Matt Conner | June 30, 2016
MARi’s debut is a long time in the making. Over a decade after eschewing a major label deal at the advice of a pastor, Mari Burelle has found God’s promises coming true in a timing not her own. The talented pop vocalist has taken the long road to get to where she is, but the journey has been worth the wait.
MARi’s songs are dance floor ready even as they contain layers of meaning from her own vulnerable journey—one that moves from an abusive childhood to recent health concerns that caused her to, once again, lean into God for her sustenance and strength. But now her time has arrived with the release of Treasure, and MARi says she’s grateful for the story so far.
CCM Magazine: Give us some insight into this season in the lead-up to the album release?
Mari Burelle: Things are pretty busy and I’m running around like crazy. I’m Latina and I live in New York, so that’s what you usually get. [Laughs] Plus I’m doing this music thing.
MARi: Yeah, I love it. That’s how life should be as long as you have a balance and the fundamentals straight, staying busy can be a good thing.
CCM: What are the emotions like for you at this point?
MARi: I’m actually not nervous because I went through everything beforehand. It’s even how the songs came about. I feel like God prepared me through my songs for what was going to happen. Thank God that He did because some of it was not very fun, but the music that came out of it was definitely worth it. It’s kind of like a Cinderella story for me. Everything I’ve dreamed of since I was a little girl, the people I’ve gotten to meet, the doors that have been opening—it’s amazing to see God’s promises come to pass before my very eyes. I’m ecstatic and just so grateful to know the backstory of my life and even be here where I am.
I’m that girl who is very fun and out of the box. I hope to bring a refreshing twist to the Christian music scene because I’m not your typical cookie-cutter girl—looks-wise, size-wise, sound-wise. I’m just excited that I get to be a part of this and that He’s opening me up to be in the big leagues. He gave me all the music. Every song, every lyric, every note was from Him. My entire journey was worth every moment that I went through.
CCM: You’ve referenced your background a few times, so can you give us a snapshot of what you’re referring to?
MARi: Yeah! I’m adopted, so I feel like Esther in the Bible. I remember when I got saved when I was nine years-old, these two men came into the projects and told me not to be afraid, that I would be called for greatness and that God was going to use me to sing all over the world for His glory. I had to grow up at a young age because of my adoption and being abused by my biological family.
I understood exactly what it was and even felt God at a young age. It wasn’t just a religious feeling. It was a real promise I received that day and no matter where I went or what I was going through, I would always come across somebody—whether a stranger on the street or a pastor in a church—who would give me a word about the next step and it would always come to pass. So I’ve learned to always believe God and His word, so I don’t take that lightly.
This past year… Well, I wasn’t [planning to go into] the whole health thing—but I seriously thank God I’m alive. That’s why I wrote the song called “Alive,” because I didn’t think I was going to make it. I got this weird virus out of nowhere when I was about to release an album last year, but it woke me up to taking care of my health because I needed it to be able to go and share this music [at this given time]. But they told me everything…cancer, every kind of disease possible. I kept declaring the word over my life, “Nope, Psalm 118:17 says, ‘I’m going to not die but live and recount the illustrious acts of the Lord.’”
I knew I would use it as a testimony all over the world, that I am still here and that I am still singing. Whatever comes my way, nothing can touch me or come against me—since I was a little girl, He promised me that I would sing all over the world for His glory.
I got an opportunity when I was seventeen to sing from a major label, but I was told by a pastor that if I chose to wait and do it in God’s timing that it would happen and that He would take me all over the world but for His glory. So I didn’t. I didn’t believe that I was ready. But here I am at age 31 and it’s all happening. I go back to that word and think, “Oh my gosh, You really have never failed me. Your word is so true.” The Bible says that His word doesn’t come back void. Everything that He says does take place and happen if we declare, speak it and believe it.
I’m not even a super-religious person, but I’ve just seen these things with my own eyes.
CCM: You’ve referenced the power of scriptures a few times. Have you always found solace in them?
MARi: I’ve depended on His word since I was a little girl. People will always fail you, even if you love and trust them. It’s just human nature. But trusting in God has allowed me to be able to get through everything. His word even says, “Try me.” I tried God. People go out and try the lottery all of the time, so why not try God? Read scripture and see if it doesn’t come to pass.
CCM: Have you been singing and performing at an early age?
MARi: I have. I started playing on my grandfather’s piano when I was really young. I would just start writing, worshipping and weeping and I didn’t even know why. I knew based off of what I was told that I was special and set apart, not in a prideful way but that’s just what I was told. So I kept singing and worshipping and praying.
Later, at church, they were having this talent show and I decided to go. When I walked through those doors, I felt that it was home and I was supposed to be there. For the next twelve years of my life up until two years ago, I stayed there and it sheltered me and protected me and made me who I am today.
CCM: If there was one thing you’d want people to know about your music…?
MARi: Every song has a meaning that’s straight from my heart and life story. You’ll find yourself singing and dancing and laughing and crying, but most importantly you’ll find that it is inspiring and can relate to so many people from different walks and paths of life. I’m not here to reach the Christians. I want to be a part of that since I am a Christian, and that’s why you’ll hear worship songs, but I really want to veer out and try to reach people without tainting myself. The Bible says you become like the people you hang around with, so I’m very careful to find that balance.
I want to reach a broader audience. Without being disrespectful, some music can be borderline cheesy. Even just the fashion or the looks, people will say, “Oh, that’s Christian.” I want to change that and show that we’re awesome, too. Music started in heaven, so I want to show that you can dance and do a mean two-step and look awesome, but for the right reasons, the right party, the right team, you know? So I’m trying to reach out and branch out a little bit more without losing who we are as Christians.