it out with somebody is the best way to get through it. And put on some music. That’s my message.
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All photos by Nkechi Chibueze for the Brett Thomas Doussan (BTD) Foundation