Spirit and soul

cktrl and Mereba in-conversation: two artists transcending their voice to a higher state
By Alex James Taylor | 13 December 2022
Photographer John Balsom



Audacious in craft and meaning, with his latest EP, yield, London auteur cktrl presents songs as guided meditations, projected from himself for listeners to inhabit and immerse. Pulling as much from the pre-electric age of modal jazz as classical and baroque score, the work places composition and instrumentation at the fore, conjuring trance-like, amorphous landscapes that sing to the beauty of Alice Coltrane, of Dinah Washington, of spirit and soul. In conversation with US musician Mereba, these two artists are transcending their voice to a higher state, each following their own unique path to tell the stories most important to them.


Mereba: Hello!
cktrl: Hey!

M: Good evening to you but good morning to me, I’m in my PJs. [laughs]
C: What time is it where you are?

M: It’s nine am.
C: Oh shit.

M: It’s not that early.
C: It is to be doing this, I wouldn’t do this at nine in the morning! [both laugh]

M: Well in mum life, time is different so I wake up at about six, but I did get to sleep in today.
C: How’s the little one doing?

M: He’s good, I’m hoping he doesn’t bust in because he can open doors now. [laughs] I heard him breathing and I saw his little feet outside the door but his dad came and got him. He’s great, he’s a character.
C: I suppose the best thing about that is just watching the growth every week and keeping an eye out for the little things.

M: Their personality forms more and more, that’s the interesting part. They start being more of a little person every day, he has new little quirks and it’s hilarious.
C: Do you see yourself in him yet?

M: So much, I think we have really similar personalities from when I was a baby. Super friendly, trying to talk and engage with everyone. Everywhere we go he will not rest with the hi-five hand! He will not rest until strangers hi-five him. [both laugh] I see a lot of myself in him, it’s a blessing. How are you doing?!
C: I’m good, I just got back from Mauritius with my girlfriend. It was her birthday so that was really good, we were there for ten days, her mum and sister came out as well. So I just feel really rested and cold now I’m back, England feels mad. [laughs] I came off the plane like, “Fuck!”

M: Last time I saw you, you had come from Jamaica recently and said the same thing.
C: That was what was so crazy about the trip because Mauritius is on the other side of Africa, on the Indian Ocean side, so we flew over Ethiopia to get there, which was really cool because I still haven’t been anywhere in Africa yet.

M: Really?
C: Not once, I was meant to before lockdown – then that happened – and I couldn’t do it, so I had to get the money back for the flight. I was meant to have a shoot in Senegal a couple of weeks ago but that couldn’t happen because I was going to Mauritius for my girlfriend’s birthday so I had to cancel again. But the similarities are obviously that it’s a beautiful island and the weather is amazing… but the colonial past of everything too, you land and you feel like you could be on a Caribbean island or somewhere just from looking at it. It’s very similar in all the remnants of that, they drive on the same side of the road as England as well.

M: Wow.
C: Yeah, all the signs are English and there are roundabouts like you have in England. It’s actually crazy. It hits home again how much has been taken away.

M: That’s trippy, you’re in a whole other region of the world and this shit looks exactly the same.
C: It’s mad. It’s like they just pluck people from somewhere, bring them somewhere to work and when they’re allowed to be independent they’re left with nothing and they just have to figure it out.

M: That is crazy. It does sound like it’s beautiful there.
C: We climbed a lot of mountains, there are loads of little islands off of it so you can get a boat to a small island and just have a day there.

M: I need to go there when I go to Ethiopia next time.
C: It’s not far, probably only a couple of hours. I think from there to South Africa is two hours. Madagascar is not far as well.

M: That’s amazing.
C: There’s a mixture of people too, Chinese Mauritians, Indian Mauritians, Black Mauritians – there’s a whole range of people. There’s Christianity and Hinduism happening at the same time and there are Muslims there too, it’s a whole big thing. Everyone just respects each other.

