Why Martika's Love Of Music Never Left

22 June 2016 | 3:28 pm | Cyclone Wehner

"I'm not really basically career-driven like I was back when I was a teenager. When I was a teenager, I wanted to take over the world."

Marta "Martika" Marrero went from recording the US #1 power ballad Toy Soldiers to teaming with Prince for the enduring Love… Thy Will Be Done. Then she mysteriously retreated from popdom. But now the Cuban-American songstress is bound for Australia's Totally 80s tour. Marrero will perform with a local band assembled by Wa Wa Nee's Paul Gray, teasing, "They have requested the biggest singles." Australia was among Marrero's most successful territories, with her twice visiting previously for promo.

The Californian was a child star, appearing on the television show Kids Incorporated before embarking on a music career. Marrero's eponymous debut came out via Sony in 1988. The teen had penned Toy Soldiers about a friend battling drug addiction. Marrero also transformed Carole King's I Feel The Earth Move into a dance track. For her second album, she approached Prince to collaborate, culminating in Love… — since covered by Jessie Ware, Delta Goodrem and, live, the Purple One himself.

"I was just so blown away. I'm thinking, 'The guy wrote me a theme song!'."

Pre-interview, Marrero's management clarifies details about her connection to Prince, stating that "Martika was NEVER in a relationship with Prince" — a common, even lazy, misconception — and appealing that there be, "No speculation of any love interest." The singer/songwriter had already commenced work on 1991's LP when, accompanied by her momager, she met Prince at Paisley Park in Minneapolis. He was rehearsing for a tour, the vivacious Marrero recalls. "I was there with my mom and I was just like a little girl — like, 'Oh my God, I'm watching The New Power Generation rehearse, sitting on their sound stage'… It was pretty amazing, 'cause I was such a huge fan. To even go to 'Paisley Park is in your heart' was just amazing to me — and the fact that, when I got there, he was like, 'Welcome to Paisley Park' and handed me a sheet of paper with the lyrics for Martika's Kitchen on it, I was just so blown away. I'm thinking, 'The guy wrote me a theme song!'." That song became her sophomore's funky title track. Though Marrero had hoped that they'd share a session, most of the collab happened remotely. "In a way, it was fine because we didn't know each other," Marrero reasons. "You're more comfortable on your own."

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Marrero asked if Prince needed to listen to the songs she'd cut so far. "I did not anticipate for him to say, 'No, no — I don't wanna hear anything.'" Prince didn't wish to be "influenced" by it. However, he did photocopy pages from her notebook. Prince set music to Marrero's words, sending tracks back to her in Los Angeles. He turned "a prayer" Marrero wrote into "a beautiful hymn" — Love…

Martika's Kitchen would include four Prince songs. A fifth, Open Book, was vaulted — Prince had inadvertently created a number with the same lyrics that Marrero had used for her quiet stormer Safe In The Arms Of Love. Awks. Indeed, he hadn't heard her cassette. "It was like, Hmmm, I can't really do them both," Marrero says, fearing that Open Book was "redundant". Prince subsequently gave Open Book to Jevetta Steele — of the gospel family group The Steeles — for her debut Here It Is. "I was quite happy because those girls can sing, right?" It remains one of Prince's lost classics.

Shockingly, Martika's Kitchen — also featuring modish production by C+C Music Factory and a duet with Celia Cruz, Queen of Salsa — didn't even crack the US Top 100. Marrero all but quit the biz. After meeting husband Nikki Lee on a music retreat, they developed the gothic vehicle Oppera in the '00s, touring with Pat Benatar. In later years Marrero began a Chicago house album, The Mirror Ball, airing the Toy Soldiers-riffing Flow With The Go. But she shelved it following a family loss. "I just got completely out of the zone we were in with that project," she says. "Unfortunately, I don't know if I'll ever come back around to that or not, 'cause you just move on." Marrero experienced a surprise revival when Eminem sampled Toy Soldiers for his anti-feud statement Like Toy Soldiers off 2004's Encore. She was "really excited". "It was a total honour. I really like the record that they made… I think it's really cool."

Today Marrero is unsure about a full comeback, the music culture having changed. But she has relaunched her website — complete with a merch line. "It's kinda hard to pick it up after so long," she says. "I'm not really basically career-driven like I was back when I was a teenager. When I was a teenager, I wanted to take over the world," she laughs. "Now I've just sort of become like a happy housewife, really. Honestly, I just love music — and I always have, I've never stopped loving music. I love to sing and dance, but I can happily do it in my house with no audience."