Japanese-Venezuelan artist Marina Marqueza creates messages of healing and self-love through their music
By Isabella Gomez
Marina Marqueza is a non-binary Japanese-Venezuelan singer, producer, and artist currently based in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Earlier this year, they self-released their debut album, Orbit Pluto. Throughout the album, they express messages of healing oneself and affirmations of self-love on a backdrop of electro-pop. In our interview, Marina talks to us about producing their own musical project, finding resilience and self-love through art, and championing creativity above all else.
Along with self-producing their own album, Marina is raising funds to produce a music video for their single, “The Matrix.” Click here to help fund the music video which is less than $1,000 away from meeting their goal! Below is a teaser of the video they are creating:
Tell us a little bit about the process of creating Orbit Pluto. How long were you working on this for, from conceptualization up until you released it?
I’ve dreamed of releasing an album of my own since I was a child, so really Orbit Pluto has been in the works in some way my whole life. But the concept first came to me in a dream. I had just started studying social justice, and contextualizing my own struggles, as well as the suffering of other marginalized communities, overwhelmed me with sadness and anger. One morning, I woke up from a vibrant and beautiful dream with the phrase “orbit Pluto” in my head and I just knew it had to do with "orbiting," or focusing on the most marginalized in society. It became a symbol of what it means to have a definition of love that incorporates justice at its core, and I knew immediately that would be the concept for my album. bell hooks solidified this message in her book, All About Love, “There can be no love without justice…abuse and neglect negate love.” I was inspired by a notion of justice that left no room for abuse whatsoever, and knew I needed to learn how to produce so that I could have full control over the message.
I constantly practiced; whether it’s through singing, active listening, writing, learning. I wrote the song “Orbit Pluto” first, but Orbit Pluto, the album, took years because I taught myself everything and I'm a hopeless perfectionist. I became more intentional about the art I was consuming during the process of Orbit Pluto. In all my study, the affirmation I kept hearing was that to devote love to others truly, I had to begin with me. I had help along the way, but I needed to prove to myself that I have what it takes, even in a world that seemed to tell me the opposite. Orbit Pluto became my symbol of a beginning and freedom that I always dreamed of.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced throughout that journey?
Many of my challenges were internal. I don't think many people understand the amount of hurt and suffering a lot of queer, people of color endure silently. There is so much about growing up in such a sexist, racist, homophobic society that made me internalize a lot of self-doubts, so even the decision to teach myself wasn’t empowering at first. It just came from necessity. The way education systems are structured, my mind just doesn’t work like that, and institutions are not built for the success of people of color; let alone queer/trans people or neurodiverse people. Coming from an immigrant family, there were also a lot of social things I didn’t understand. So, the layers of feeling disconnected led me to isolate myself because it was the only way for me to learn. The resulting loneliness was a challenge.
Learning how to say no, firmly and without apology, came from constant experiences of having my boundaries violated. Just existing as a queer person of color in music spaces can be exhausting. During the process of Orbit Pluto, I hit rock bottom. The process was very painful; healing takes work, and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But, I don't regret it. Orbit Pluto was a growing experience. I learned more about empathizing with people on a deeper level. I learned how to speak to people’s hearts by tapping deeper into mine. I’m very grateful for those who genuinely supported me from the beginning because having a support system helped me get through challenges I couldn’t get through alone. But, I can say that the more vulnerable I am, the stronger I become, and I feel the most unstoppable when I am being as honest about my challenges as my triumphs.
What about some of your favorite/most notable experiences that you had while putting the album together?
I lived in Japan in 2017 and was deeply depressed, so I think it was notable that during one of my lowest points, I wrote a song about self-love (“My Love”). I wanted to write a song that I had always wanted to hear; something that acknowledged that it’s okay to still be learning. Strange, maybe, to say that one of my favorite moments was one of the saddest, but perhaps it's because I survived. Shooting my first music video, “Castor/Pollux”, in Kobe, where I used to live, felt very healing. When I returned to Utah, writing “Mx. Independent” was very important in reclaiming the confidence I had lost in myself.