M: That’s amazing.
C: And the food?! Yo…

M: Oh say no more.
C: I wasn’t even a roti person but I am converted, I am born again roti. [laughs] I can eat with my hands, I’ve got the whole technique.

M: With your hands too, like my people?!
C: Exactly that.

M: Wow. I’ve got to do more research, I wonder if the native people there might look kind of similar. I’m curious, I don’t know a lot about that area.
C: Yeah, because of colonialism there are all kinds of people there. I definitely want to go back and also get to Africa at some point to see what’s going on.

M: Yes you do! I’ve only been to Ethiopia, I need to go to so many other places.
C: Ethiopia is on my list just because of Soundsystem culture, I hear that’s crazy there. I’ve seen some crazy YouTube videos on it.

M: Oh yeah.
C: I’m ready to just go and join in. When was the last time you went?

M: 2017, I would’ve gone at the end of 2020 but I had a baby, so now we need to take him there to meet our families. My man is from Ethiopia too. It’s a really long flight and my son is at a certain age where being on a flight for 20 hours just sounds like hell [laughs]. I’m trying to wait until he’s maybe a year older and can just watch movies. We’ll make it happen because my dad’s sister is our oldest living family member on his side, and she’s 92. She’s strong but she’s very blunt, we FaceTimed her which was crazy, she met my son and did her grandmother’s speech and blessing. But she was like, “You must come before I die.” I was like, “Let’s hold the breaks on the death talk!” Everything now is in the context of, “Before I die.”
C: You need that, it creates the urgency.


“I think about the other little Black kids right now who are trying to learn instruments or do something, what does that look like for them?”

M: I did start looking at tickets when we got off the phone. So, do you remember how we met?
C: Shit, we met in LA.

M: We did, Downtown LA with a mutual friend who was a fan of both of our music.
C: That night was really funny because all we did was drink and sing. [both laugh] It was perfect.

M: It’s all coming back to me. Then we didn’t see each other again in person for years.
C: It was a long time because we just caught up on FaceTime when we were going back and forth with music stuff. Then everything just started happening, your career started doing what it was supposed to do. It was sick to watch because I was like, “Yep here it is, I knew it was coming. Now everyone else knows too.” [laughs]

M: Thank you. You were always so supportive, even back then I was a fan of you but it’s amazing to watch someone blossom. You might have pieces of it earlier on, then you start honing it and for me to see that from you, and vice-versa, is really cool.
C: 100 per cent because seeing you do your thing, the most important takeaway for me just as a friend and a fan as well is not compromising. You lead with feeling and intention, there is so much integrity in your work and practice, which is so admirable. I don’t see that in many other people, I feel like it is something unparalleled in you – you move with intention really effortlessly. A lot of people, especially when things start to go in a certain way, they lose that and you haven’t. There’s no compromising your voice and your truth in your music.

M: Thank you, I appreciate that. I’m very stubborn, which can manifest in different ways, some good and some bad. [both laugh]
C: That helps me be stubborn with it as well because when friends are in your ear saying you should try stuff or say certain things to industry people, the management or whoever, I was like, “No I’m going to do it this way actually.”

M: What gives you the conviction to do things that way? Do you like just being stubborn too?
C: I think it’s developing that stubbornness but I also feel like I’ve really got a purpose. Before I had the ability, I could make beats, write songs, DJ, play instruments and whatever else, those are things I can do but what does it all mean? A lot of the time with projects I was doing before, it was just me showing what I could do rather than what I had to say. I guess putting out music that is more personal to me and finding ways to articulate my purpose in different ways has been the thing that’s helped me with conviction, because I feel there are voids in people truly understanding artistry.

