“I just want people to feel and recognize their feelings and not to be afraid to express them.” I’m sitting on the stairs sipping buna above a large plot of land rested in the hills overlooking York Blvd, waiting for the photoshoot accompanying this interview to be complete. With a much recent heartbreak of my own, I find myself more receptive than ever to engaging with people whose dual battles with love and anguish serve as their common trade. Which leads me to quickly befriending the curly-haired pathfinder that is Arima Ederra.
It was her captivating voice with the cryptic lyrics in last summer’s hit “Trippin’ On You” that drew me warmly into the fold (“Fell in love with a stranger, don’t know how it happened / Met him on my trip to the highest / Where the stars are blue”). Balancing out delicately the thin, fine line between strength and vulnerability, the Vegas native has been able to build up an organic following over the years with her 2012 release Earth to Arima and her innate ability to speak candidly about the feelings of love that we tend to question within ourselves.
With the new release of her short but sweet EP Temporary Fixes to critical acclaim, Arima has proven herself well-versed to challenge the current paradigm on what it means to have open discussions on romance and pain in this new millennial world. “I feel like vulnerability is mandatory for an artist. I feel like we are a channel for people who can’t express what we express,” she says.
In a shaded patio in Highland Park, Arima talked to me about accepting vulnerability and growth, the life of a Habesha girl in the States, her new EP Temporary Fixes (out now here, with an accompanying zine here), and the muses who might get mad at the inspiration they provided her with.
SENAY KENFE: How was the adjustment of coming from Vegas to [Los Angeles]?
It’s definitely different as far as community goes because like I guess I’m not as familiar with the LA community as well as Vegas is. Vegas is so small that if you do music or art or any form of artistic expression, everybody kind of knows each other and supports in that way. But when I came here, it was just a melting pot of hella people doing hella shit. But yeah, it’s been a very great transition. I feel a lot more inspired here definitely.
What made you decide to make that final move?
It was between here and New York honestly—
Did you flip a coin? [laughs]
Did you really?
Yeah, man, I did flip a coin! And I knew I wanted to come here because honestly it would be a easier transition. Vegas is 5 hours away New York is a 5 hour plane ride. It was a hell of a distance. I’m really close to my family too, and I wanted to be close to my mom if she needed me for something because my dad passed away a year before I moved out here, so I just wanted to be close enough for her and my brother.
But distant enough to be your own person.
Exactly! To just come and wear lightning earrings and shit.
Oh, does that not fly [at home]?
I’ve always been the different Habesha girl; I was never the traditional Ethiopian daughter. So coming to LA was really wanting to break free and to just explore myself and explore my creativity and expressions.
Can you talk about the space that you were in [when you made your first release Earth to Arima] and the growth from there to your new EP Temporary Fixes?
I didn’t really grow up in music to be honest; it was never a thing for me. I would always perform at talent shows and stuff like that. I was never in choir, I was never a musically-inclined child—I just loved music. I loved playing it, I loved singing it, I loved performing for my family, but it was never pushed for me to pursue music. So then when I got older, honestly it was my father being sick that really made me have this “fuck it” mentality and not want to go to school and do what my parents wanted me to do. I started my own open mic night in Vegas called Social Sundays in 2010. It was once a month and I would have local artists and singers, musicians, rappers, whatever and have them do spoken word. Then people started asking me to perform my own stuff because I used to do a lot of covers—
“I was never in choir, I was never a musically-inclined child—I just loved music.”
Like “Prototype” [Outkast cover]! That was the first time I heard your music.
Oh word! Wow, thank you for listening back then. So yeah, I was just doing a lot of covers and people were like, “Where can I get your music?” And I was like, “Well, I don’t have any but maybe I should try this.” And then my dad got sick again. He had been sick for a few years but got really sick in 2011, which gave me a lot of time to write and just really [start] exploring, because Earth to Arima was such a innocent project; I feel like it was the first layer of many. It was just really me finding my voice and just exploring myself. So my dad passed in 2012 and I put out Earth to Arima right after that.
So I guess in-between Earth to Arima and now, what’s different is I got to know myself more as an artist—as a person, definitely, but I got to explore more about myself to help my artistry. So I stayed home for 2 years and I moved here in 2014. When I was home, I didn’t allow myself the time and the space to really deal what was going on, just because I was the face of my family for a lot of reasons. Sorry if I’m getting too deep—
No, this is your story.
I’m the oldest of my mom and dad. And I feel like I had to be the face for my little brother and didn’t really like explore my feelings with the impact of things. My dad was really prominent in the Ethiopian community back home so I would see people out [and] I feel like I had to keep this composure—
Very Habesha of me, yeah. I felt like I was denying myself of who I really was. So after my dad passed, it just made me realize like, “Fuck, I really won’t be here tomorrow—and why would I live anymore of my life without fulfilling my purpose?” So then I went back to school, dropped out of school... one of my friends came out here [in LA] to do the same and she had been here for a few months before me. [I] said, “She can get me a job,” and I came down one weekend to interview and they hired me and told me to come back the following weekend. So I literally went home, packed up all my shit in my Prius and drove out here.
“I feel like vulnerability is mandatory for an artist. I feel like we are a channel for people who can’t express what we express.”
