An Interview With Donna Marina Mårtensson
Donna Marina Mårtensson is a Swedish singer, songwriter, composer and multi- instrumentalist who lives in Ljubljana and Izola, Slovenia. She is also a mentor to young singers and musicians.
InLjubljana.com is starting a series of interviews with ‘cool’ people who are in any way connected with Ljubljana. I’m happy and honored that Marina Mårtensson agreed to be our first guest.
Your music career
Iza: You have one of the most extraordinary voices I’ve ever had a chance to listen to. Your club concerts are particularly special; you often move people to tears. How are you able to connect with your audience so strongly?
Marina: Thank you, dear Iza! It’s not a very easy question to answer, but I think it comes from the ability to connect with myself and my own feelings, and to not be afraid of showing and sharing that. Music has always been my therapy. Through music, I am able to feel, speak, and open up. It sounds like something that is normal for me, but I still get surprised. I feel blessed each time it happens that I move my audience, by just being myself and doing my therapy.
Iza: Your concerts are a mix of your own compositions and covers of popular songs, which you dress-up into your own, unique versions. How do you create these covers and are there more songs you’d like to interpret and record?
Marina: Oh, it’s a very simple creative process. The covers create themselves. They are coming to me, in new interpretations. And I’m never able to decide whether it will be a Beatles song or a Justin Beiber song; the songs decide, instead. Through my singing teaching, I analyze lyrics of songs, to be able to teach my students how to deliver the lyrics. Sometimes, I find myself in the lyrics, as if I wrote them myself. That is usually the start of a cover process.
Iza: You perform solo and with a band. Who are the musicians in your band, what are their roles and special skills and how do you decide on a playlist for each performance?
Marina: I am blessed to have Miha Koren (bass), David Morgan (drums) and Miha Koretič (guitar) in my band. We are not only a band, I see them as my brothers and best friends. Their roles and special skills are to be crazy silly and make me laugh, to listen, to be honest with me and to give me support. Then, they are VERY talented musicians as well and give my music life. Playlists for performances are usually made under a democratic meeting, but I’m the one who makes the final decision. 😉
Iza: At a very young age, back in 2009, you released your first album Fences, and with the second one, My Tribute To The King, you honored the memory of Elvis Presley. Now, you work on your third album. What is the genre of music and what is the main message of your new songs?
Marina: The genre is more pop then the two earlier albums, but still with influences of soul and jazz. The songs are personal stories, once again my therapy. We’re still in working process with the album, so I can’t really tell the main message of the whole album yet. But I feel more honest, open and personal in these songs. More mature.
Iza: Your other passion is teaching. You teach singing and music both at the British International School of Ljubljana and privately. Besides technique, you put a lot of emphasis on building confidence and self-esteem in your students. What does teaching mean to you, and how does your approach differ from the conventional?
Marina: I really enjoy teaching singing, because everyone grows by singing and doing music. It’s a gift you give yourself, and I’m glad to help with that. I have students with different ranges of experiences and with different goals. Each lesson is unique, since I’m trying to develop your voice from the individual you are, the voice that you have and the stories you carry. I am teaching everyone the same technique, but the most important thing is to find your voice and make yourself believe in the stories you are delivering, to make you feel and grow.
Iza: Can anyone start lessons with you? And are there any hours left in your busy schedule?
Marina: Yes, anyone is welcome to start singing lessons with me, but I am sorry to say that my schedule is too busy at the moment. I am trying to keep the balance between teaching and time to create music and perform. But don’t hesitate to contact me if you’re interested in a lesson. Schedules always change for freelance musicians.
From Sweden to Slovenia
Iza: Not everyone knows that you’re actually half Swedish, half Slovene. Please tell us your story and a bit about your childhood years in Sweden.
Marina: I was born in the south of Sweden, by a Slovene mother and a Swedish father, and grew up in the countryside in a small village. Music was always in our home, and me and my older sister Emilia started practicing instruments and singing at very early ages. I started with singing lessons when I was seven years old, and started to compose music on guitar and piano when I was around 11 years old. Music has always been my number one interest, and the support and encouragement from my parents took me to where I am today.
As a teenager, I also participated in various music competitions, which I had success in. There, I got a lot of valuable performing experiences and contacts in the music world. When I was in high school, I connected with professional jazz musicians in Stockholm, and the process of my first album “Fences” started. I signed a record deal with a Japanese label named “Spice of life” and soon my first album was released. In other words, my childhood years in Sweden were all about music, as my life still is.