You have this gift and you can do these things but why are you putting limitations on how you can express yourself because of what other people are doing in the industry or in society? I don’t feel there should ever be a limitation on how you create, what you create and why you do what you do. If it’s something like R’n’B for example, as a genre there is a formula to how those songs sound right now, and that could be song structure as well as production. Sometimes it’s not interesting because it’s formulaic, and then you think about icons and their songs don’t sound the same. Janet Jackson’s songs don’t sound the same, whereas a lot of people’s production is the same now. If they’re bringing out a new album everyone’s like, “Yeah, new album!” But it comes out and it’s the same production. [both laugh] That’s what aids me, when I see people do that more I’m going to do that even less.

M: Yeah, I’m the same exact way. It’s an assuredness you have with yourself because for me I obviously have people in my ear saying stuff too, but it’s funny you can feel when you’re on the right path. It took me years to break out with music and now I’m doing my thing, I’ve established what my sound is, and I’m just going to keep carving and evolving from that space. But, when you have a team of people, sometimes people suggest things that aren’t really you and it can feel like a lot of the time people have a pretty unimaginative idea of what success looks like. It looks the same to everyone in their minds.

They think this is what you want because you do music, you want a certain level of attention so they think you have to do certain things, but success doesn’t look like that to me. Success looks like feeling good in my body, in my skin and in my soul. Feeling good about what I’m putting out into the world and what I’m receiving back. I’m not the type of person who is meant to do shit I don’t want to do and deal with the people who become fans of that and then have to keep them entertained, I’m far too cynical. I know they won’t get me and it’s not going to come off as believable enough to be pleasant for anybody, it’s just going to be awkward. It’s about balancing people’s expectations of me now I’ve started to do more things, remaining the leader of the ship and defining success in my own way. Being adamant about what you want out of life and what you want out of your career because it’s not the same for everybody.
C: 100 per cent, that’s what I wanted to touch on as well. Success isn’t the same for everyone but also there are many successes to be achieved, and I feel like people forget that bit, especially in music. One form is finishing a project and putting it out into the world, but there are so many other things you can do around that. Whether it’s working with a SyncManager, and now it’s in TV shows as you’ve explored, or even making bespoke compositions for those types of things. I feel like people don’t talk about it, I guess the way the music business is presented is you do the thing you don’t want to do to keep those people entertained, but actually you need a team who is going to harness your work in all the different mediums it can be successful in. Then you can have loads of passive income from those and live your best life, feel good in your skin and travel. Whatever you’re doing while you’re not doing anything, you’re still getting money because it’s playing somewhere, that’s literally the format but no one’s trying to tell people about that one. [laughs]

M: You’re right. It’s a different type of work, you have to stretch yourself more.
C: Yes and no, it’s about what visions people have for artists, because everyone gets different types of agents – get me a SyncManager! [laughs] Let me talk to art creators as well, I want to do a soundscape in the Guggenheim or something, there is so much more to it. It’s about us as artists taking ownership of our teams, I think a lot of the information isn’t always there. Both of us probably know experienced artists who have been out for a while but still don’t know about publishing properly or other things to do with the mechanics of what keeps these things ticking over, but if it was spoken about more then loads more people would have reached different levels of success. I think everything is perspective, a lot of the time people are probably broke but it looks like things are going really well. You can be on the front cover of every magazine and still have no money in your account. Your family is looking at you like, “You must be rich,” and you’re like, “No!” [both laugh]

M: That’s a great point you make. I came into the industry with a major label so the way things operate in different settings are different, and the ways people assume success looks for artists comes from experience because most of the people in the space want to be really famous. But I’m like, “I just want a budget to make my visual art and go on tour, that’s what I’m here for!”
C: 100 per cent, but I do feel like you can still be really famous from a different way of working, it’s just a different route.

M: Exactly, it’s just a different route.
C: There is so much more integrity in that, and it also shifts what the next generation looks like.