I think coming down here and especially living on my own for the first time to really kinda put me in this space to make myself deal with what I was dealing with. And it really made me understand it—grief, all that stuff, and detach from it and grow.
What’s it like as an artist to explore the idea of vulnerability?
Another heavy one, wow—
For listeners of your upcoming release, I feel like there are a lot of introspective moments dealing with pain and love like for example in “Artist Addiction.” I took that one as an ode to someone. Like, “let me be your muse” kinda feelings of conflict within love. Not even to hone it into one person, but yeah, vulnerability speak on it.
I feel like vulnerability is mandatory for an artist. I feel like we are a channel for people who can’t express what we express. I feel like with music, that’s helped me in a lot of ways. I feel like their vulnerability showed me that, “Wow, these people are feeling the same way that I do, but they’re actually saying it,” and I never even thought I ever would.
Like who? Be specific.
Lauryn Hill, she’s a great example. She’s just like, “I’m fucking sad and hurt... This is how I feel and I’m crying to god and I’m asking for help.” That’s a perfect example. There’s so many artists. Kid Cudi. There’s so many who use their gifts to channel that and help their listeners. In reference to “Artist Addiction,” it was just that it was vulnerability. It was saying I believe in you more than I believe in this love, meaning I want to help you and inspire you even if it’s more than this physical love that we share. So that’s what “Artist Addiction” is about.
Do you ever find yourself getting in trouble with the music that you make?
Oh yeah! I have this song “Just to Feel U” and that will definitely cause some stuff, but it’s just me being honest. With that one, I’m kinda making fun of myself. In my time and transitions here in LA, I’m a lover I tend to love a lot and I feel like one of my Temporary Fixes was love exchanging love with someone you know? But it was temporary, so I would feel like this isn’t for me and I would call it quits. So I’m making fun of myself in that song.
Does that come easy for you to do?
You make it seem clearer than what it is.
You know like Billie Holliday and Sarah Vaughan, I feel like jazz singers back in the day weren’t afraid to be like, “Yeah, I liked him and I liked him and I liked him,” but you know, it was honest with yourself. So I say “making fun of myself” in a light way, but it’s who I am and I wanted to share that too. So with “Just to Feel You,” one of the first lines in the song is “My memory is not the same / I don’t recall anything I say / Did I say I love you? / My friend I think I do / Maybe I don’t remember” [laughs]… it’s a play on those feelings and what I did.
When you write your lyrics do you think about the performance aspect of it? Does that ever come into play for you?
Not until recently honestly. Because the thing with Temporary Fixes is a lot of the songs I wrote a long time ago right before I moved here. But now when I make music I feel like I think, “Man, this would be really cool to perform like that.” There are some songs on Temporary Fixes that made me want to perform it in that way even on the recording so that I could perform it in a certain way when I do it live.
You recently put out “In My Garden.” Can you talk about growth because I feel like that’s the central theme of that song.
Growth requires understanding what needs to grow. It requires taking the time to nurture something to grow. It requires sitting the fuck down and realizing that it needs growth. “In My Garden,” it was just a really dark time for me. It was right when I moved out here. I felt like I was in this dark room and I wasn’t growing. I was right above the soil but I wasn’t really sprouting quite yet, I was just not there. I was really hard on myself because I wasn’t there yet, like, “Whoa, I’m working on me, I’m doing this, I’m doing that, I’m trying but why am I not growing?” And it was because I wasn’t tending to myself you know? I wasn’t taking the time to heal and work on what I needed to work on in order to grown and to sprout.
It’s a process.
It’s a process, and I think we can be the hardest people on ourselves. I feel like I’m really hard on myself. That song particularly I was just angry I wasn’t growing. In my head, I was like, “Man, I’m out here and I’m not doing shit—what’s happening here?” So yeah, just had to sit back and be like, “Wait, you gotta work on some stuff first and then you can come out.”
Damn, there’s a lot of squirrels.
That’s the same one.
Oh wow! Wait, how did you know that was the same one?
I’ve been watching him the whole time we’ve been talking [laughs].
Multi-tasking. Growth is necessary.
“Growth requires understanding what needs to grow.”
What are the results that you feel that you want with this upcoming release? But also like in terms with the recognition of being someone who is putting out their intimate art in 2016?
What would I like to see? That is a good question.
I ask because you’re self-releasing this one.
Yeah, so not monetary gain.
Not to say that you can’t. Just to be clear there is a lot of money to be made when you do your own shit. That’s another great question but forget I said that.
[Laughs] I just want people to feel and recognize their feelings and not to be afraid to express them. I just want to inspire people to not be afraid of who they are and to express vulnerability in your everyday life. You don’t have to be an artist, but just not being afraid to tell someone how you feel... I feel like our egos can stop us from a lot of things. Fear can stop us, but I just want people to not be afraid to unapologetically be themselves.
How do you stay grounded?
Sit down in the park in some grass. I know it sounds hella cliche, but I do it and it makes me feel like, “Woo, I’m of this earth and all this other stuff doesn’t matter.”
I have to ask just to put it out there. Did you expect things to blow up when you put out “Trippin’ On You”?
I expected people to react to it for sure.
When you were making it?
Yeah, I felt it. Because it’s so honest and that’s what I want to do. I feel like my favorite music when I was growing up was just honest. It wasn’t fabricated.
It was just honest and that’s all I want to be in my music.