Iza: You had a lot of support from your parents and grandparents, similar to the support you give your students. You and your sister even had a private jazz club to grow and develop your talents. How important was all of this for your and your sister’s success?
Marina: Yes, our parents opened up a jazz club!! I was 12 years old, that’s when I started to sing jazz. They made this venue for me and my sister to perform with our bands, and it was the best music school for us, where we met professional musicians and audiences. We got more and more gigs, and many experiences, that I am forever grateful for. Our parents gave us a platform for us to give music back, and that gift turned out to be my life’s biggest gift.
Iza: After spending a few summers in Slovenia as a teenager, you came back in 2013 for a few months to write music. But you never returned to Sweden. What made you change your mind (or heart) and stay?
Marina: Izola changed my mind and heart. Simple as that. I left a busy environment in Stockholm, and landed in a peaceful, calm harbour town surrounded by lovely people, amazing food, good wines, picking olives, the sea, the mountains, the colours and the sun. And the music, of course. It just happened by itself that I stayed, and life smoothly changed. I enjoyed myself and life more than I did back home in Sweden. And I still do!
Iza: What are the main differences between North and South, between Sweden and Slovenia that influenced your decision? Your warm and sunny, very open personality isn’t really typical for your homeland…
Marina: I guess that’s it. I found myself in an environment that I enjoyed more, where I could be myself more. For me, the main difference is the importance of work and career, which in Sweden is more important than in Slovenia. Money and career come first. I realised I got richer in Slovenia, with less money, but with more space for my music and creativity. This makes me a happier person. This is of course a very personal experience, and I’m not saying that it would be the same for everyone. It depends on what you want and need in life.
Iza: You are very close with your older sister, Emilia, who lives and works in London and was awarded a Jazz Vocalist of the Year in 2016. How is she similar or different from you, and is there a chance that we’ll hear you together in concert in Slovenia one day?
Marina: Me and my sister are very similar, in every way! She has been living in London for 16 years, but she shares my love for Slovenia and is here more and more often, and will hopefully stay one day, as well. We already had a few concerts together in Slovenia, and I can assure you that we will have many more.
Your Ljubljana home
Iza: You could have called any city your home. Why Ljubljana (and Izola) and not Stockholm, Paris or London?
Marina: I lived in Stockholm for eight years, and for a little while also in London, which was great. But I’ve come to realise that a smaller town is what I like best. I am a countryside girl, forever! Ljubljana is a wonderful town, surrounded by beautiful nature, and it has everything you wish for in a city, but in short distances. It’s perfect!
Iza: Which are the things you like most about Ljubljana and living in our city?
Marina: Ljubljana is a small town, but it still has the capital feeling and a great choice of cultural events, nice restaurants and cafés. But the best thing is that you run into your friends all the time. Compared to Stockholm, for example, my friends and I have more time to spontaneously meet.
Iza: Ljubljana was 2016 European Green Capital and you are also very ‘green’, as you don’t drive. Do you walk and bike a lot, and which are your special spots in the city, both in general and in different seasons?
Marina: Well, I don’t even have a driving license. But I use prevozi.org a lot. It’s a very good and GREEN way of travelling in Slovenia, and you meet a lot of nice people, too. What’s good about Ljubljana is that it’s not big, and you can easily move around by walking, or by bike, if you wish.
Iza: Which are your favorite cafes and restaurants in Ljubljana? Are there any foods or dishes that you love so much that you would be able to recommend?
Marina: There are many great cafes and restaurants in Ljubljana. Three of my favorite places in Ljubljana are Sax pub in Trnovo, where you can listen to good jazz some days. My favorite live music venue is ZOO club in Tobačna, where I usually go to catch some great live music. They always deliver good live acts in different genres.
Miha Koren and I are actually running an Open Mic club in ZOO once a month. It’s called Mixtape and we’re inviting singers and MCs to perform with a live band where we create Soul/RnB/Funk/Motown/Hiphop music. Each first Thursday of the month!
For fine cuisine, I recommend the restaurant Luda in Poljanska cesta, which is a small restaurant with amazing food and great service. It’s always full, so make sure you make your reservation!
Iza: Thank you so much for your time, Marina. It was a pleasure talking with you today!
Marina: Thank you, Iza. Pleasure talking with you too. Lots of love and great wishes!
If you are interested in getting in touch with Marina Mårtensson for a possible cooperation you can send her a message via the form below.