M: I think about that a lot.
C: That’s a real driver for my artistry at the moment. I think about the other little Black kids right now who are trying to learn instruments or do something, what does that look like for them? If you’re producing and you make drill music, what other beats are you making that you’re not showing your friends? Things you aren’t comfortable showing? You can put that out, release it and it can have its own life as well. There is space for all different types of expression, it’s always come from us anyway so it just needs to continue.

M: Points were made. That idea about what the next generation is going to take from us has been woven throughout what I do for so long, I have a niece who is much younger. She’s a young teen.
C: You’re still a spring chicken, too. [both laugh]

M: She’s really the spring chicken, I’ve had to step aside because I’m the mum now and I found out she has a ‘close friends’ story on Instagram which I’m not on and I do feel a type of way about it, but it’s fine. [both laugh] She’s been in my life for so long as I’ve been doing this music thing and she’s always in the back of my mind because she loves music. She’s a huge fan of my music, she wears my merch and she’s cool, but it’s hard for me to not think about the micro but also the macro of all of those little girls who exist. I think it can be a confusing time right now to be a young Black girl. I’m not that girl anymore, I’m sure of who I am.

There is so much shown of just one or two perspectives right now and I want to offer a different one to as many people as possible. When I started doing music when I was young, even though I was a kid myself, I always looked up to artists who cared about those kinds of things. My influences were people like Stevie Wonder and Lauryn Hill, people who you could tell it was really important to them to be something positive to inspire the next generation. I just thought that was what music was about, I thought we were supposed to make music to inspire. Along the way, the world changed around me and it didn’t become about that anymore, but that’s the only way I know how to make music – from that place.
C: That’s just your value system.


“…darkness is a blinker because honesty and truth are when you’re operating from a place of love, not fear.”

M: What about you? When you started making music, you said at first it was less about the intention but more the skills you had acquired and focused on showing them.
C: Yeah, I just knew I could make this type of beat, this type of tune, I could play instruments too, so I had all kinds of things happening, but it wasn’t like I had the intention. If I put a project together it would always sound like a mixtape because there was nothing I had to say, these were just things I made over a period of time. Influences for me have always come more from movements rather than people, when I think about reggae, roots and revival music, that type of thing was more of a revolutionary way of thinking at the time, the rebel energy was something which really resonated with me. It was the same with how, in London, we had grime, drill, jungle and garage, all of that is still about rejecting something and rebelling against it. That energy has really seeped through into what I do as well as being able to be as honest and vulnerable as possible because in a patriarchal society, men are encouraged to reject that type of thing, especially Black men. When you’re being honest about your feelings or your thoughts or what you’ve gone through, it’s fine. It actually makes you stronger, invincible even, and I feel that’s what has really been my main influence.

M: I think that’s a better way of thinking about my influences, it really comes from the late-60s to mid-70s when things were very rebellious but also very much about love, love was at the root.
C: Yeah, and it was true.

M: It was true, it really was about people trying to figure out how to come together and live in love. That energy doesn’t always exist nowadays, we live in such a different space and keeping the light on is really important because the darkness is very consuming. All of us are foot soldiers for light and I see it in you, I see it in peers who are keeping the light on, too. We have to keep connecting to each other and elevating each other as we go, because that’s all we have. In a lot of ways, the darkness is all around us.
C: I have to agree on that one, a lot of us operate from fear, and I feel like fear and darkness are kind of the same thing. With our time and social media, or how people put their art out, darkness is a blinker because honesty and truth are when you’re operating from a place of love, not fear. I think it can be hard for people to understand unless you’ve really done the work to know yourself as well.

“Influences for me have always come more from movements rather than people, when I think about reggae, roots and revival music…”

M: Definitely. So, what have you got coming up?
C: I’ve got my EP coming called yield and it’s five tracks. This one is very different, there’s no production, it’s more composition and there’s no set tempo on any track. The concept of yield is basically about the barometer of your lowest vibration to your highest vibration but at any point in the spectrum at any given time you still have to show up and do your best, whether that’s for yourself or your loved ones. In platonic, romantic or familial relationships you still have to try and get the best from wherever you’re at. Surrendering to then reap from the harvest of self, basically. So, it’s yielding both ways, when I ask people what yield means to them a lot of people from the diaspora see it as what you get back from a harvest and a lot more European people see it as surrendering or submitting to something. It’s the meeting of those two things, that is what this project is about.

