Mel Dobra is calm – uncannily calm, given that she is just about to embark on an East Coast album launch tour, her first album nonetheless, and also the first time she has undertaken more than the odd one-off show in her solo career.
But that’s Mel – the utter embodiment of the blissful sacred world folk melodies she creates, silken audio harmonies that lull the listener from the tempestuous seas of life toward the tranquil shores of serenity.
Listening to Mel’s debut album, ‘Sacred Tides‘, is to be taken on a journey, through life, through experience and deep into your own soul. This is not in small part caused by an empathy, Mel’s personal experience and life-path frequently the inspiration for the songs she creates.
“I feel like there are some really deep, spiritual themes in the album, but there are also some real personal growth themes,” shares Mel, as we sit in her peacefully serene garden, quietly sipping tea. “The first song on the album is about me facing some really big fears to do something like this project and really choosing the path of not letting fear get in my way, not letting it stop me, or anyone, from living our dreams.
“And I think through that song, it has really helped me articulate what it is I have to offer people, apart from the music. It’s the story of when you choose to follow your heart and your path and not let anything, such as fear, stop you, you can really achieve anything.”
Unlike many musicians, Mel has not had a history rich in music, piano lessons at three years old or cello-playing parents performing at the Philharmonic. Her musical career began just five years ago with her now ex-partner, Kevin James. Kevin and Mel performed across the world together at festivals and yoga retreats, bringing deeply spiritual Kirtan music to a distinct audience, Kevin leading the somewhat meditative, call-and-response style of chanting with Mel accompanying with hypnotic harmonium melodies.
Just 18 months ago, after the pair had parted ways both romantically and musically, Mel realised that, where one door had closed, another had opened, and through it lay the path of her solo career.
“I started with sacred music with Kevin,” she recalls. “I have really delved into sacred music – I love that and it is my background, but I realised that, if I wanted to reach a wider audience, I had to branch outside of just the yoga community. So I started to blend the sacred music with world and folk influences.”
This seemingly brief life in music mustn’t be allowed to shape judgement. Mel is a highly proficient musician, writing or co-writing all of her own music with her guitarist, Joshua Arent. But more than that, and what is so profound in her songs, is her ability to convey emotion, a message and to connect with her audience beyond rhythm and lyrics, evoking personal recognition through her music.
Her yoga practice, to which she is devoted, her time playing exclusively Kirtan and the cards life has dealt her have given Mel some exceptional lessons. Discovering her own voice, educating herself in her solo music career and stepping forward into the limelight as an independent lead musician have all been incredibly confronting for Mel. But she has embraced these challenges to such an extent that they have actually become the fuel for her songs.
“I think the album tells the story of my own spiritual journey. There’s a track on there called ‘Waking Up’ – it’s such a simple song and it’s the first song I ever wrote – and it’s just about this desire or wanting for humanity to wake up and for me to wake up myself. I think the underlying message to the album is for everyone, if there’s something that you really want then you should go for it, you should face those fears and really step into that part of yourself. Don’t be limited by the mind – wake up from this crazy reality we are living in and tap into the heart rather than the mind.”
While the Kirtan influence remains in her lyrics, Mel’s music is more gentle folk with international undertones, a lustrous blend of guitar, piano, violin, flute and of course, Mel’s graceful vocals, that washes over you like the last rays of the setting sun. Like the culmination of the yoga practice so integral to Mel’s lifestyle, her songs evoke a heartfelt calm; you exhale, you relax, you bring yourself back down to earth and you melt, just a little.
Mel Dobra begins her album tour this evening at Mullumbimby Civic Hall. – visit her website for bookings and information.
– This article first appeared on Common Ground Australia on Feb 21, 2014