Right now, I am working on a music video for my song, “The Matrix,” which is very exciting because as I work on my next release, it's such a rush to pour the new and growing Marina into a visual from my first album. Orbit Pluto sort of captures the confusion, complexity, and imperfections of most of my adult life until now. It grew with me in many unexpected ways as I worked to process trauma through the continual search for my sound.
I love that all of the tracks really emphasize how important it is to love and believe in yourself, even if your dreams/goals might seem far away or difficult to attain in the moment. Why do you think it's significant for other people, especially people who identify as LGBTQIA or POC, to hear this message?
Every single person on this planet is unique with their own struggles, situations, levels of oppression, and privilege. I think it's important for other queer/trans POC to hear that you are the expert of your own experience. There are constant streams of messages reminding us that in every level of society, our stories are not always represented. If we ask for representation, however, we're gaslighted into believing we are too sensitive. I guess I want people like me to know that we do deserve opportunities to create. Self-love or advocating for yourself and your communities is not easy, and not always possible in every situation. But, queer and trans people of color must hear messages of independence and vulnerability because we must acknowledge the strength that comes from being vulnerable. Too often, "strength" is equated to the amount of abuse we can take. And while resiliency is a power, I think it's important to acknowledge that marginalized folks wouldn't have to be so fucking resilient to survive the abuse they go through if they weren't being abused in the first place. And many queer and trans people, particularly Black trans women, don't make it. The murders, the lives, opportunities lost because of oppressive systems should be unacceptable. I don't like when an idea of strength doesn't account for those who are lost to our systems of abuse and violence. I want to make space for queer/trans vulnerability and tenderness. I wish I were told more often, it's okay to be learning. You are powerful as you are, it's okay to need time, and I believe you. Know that you are worth it and you are not alone.
I saw in your tweets that you came out as gender fluid when you released Orbit Pluto. Was that something you knew you wanted to do all along, or did that come about as part of the process of creating this album and getting to know yourself through your art/music?
Coming out as queer/non-binary happened fluidly during the process. I was in such a mental survival mode during most of the process of Orbit Pluto that there were many things I subconsciously didn’t allow myself to explore because I needed to find a sense of stability first. I never thought I would end up “coming out” in that sort of public way because I think the concept of “coming out” is problematic in some ways too; like for whose benefit am I coming out for? If I already know who I am, why must there be a singular day when I become “real” to the world? Does every person even deserve to know? But, when Orbit Pluto was finally ready, it just sort of happened. I was already sharing my heart, so it made sense to be as authentic and fearless as possible.
I also saw you talk about how racism/sexism in the SLC creative scene really impacted you as an artist and ultimately pushed you to pursue your projects independently. Can you tell me a little more about that scene and how you've felt you fit into it?
Growing up in Utah, there were so many blatant and subtle ways I was told that I didn't fit into the traditional categories, musicians are supposed to fit into. There were countless times I was the only non-white person in class or at events. In school, teachers thought I was lazy because I struggled to read music. In reality, their teaching styles and implicit bias got in the way of my learning in ways I didn't fully understand until now. I would share ideas and get shut down only to have cis men in my band say the same thing later and get applauded for it. I felt pressure to look a certain way compared to cis male bandmates who were allowed just to play. At a jazz camp honoring 6-time Grammy-nominated guest vocalist Nenna Freelon, I heard things like, vocalists aren't really musicians, women who sing aren't actually talented because it's about their looks...etc. It's hard to feel good enough when your very existence feels like an anomaly, and that was just my experience before I came out as queer.
