The first time I had ever listened to Eli-Mac was entirely by accident. I was at Reggae Rise Up Florida a few years back, doing the festival hustle of trying to juggle acts at both the Rise Up and Vibe Stage. Thanks to a loose shoelace, I found myself near the newly added Sugarshack Sessions pop-up stage. While tying my shoe under the shade of a palm tree, I caught the opening minutes of Eli-Mac’s set.
The tantric and soothing sound of the saxophone emanating from the amplifiers instantly hooked me. Embarrassingly, I didn’t know who Eli-Mac was at the time. However, I’m a sucker for the saxophone, and with the almighty Nattali Rize accompanying her, I decided to stick around. Before long, it wasn’t just the saxophone or Nattali Rize that had my hips swaying and toes tapping. Instead, the raw and pure energy radiating from Eli-Mac’s voice in those opening minutes captivated me. At the end of the first song, Nattali Rize’s iconic voice shouted her name, and I quickly opened Spotify to check out her discography. Since then, she has been a constant in my mix of music.
When presented with the opportunity to interview Eli-Mac, there was no hesitation on my part. Her latest single, “Résumé,” featuring Collie Buddz, tells the beautiful story of how two of her friends, Marybeth and Kanoa, fell for each other. Kanoa wrote the song over two decades ago for Marybeth. It served as Kanoa’s way of asking Marybeth out on a date. Now, 20 years later, the two are happily married, and Eli-Mac has brought the song back to life.
While Eli-Mac told me this story during our recent conversation, it tickled my tender heart, and the music and the accompanying video deepened the romance. From a storytelling perspective, I admire how the tale unfolds while balancing the song’s addictive riddim. When asked what it was like to have Collie Buddz jump on the track, Eli-Mac described it as an organic experience and mentioned that he is as cool in the studio as he is on the stage. Her engaging presence prompted me to dive deeper into what makes her music so alluring for the listener and what it takes to perfect her craft.
When questioned on how a song comes about, Eli-Mac revealed, “Sometimes just the melody comes, and I’ll think of something, and I’ll add lyrics. Sometimes it comes together, and it’s the lyrics and the melody.” She further explains that factors such as her mood and what she is going through at any given time also play into her approach. “I’m a bit of an emotional writer as of late. My first album and second album, not so much, but this third album I’m working on, man, it’s getting deep.”
Eli-Mac’s love for music started when she was young, but her inner riddim started to pulse when she watched the movie Sister Act 2 and saw the iconic Lauryn Hill sing for the first time. “It changed my life as a vocalist,” she gushed. Additionally, Eli-Mac owes a lot to growing up in the 90s and the likes of Salt-N-Pepa, Janet Jackson, and TLC, jokingly stating that she was a bit of a hip-hop and R&B head early on in life. Island Music and acts such as Fiji and Kapena were also a considerable influence in defining her music. However, it wasn’t until high school that she discovered the booming riddims of roots reggae music.
There’s a particular magic within music. It has the ability to tug heartstrings, sway the hips, or penetrate deep into one’s inner self and uncover emotions. There’s really no easy way to sum up the mysticism, but there is a story of everyone’s first time falling in love with music. For Eli-Mac, she states it’s always been a part of her essence. “I think I’ve always felt it at a really young age. I’ve always loved music, but there was a pivotal moment in my life when I said, ‘This is what I want to do.’ I was 15 years old, and I was hanging out in the studio with my homie, who had just built it at his home. So, we were kicking it there, and I recorded my first song, and I burnt it on a CD. I listened back to it on my Walkman, I was like, ‘Holy shit! I want to make more of these! I want to write more of these!’ But I was always writing at an early age. In elementary, I wrote poetry, which turned into lyrics and little raps and songs in high school.”
This transformed Eli-Mac into a powerful songwriter who pours dedication and passion into each song. Like a fine wine, the years matured Eli-Mac into a more profound and self-reflective writer. “When I was younger, in the punk, hip-hop era, you’re more of a rebel and revolutionary style lyrics, but lately, in my older years–my late thirties, I have been kinda tapping into gushy and love.”
She describes how her stage presence and performance have also evolved. She states that when performing “Résumé,” she made it a thing where she peers deeply into someone’s eyes and sings directly to them when singing the line, “I want to be a full-time lover, yeah!”
