The 27 year-old Boricua Melanie Sierra, also known as Mela Murder, is a multifaceted artist to say the least. The jack of all trades dances, acts and writes music to connect with people and their stories. From leading Major Lazer’s dance team to acting in “The Florida Project,” Mela is full of dreams, love and creativity. We caught up with her while she was in London on how her passion has led her to dive into creative projects and motivated her to continue exploring her craft.
1. Before you started acting, you danced. What is one of your first memories that sparked your passion for dance?
I remember the exact moment. I was in 9th grade in gym class. I never participated in gym, so I was listening to my CD player and I was dancing by myself in a corner, and one of the senior girls said, “I like your moves! You should audition for my dance team.” And I was like, “what, really?” I went and auditioned and made the team. Once I began rehearsing and competing in inner city dance competitions and we were winning, I just loved it. I knew it had to be part of my life somehow.
2. How did you go from those dreams to being a choreographer and lead dancer with Major Lazer?
I never chose that path. I met people people in the entertainment industry who have prepared and have taken classes their whole lives to prepare themselves to be professionals. I never did. I was brought up by a single mom who couldn’t afford to put my sisters and me in classes. After my dance team, I dedicated a couple of years to my dance crew and then stopped. I started then making music. I was discovered at a block party for my music, and connected with a guy there and realized I was a dancer. He actually connected me with Diplo. That’s how my career took off as a dancer. Eventually, I built myself to be a choreographer. The responsibility was thrown on me by Diplo. I toured with Major Lazer for about 3-to-4 years. I wasn’t mentally or physically prepared for what that life entailed. I couldn’t handle it at all. I was way too young and living in a fast world. I stopped touring and stopped working for a while. I had a low depression dark moment. What got me out of that was an opportunity to be in this short film “GANG,” which was released on Dazed. So many opportunities came from that short film. It allowed me to tap back into those creative elements I had abandoned. When I had that opportunity, I was just reminded of how important my craft is to me. From then on, I had to take myself and my art seriously. And then beautiful doors opened
3. You recently starred in the film “The Florida Project.” How was that transition from dance to acting?
I am so beyond thankful to have been apart of such a masterpiece #TheFloridaproject. Sean you are a genius and an incredible person. Thank you for creating Ashley and trusting me to play this role thank you for shining light on a community I never knew existed until after reading the script and being there myself to experience how these families actually live. You captured its truth , you captured love in its purest form. The world needs more truth and more love.. you gave it exactly that with this film! Thank you Sam for guiding me through the entire process, having you there to help me prepare for this role means more to me then you could imagine! Seriously there is no way I could've gotten through it without you. Willem your just brilliant having the opportunity to act alongside you was truly an honor. Bria Brooklyn Valeria and Chris I love you all so much and I am so proud SO PROUD! Can you believe this is happening ?! Me either .. it's a dream come true for all of us. We are so blessed and grateful to God for this moment!
It was really random and it came to me at a really bizarre time. The short “GANG” garnered a lot of attention, and we were offered funding for a feature film. So the director and production company wanted me to take acting classes. I hated it! I felt so totally out of my element. I was in a room of 30 people who have had years of experience. We did exercises that made me feel so small and vulnerable. It was one day we did a bizarre exercise. You have a partner and basically look at your partner and you say the first thing that strikes you. So, for example, if you have blonde hair I would say to you, “You have blonde hair.” Your partner then replies, “yes, I have blonde hair.” And so back and forth you’re just repeating what you’re saying. My partner was a man, and he immediately starts to criticize my nose. I’ve had a complex about my nose my entire life. I was so embarrassed and furious that I started crying, left and never went back. Two days later, after I quit acting school, Sean Baker reached out to me to be in “The Florida Project.” He emailed saying, “I saw GANG and wrote a role with you in mind. You don’t even have to audition. If you like the script, you have the part. Just let me know.” I was like this is insane! I read the script and, of course, I loved it because it was about a single mom. I had just found out I was pregnant with my daughter. I felt like I had to be a part of this. And I was like, “But Sean, I am not an actress. I don’t have any training, I don’t know how you expect me to do this.” And he said, “I trust you, just get here and let’s get to work.” The next week, they flew me out and I was on set with Willem Dafoe. It was crazy. It really was!
4. You also acted in Hurray for the Riff Raff’s music video for “Pa’lante” on Puerto Rico and how Hurricane Maria has affected not only Boricuas but the whole U.S. What do you think needs to be done to address this issue?
Back in New York from an emotionally heavy yet spiritually elevating trip to my motherland Puerto Rico. The damages that Hurricane Maria left behind are devastating. Houses/businesses destroyed, uprooted trees everywhere , trees that carried quenepas, pana, avocados, bananas etc all gone, they now have to import these fruits and veg from Dominican Republic and Ecuador which has made the cost of living so high. Many people have lost everything.. loved ones, their homes literally everything. But yet the feeling of the island is serene. Our people of the island are full of love. Love for each other and all that surrounds them. The valleys the mountains the beaches the trees the animals the food they are so passionate about it They truly love and appreciate it all. They are so strong. Im proud of my people. I love my people. I love my island. Be grateful for all that you have because at any moment it can be gone and your life as you know it can change forever. Appreciate your family, your home, your food, electricity, something as simple as a hot shower. Be grateful for it all. ????????