As an adult walking into Utah's recording studios, what I see continues to confirm the existence of systemic problems. The amount of boys clubs in Salt Lake is exhausting. How am I, a queer person of color, supposed to feel safe, invited, or interested in your studio? How can you possibly say your studio is inclusive if people like me are not included? I have to laugh, but mostly, it makes me angry. Representation matters, and more Salt Lake City artists and business owners should be bothered by who they are/aren't representing on lineups, their clientele, and who is getting invited to the studio. So yeah, one day I got fed up. The desire to make music never left my spirit, but I got tired of not being taken seriously. I shut myself away for a while to build my own foundation. It was the best decision I ever made. Nobody is entitled to my time or creativity. Now I only do collaborations with people I connect with and are respectful of boundaries, and I don't really care about "networking" or popularity. If it's not authentic to me, it's not worth it.
I love working with and supporting other queer artists. One effort I deeply support is Existimos, a string of grassroots inclusive events organized by Graciela and Patricia Campos in Salt Lake City. Someday I'd love to start some kind of label/music studio in Utah; intentionally serving and representing a variety of artists from marginalized backgrounds without hijacking their ideas or using them as tokens for diversity.
What advice would you give other people who are considering taking a leap into a creative/passion project they love, especially if they're not located in a "spotlight city" ? (asking this bc I think it's really important more outlets cover culture happening in places other than LA, NYC, Chicago, etc.)
Bloom where you are now, where your heart is now. This can mean staying where you are, but I know many artists who move to the bigger spotlight cities. But before you do that, have you looked into the community around you? I feel like we often miss out on work around us, particularly in the places that need it the most. Salt Lake City and Utah, in general, aren't at the forefront of people's minds as diverse places. But, I've met some of the most radical activists and artists here. Ultimately, however, do you. Do you need extra time to rest? Do it. Do you need to even take a break from creating so you can focus on healing? Do it. Because your passion lives inside of you and you take it with you regardless of where you are. Because if you create authentically, it won't matter where you are because you will reach people all over the world. Because if you do what you need to take care of yourself, I swear to you, you will be more ready to make the best art you've ever made, and you will be prepared. But most importantly, surround yourself with others who support you, and you may be surprised to find that love somewhere within your community you are in now.
What do you do for self-care?
I place a lot of importance on balance. I've learned the hard way that trying to force myself to meet other people's expectations never works out for me in the end. So, my self-care revolves around, having quiet alone time to listen to my body and mind. I'm very introverted for the most part. I have learned to accept I need a lot of alone time so that when I am with others, I can fully focus my energy on them. Eating with people I love. I try to let myself take the time I need to get ready; acknowledging the dysphoria that sometimes takes over. Exercising and feeling physically strong helps me combat my dysphoria, so working out in short fun bursts makes me happy. Surrounding myself with people who pour as much love into my life as I do into theirs. I work on listening to my body and limits, trusting that if someone really cares about me, they will not be angry if I have to go home early or cancel plans. Self-care is also heavily reliant on boundaries. Learning how to say no. Being open to being called out. Being open to learning how I am wrong so that I can be on the path to being right. Self-care is acknowledging the days when my depression requires me to stay home and doing my best not to internalize guilt for taking care of my body and soul.
Is there anything else you'd like to add?
If there is something in your heart that you have always wanted to do, even if you feel like it won’t be taken seriously, even if you don’t fully take it seriously, listen to your heart. If there’s passion there, believe that it’s there for a reason. At the end of the day, you get to follow what is best for you. LISTEN and uplift the stories and work of Black and Brown queer/trans people in all realms of society! Book more LGBTQIA+ talent on your lineups, listen to and buy art from communities of color. Don’t think for one second that we aren’t around because we are, you just aren’t looking close enough. Try to recognize your privileges as much as your oppressions. I am working on this as well; there are many ways I am advantaged in this society that others are not. And lastly, one of my favorite quotes and a daily reminder for myself. The one and only Nina Simone said: “An artist’s duty, as far as I’m concerned, is to reflect the times.” I am only one artist, but I know that I could never make peace with myself if I didn’t tell the truth.
You can hear Orbit Pluto and stream for free on all major platforms. Help fund the music video for their song, “The Matrix,” here.
Photography by Jacobo Funes