Infusing the energy of the music onto the crowd puts Eli-Mac into her zone. She explains, “No matter what’s happening in my life, I can be in tears…in fact, I’ve been in tears backstage, in the bathroom, and people are knocking on the door and saying, ‘Hey Eli, we gotta go.’ And I wipe my tears, and when I hit that stage, I leave it all on that stage, and it’s like a vortex. [But] back in the day, I would just black out and close my eyes a lot because I was nervous. I still get nervous – every time. But I would close my eyes and then peek a little, and I would still be in my zone, but these last five years, I’ve been really opening my eyes and connecting with people and looking at people because my lyrics are true to who I am. I write them, I sing them, and I mean them, and when I sing them to others now, I like to look at them so they can feel them. It’s a powerful exchange, and it’s such a blessing. I am so thankful to be doing music.” As Eli-Mac further explains, music is healing, and it’s heavy.
With each passing year and every performance, Eli-Mac aims to get better while also paying homage to all who guided her along the way. “Each year, I advance and get better, and I try new things. It’s been a journey.”
With being in the reggae community for almost a decade, Eli-Mac has watched it grow and evolve: “It’s been interesting to see the different regions. I’m from Hawaii, and the scene there is so unique, and then there’s the Cali scene with its own unique sound too. Because when we grew up, it was just Jamaica. That’s where it originated and came from, and in the last two decades, reggae had a bunch of babies.” She laughs before equating it to how punk and hip-hop gave birth to a whole list of sub-genres.
She continues this sentiment by saying, “Everybody is necessary. Everybody has their creative expression. There are so many parts of music associated with feeling. Feeling powerful, feeling beautiful, feeling loved, feeling sad, feeling heartbroken. I think they are all necessary for the flow. We aren’t always feeling one thing at a time. Sometimes we feel happiness, sometimes we feel anger, sometimes we feel sad, sometimes we feel we’re ready to take on the world. So it’s cool to have everything available for that mood.”
Over the years, Eli-Mac has taken in a lot of memories that she holds dear, but she remembers not to discount her hard work and diligence that helped make those memories possible. It’s now been almost ten years since she released her first EP, Dub-Stop, but that doesn’t include the decade of honing in on her craft. “When we dropped it, I couldn’t believe the reaction, and it jump started my whole career.” The positive reaction prompted Eli to commit fully to a professional career in music, and when she quit her waitress job in 2017, it signified that she was doing music full-time. “There were hard times, and there still are. Sometimes it’s rough, and you gotta get the ramen, and others it’s like ‘Drinks on me,’ but I think just trying to be an entrepreneur and living my dream is a big accomplishment, so I’m thankful for it all.” After more consideration, she added, “The whole process, though. Good and bad. There have been bad moments, too, where I’m falling on stage or acting like a fool. That’s way long ago, but even the bad times shaped me… especially those times.”
But with the past decade in the rearview mirror, Eli-Mac has her eyes on the future. When asked how she approaches new challenges and goals, she states that she has to stay active and negate the hate. “As long as I have my back, and I do my self care, I try to be my best self. I know I’m working towards that, and that’s all that matters – that you are right with yourself. Your goals will come easily after that. We’re all mixed up in this, and it’s sometimes hard to see through the fog. Do the shit you like. Do whatever you like and what makes you happy.”
My parting words with Eli-Mac left an ineffable mark on my personal outlook and how I view the world. Similar to me, Eli-Mac finds inspiration in both love and self-empowerment. “I have been trying to work on that. Taking care of yourself and feeling good about yourself, regardless of what people think. I believe in that, and I want everyone to feel empowered like that. My music is just me. It’s just who I am. Sometimes I’m up. Sometimes I’m down. Sometimes I’m heartbroken. Sometimes I’m in love. Sometimes, I want to start a revolution.”
Eli-Mac’s powerful soul resonates through the soundwaves, emitting a pure, raw energy that electrifies the air. Her music isn’t just something you hear—it’s something you feel. Her voice acts as a vessel that gently navigates through turbulent times and reminds us that amidst the rocky sea of life, there will always be a melody that guides us to love.