Artist Spotlight: Mekdelawit

The UMass artist discussed creating during isolation, heartbreak and conquering self-doubt in her new music

Isolation can be lonely, leaving one disconnected and uninspired without people to bounce off of. As humans we feed off of one another, we look forward to interacting, even setting up dates to do so. With quarantine and strict restrictions at the University of Massachusetts, this ability has been stripped of us, leaving a sense of mundaneness for many.

Yet, for others, isolation can be incredibly cathartic, especially for creative introverts. Sophomore Mekdelawit Fissehazion released her first EP, “We Can Stay Here,” last April, in the midst of quarantine. While everyone else was losing their minds trying to figure out a way to spend their time alone, Fissehazion found peace.

“That period of my life was a really big time for healing. It was after I got out of some really bad relationship stuff. That EP reflects it a lot — I just needed to get it out into the world,” she said. “For example, ‘We Can Stay Here’  is about a new person, but you have so many walls up because you don’t want to get hurt like last time. And then ‘Better Know’ was just straight up being like, bro, I miss you. But what can I do about it? You did me wrong. It’s really just exploring the emotions after heartbreak.”

Astghik Dion / Daily Collegian

Through the release of her first project, she was able to find a release within herself. The EP itself is mostly freestyles, making her pain feel genuine and stories that much more remarkable.

This sense of such raw realness, especially for a newer artist, did not fall on deaf ears. Her social media was flooded with Instagram reposts and hundreds of shares. The fact is the UMass community was truly rocking with her.

“I really am so grateful that anybody listens to my music, it makes me so happy,” Fissehazion said. “I don’t think people realize how nerve wracking it is to put all your thoughts and emotions into a song and give it to people. The fact that they receive it and actually mess with it enough to post it and tell their friends about it means a lot to me.”

Yet, unfortunately, because the EP was released during quarantine, Fissehazion couldn’t feel the tangible love from her audience that comes with release parties and live shows, something that is important to her as an artist.

“I thrive off of performing, I really love it,” she said. “It’s a different feeling because recording music is a very tedious process, and I love it. But at the same time, singing, being in front of people and interacting with the audience, is very nice.”

Before UMass students were sent home in March, the young artist performed at the Black History Month Showcase, an event hosted by the UMass Black Student Union. Yet, her ardor for live shows began on stages in Ethiopia, long before UMass.

Fissehazion was raised in Silver Spring, Maryland, where her parents’ taste in music was affected by their shift to American culture. This in turn influenced the music she listened to growing up.

“Maryland is where I first started listening to R&B and singing with my cousins,” Fissehazion said. She recalled some of the artists that inspired her in her adolescence being Rihanna, Lil Wayne, Keri Hilson, T-Pain and Beyoncé.

“I was obsessed with Beyoncé when I was really young,” she said. “I would beg my mom to buy me the World Tour CDs, watch them and learn every single rendition of every single song so I could sing exactly like her. When I really got into ‘Yoncé, that changed my life as a young kid. And my music taste. That was really where it began.”

When she was 10 years old, Fissehazion moved to Ethiopia, where she lived until coming to UMass for college. Ethiopia is where she began performing, and it influenced how she interacted with people while making music.

Her cousin, Adonis, served as a mentor-like figure for her when she first started out. She began experimenting with GarageBand and singing over her own production, yet it wasn’t until she and Adonis began working together that she began taking her craft to the next level and releasing music.

“He produced and rapped, then I would write and hop on the song, and we would just release like that,” she said.

The two have a few songs together and plan on releasing more collaborative music in the future. But for now, Fissehazion has been focusing on her solo career and trying to sharpen it as much as possible.

“I’m just trying to make sure I’m really focused on quality right now,” she said, regarding a project in the works. “My previous project was mostly just freestyles, so now I’m actually taking my time and writing songs.”

The songwriting process for the artist comes in waves of poetry — or pure spontaneous inspiration.

“I’ll take certain lines from previous poetry and put them in where they fit sometimes,” she said. “Especially like the second verses, they always take me longer to write than the first ones because the first ones are just an outpour of ideas.”

She refers to Better Knowas the song she is most proud of because of the lyrics. Now, since she has more familiarity in terms of mixing and mastering, Fissehazion would like to work on it again for a re-release.

Last April, she was able to use her heartbreak from previous semesters as fuel to create beautiful art. “We Can Stay Here” is dreamy, smooth and something you would listen to in a bubble bath while lighting a eucalyptus scented candle — knowing that at the end of the day, you have yourself and that’s all that matters.

Astghik Dion / Daily Collegian

Now, her motivation to create comes in letting out those last bits of frustration and painting a fuller picture of her story.

“I guess quarantine really made it hard because musicians and artists in general thrive on going through things to write music. And even though it is good sometimes to make sad music, I feel like a lot of the music that I made during quarantine… was more sad,” she said. “I don’t want people to feel that way from my music all the time. I’m really trying to pick the things that are more relatable, that are gonna touch different parts of people’s hearts, instead of depression.”

With the release of “We Can Stay Here,” she did not have as many eyes on her because it was her first project. But now the stress of releasing a project under a larger audience is all too real, paired with the inevitable self-doubt that comes with being an artist.

“I’m in my head a lot, self-doubt is a killer,” Fissehazion  said. “For real, it’ll beat you down and everything. I’m starting to be more patient with myself and finding the joy in creating again, because it comes with a lot of pressure. You put pressure on yourself, because you want to be so great.”

Conquering something as vicious as your own brain can lead to magnificent outcomes, such as a new single, “Motions” that is merely weeks away from release. Keep your eyes peeled for that and future projects from the 19-year-old R&B artist.

Astghik Dion can be reached at [email protected]