Interview: Mary Ozaraga
Mary Ozaraga is an exciting new talent in the Christian music world. She is a Singer/Songwriter and Worship Leader from the Philippines, and has just released her 'Project: Christmas' EP. Louder Than The Music chatted with Mary to find out how she started out in music, the story behind the Christmas EP, and her hopes for the new year.
For those who haven't heard of you before, can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you got involved in making music?
I'm Mary Ozaraga, Architect and Master Plumber, practicing in Cebu City, Philippines. Growing up, my father greatly influenced my interest in music. He taught me to play the ukulele at 3 years old. I grew up listening to his tapes, 60s to 80s folk Americana music. I learned to play a few more instruments since then. I was drummer in a band with my sisters and for several college amateur rock bands before coming to have a relationship with the Lord. I served in my church, as drummer, then guitarist years after, before eventually leading worship.
Growing up, I wrote poetry and rap more than songs. But I've only kept them to myself. When I came to the Lord, I couldn't write anything for 10 years. Until 2015, when I was so broken and broke, the Lord healed and restored me through music. He also started filling my heart with songs. That year, I had the privilege to volunteer to teach music to young girls who've been rescued from trafficking. I grew as a songwriter while trying to encourage them to write their own songs year after year.
Right before the pandemic, I felt a burden from the Lord to do something with these messages in the songs I've written. I didn't know what exactly He was calling me to do. In His timely fashion, God led me to an online Christian Songwriting mentorship a few months into the lockdowns. With the encouragement from this group of Kingdom songwriters, along with a scholarship to grow in my singing, I began to work on the first song which I released in January of 2021. My journey in music since then has been leaps and dives of faith, trusting that it is God who provides the vision, the mission, the doors, the message, the melodies, the connections and the fruits for each song.
Tell us about your 'Project: Christmas' EP and what the inspiration behind it was?
Project: Christmas is an EP composed of 3 songs, and currently working to add a bonus track. The heart of the EP is to be a wake up call, a "Hey!", to stir a longing in our hearts to seek and dig deeper this season, to go back to who we are celebrating and why. With that in mind, the songs, I hope, takes us out of the trivialities we've built around this season, and back to the sacrifice that came with Jesus' birth to His death to His resurrection. May we always be ready to welcome Him with these in mind and heart.
As for how this started, back in 2018, I got to help one of my students write the third song in the Christmas EP. I promised my students I would do something with a few of their songs. This would be that promise turned into reality.
Do you have any plans to release more music in the near future?
As long as God keeps giving the songs and the burden/conviction to write and release them, I will keep writing and releasing music.
What message would you like people to take from your music?
I write with the heart to make Jesus as real and relevant to people; to let people see that He is not fiction, He is not far away and indifferent, but His love is here and more than able to reach us. In essence, I want my music to bring to people a glimpse of how tangible and accessible it is to have a relationship with Jesus, regardless of our background and status. He made a way and made it possible for us.
How would you describe your style of music and what are your influences?
My music style is quite hard to define. I try not to stay in one expression in the songs I write. The songs I've so far released range from lullaby, meditative songs to folk to rap to symphonic rock. Most songs I write have some rap, rhythmic delivery of lyrics.
I can't specifically point out my influences as I listened to a wide range of variety of music growing up. I learned classical while in elementary, listened to some hip hop, 60s, 70s, 80s folk, glam rock, alternative rock and nu metal when I was a drummer, and CCM when I came to have a relationship with the Lord. I listen to more cultural music these days.
If you could work with any songwriter, who would it be and why?
Ladysmith Black Mambazoo. Their music has always had an impact on me when I 1st heard them back when I was in elementary, listening to my father's Paul Simon tapes. I find I gravitate to music that have preserved much of their God-given identity. So a few years ago, I began researching about my country's pre colonial culture, including music with the desire is to create worship from the voice and sound that God gave each culture.
How would you define success in your career as an artist?
As a songwriter, success would be the mastery of the language, a personal music language, to be able to put into song, honestly, fluently and fluidly, whatever message God wants to reveal. As an artist, it would be to express and interpret the song in a way that makes the listener feel the reality of the love, grace and power of our God.
What is your favorite album of all time?
Honestly, I don't listen to full albums. I handpick songs from different artists. Most recently, they are songs by Yamma Ensemble. All songs are in Hebrew; I don't understand Hebrew. There music structure is altogether different from what I've grown up listening to. There's a unique journey that each song takes you. I stumbled upon this band while looking for how the Psalms could possibly have been sung in the time of David and Jesus.
You're stuck on an island, it's hot, you only have enough battery life left to listen to one song on your phone. What track is it?
It would probably depend on my condition. If I'm desperate, dehydrated and dying, I'll go for one of mine - Hallelujah Instead. If I still need to hunt to survive, it would be Reason by Unspoken.
What does the next year hold for you?
This year, I've only really just taken my first steps into music, taking leaps and dives of faith, serving and ministering wherever needed. This time last year, I never would've thought I'd be further into music, never would've thought I'd be singing really. Next year, by God's wisdom, I hope to find more structure, land better from each leap, hoping to get to a point where music provides for music. If things start to have a semblance of the former "normal", I will be much busier with work than I had been this year. So a good structure and discipline to work music around would help me bear more fruit, serve and minister to more effectively.