M: I love that.
C: That’s how it came together. Influence-wise I’d say Dinah Washington and Sarah Vaughan are big ones, those types of artists.

M: Yes, Sarah Vaughan is my favourite.
C: Even Nat King Cole to an extent. When you hear music that has that kind of arrangement, a lot of the people at the time would have called it jazz when it was classical music. To me, those are classical singers.

M: Yes, I see what you mean.
C: Classical music is a big influence as well. The BBC did a documentary some years ago and it was showing a lot of the Black composers who were around at the same time as a lot of the famous white ones we know. Similar to how we had Elvis and what he did with our music, that happened in classical music with those composers at the time which is crazy. I guess this is just kind of a nod to that as well, because even now when it comes to composers who are soundtracking the next Barry Jenkins film or whatever, it’s still not Black composers they’re getting to make it.

M: Interesting.
C: I want to just make sure people are aware they do exist and I’m taking up space.

M: Love that, can’t wait for you to be scoring the film.
C: It’s coming, I’ve just got to keep manifesting and waiting. It’s kind of a little bit like the old me in a sense because I’m showing what I can do, if you’re a musician then this record is about musicianship.

M: Got it.
C: I can’t have my musicianship denied after this project is out in the world.

M: I love that, I’m excited.
C: It feels good, you know when you finish something and you’re like “Yep.” It was just one of those moments with this one, I’m very excited to get it out in the world and see how it’s received. A part of me is excited to not even see how it’s received just because I feel so good about it, it’s a moment in time and it’s timeless for me always.

M: I feel that, that’s how I felt about my last EP. It was a very personal project, and I really didn’t care, I didn’t even care once it was released.
C: This is where I’m at with this project, you took the words out of my mouth. What about you, what have you got going on?

M: I am just vibing and writing songs. I’m not yet in a place of thinking, “This is my album title, this is what I’m working on,” I’m not there. I was on maternity leave for a while then I went back into music by going on the road first, not by going back into the studio, and that was great for me. It was so opposite to what my life was like being a mum every day, it reconnected me quickly to the people on the other side of my music and it gave me renewed purpose to keep going, to dig, to find the next album. For me, I don’t really move without signs, messages and nudgings from the spirit world, which can be hard when things move so fast. But I know God’s going to tell me, I’m going to live my life and I’m going to be open to the songs that come – the spirits are going to let me know.
C: I like that.

M: Ever since I came back from touring, the first half of the year I’ve just been going to the studio a few times a week and writing by myself to see what comes out and see what I have to say, because I’ve changed so much as a person. I’ve also been revisiting songs from my past because I feel like I always think I have to write really honestly about exactly where I am right now, and then I’m like “Wait, I’ve made some pretty classic songs over the past ten years.” If you make stuff that is timeless enough, you really can release it whenever, or you can see if it makes more sense now. Some of the songs I wrote a while ago, I relate to the lyrics more now. I didn’t write from a 100 per cent honest place then, I was just writing about scenarios and now a lot of those scenarios have come true in my life.
C: That’s how music is mad.

M: It’s crazy, I feel like I’m creating from a less linear place than I used to. love the beginning stages of any sort of project, I feel like a kid, but I don’t have an album ready. Someone the other day was like, “So, are we expecting an album from you this year?” I was like, “This year? No!” [laughs] But next year hopefully.
C: Same, I’m going to start working on one as well. I’ll be coming to find you for that, I’m going to need some help.

M: Come and find me, I’ll be around.


Interview originally published in the HERO Winter Annual 2022. 

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grooming PAUL DONOVAN;



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