I feel like what is being done to the Puerto Rican people of the island since Hurricane Maria, I think it’s appalling. It’s inhumane. There’s so much that needs to be done. First and foremost, what we need is an explanation. What we need is the truth, publicly. We need an apology for the lies that have been told and the blatant abandonment. I get really emotional and fired up when I talk about it. It’s a form of injustice and marginalization of our people. It affects me deeply. We need a public apology from the president. From that moment forward we need federal aid that we deserve. When you compare to the aid that was given to Harvey and Irma victims, there is such a difference. We need the equal help. All I can do right now is spread awareness, and that resonates with people. I hope it reaches somebody that has the power to do something about it. It’s devastating that it hurts that this is happening.
5. Motherhood is a big part of your identity. In what ways do you celebrate motherhood while being real with the struggles of being a single mother? And share with me about your Let’s Talk meetups and online community.
The past few months Ive pushed so hard for this cause This gathering This moment. I doubted myself even though I believed in it so much. Despite what people thought or felt despite who didn’t donate despite who didn’t support. It affected me but never enough to stop me. I STILL made it happen I brought all these women together and It feels SO good. Ive obsessed about this moment since the thought to create it entered my brain. I couldn’t wait to meet all of you. I felt how much we truly needed this and you all blew me away. As I watched each mother walk into the room with rain in their hair shy looks on their faces carrying babies on their chest pushing strollers, pregnant women, friends who came to support I swear my heart could’ve exploded from all the love. I felt proud because I know dealing with internal pain on any level is excruciating and terrifying. Having to look your sadness in the face confront your loneliness and true thoughts to then spill it all in front of a room of complete strangers takes A LOT of fucking courage! they came out WILLING to do so. Respect to you ladies. I felt such a strong sense of sisterhood and community. We sat together, cried together we laughed, hugged, connected, released but most important we LISTENED. Every women who went up to speak as tears poured down their faces I saw the support and love in the eyes of each women who sat and listened. As I observed all of you I thought wow these women are so beautiful so brave so inspiring and SO strong ! Women/Mothers are killing themselves everyday because they feel trapped inside their loneliness These women need our help. People like myself who are in a position to help them SHOULD. Many of our supporters are lonely ppl, sad, living in the hood in shelters, hopeless, no family, struggling to maintain provide for themselves their kids. many people, women, mothers, children suffering literally every where in our city country all over the world ! These “public figures” need to tap into the peoples SUFFERING Sit with your community listen to your community cry with your community give your community HOPE and HELP THEM! This is only the beginning for #LETSTALK ????: @destiny.mata
I feel like what is to be celebrated is the love. It is the love, unconditional love, that your child provides for you. When you’re exhausted and when you have nothing left to give, when you literally feel like giving up and you just want to crawl in a corner and cry, you think about this pure beam of life in your arms and you keep going because you have to. That’s how I navigate being a single mother, an artist and woman. The Let’s Talk project came from when my daughter was about six months old. I was going through a tough time mentally, feeling depressed from what I experienced when I was pregnant with my partner. And just the heartbreak of it all and now really having the time to take care of my mental and emotional state. You can run but you certainly can’t hide. Your real self will surface and consume you. That’s what happened. I felt like I had two options: I can suffer in silence and continue victimizing myself or I can speak out and shine light that single mothers globally suffer mental illnesses and it’s a stigma. Women are just perceived to be stronger, and I was sick of it. I didn’t want to be strong anymore, and I wasn’t going to pretend anymore. It was all the single mothers that came out with their experiences and related and inspired me. I wanted to meet these women in person! It was a collaborative process. I got public funding, my mother and family also helped me to make this a special experience. The second meet-up was in London, and I haven’t done another since just because it requires so much. I don’t want to just give parts of myself to Let’s Talk, it’s coming but in due time. It’s important for me that women know this support system exists. It’s a worldwide community of single mothers who are accessible to each other. There aren’t resources for women. You have to pay for therapists. People hit me up whenever. I’ve given women my phone number if they need to talk. You don’t know the impact you have on someone by just letting them express themselves. With just the most simple form of communication, you can save a life. It’s imperative.
6. Not only do you dance and act, you’re also a songwriter. What are you up to in London these days?
I am sending love to all the women who have opened up their hearts, given their bodies, created children, healed and gave all of themselves to men who were not worth it. Men who have shattered hearts and families, who have left the responsibility for the woman/the wife/ the mother to pick up the pieces of his mess. Love can be so dangerous if we are not careful who we choose to step into love with. No matter how deep we may think we love someone it is crucial beyond words that we put the well being of ourselves absolutely number 1. When you love, inevitably you trust and when you trust you allow yourself to enter a state of openness that can seriously be bad news if not with the right person. The health of your body, your heart, your mind and your soul is something so sacred no matter how incredible a person may be, never put that sacredness into the hands of another person to take care of. That’s your job to do. So please, Protect yourselves, Love yourselves, Put yourself first. ALWAYS. Thank you @refinery29 and @gucci for having Amethyst and Me apart of this moment celebrating Mothers.
We are working on the album of the producer and owner of XL Records, Richard Russell. We’ve been working on it for about three years. Now we’re working toward getting a tour together and just pushing out press. I do plan on focusing my own work, on my film I plan on directing. I want to compose and write the music and directing, and give a shot at editing. I’ll just see where it takes me. I have a lot of love to give.