Amelia Merher, also known as the ukulele-slinging songwriter Big Mama Lele, has ambitious plans for her 30th birthday. “I’m putting a new spin on fatbiking,” she says.
On May 26, her birthday, Merher kicks off a 16-gig bicycle tour of the Yukon and B.C., including stops in Atlin, Carcross, Haines Junction, and then Vancouver, Surrey, Victoria, Saltspring Island, and Galliano Island. She calls it the Dirty Thirty Tour and she’ll be riding a pink 1980s Nishiki Bushwacker bike that she dubbed “the Bushtrimmer”. “It’s my way with dealing with turning 30,” she explains. “I’m one of those people who freaks out about my birthday, and I thought, why don’t I just embrace it, and since I’ll be on a bicycle, I’ll have lots of time to think as I’m pedaling furiously to get to the next show on time. “Also, I’ve always wanted to tour the Gulf Islands and Vancouver Island more. It’s a nice way to combine a trip I’ve always wanted to do with the Dirty Thirty Tour.”
The tour will feature new material from her upcoming album. Having taken part in February Album Writing Month (FAWM), she wrote in a new style. “I only wrote songs on keyboard,” she says. “I’m kind of liking it, I’m feeling the pop, the alt-pop infl uence, and it’s still kind of the same subject matter and lyrical quality. It’s got a little more of a professionalsound.”
Big Mama Lele fans know her lyrical content well. Combining the raunchiness of early blues songwriters like Lucille Bogan and Lil Johnson with an openness to sing about taboos, Merher sees her lyrics as an expression of her third-wave feminism. “I think a lot of it, for me, is continuing to advance those issues and experiences in our everyday lives,” she says. “It’s talking about experiences, in songs like “Do I Look Fat in This?”, owning these issues and talking about these issues that women have with their bodies and men have with their bodies. Talking about it is advancing our struggle. It’s not just about work, it’s about our relationships and how we feel about ourselves.”
That honesty creates a connection with her audience that Merher finds especially rewarding. She says, “What I love about playing my music is that women always come up to me afterwards and say, ‘You’re singing my life.’”
It also got her noticed on a national level. She submitted her new song, “Don’t Send it to Me”, about online dating and receiving unwanted “dick-pics”, in CBC Music’s Searchlight competition, and was singled out and discussed by Grant Lawrence and Dave White. A story about that song also ran on the website Buzzfeed, garnering her 900 listens in a week.
Along with the new songs, Merher is debuting a line of merchandise of small items, suitable for bike touring. She laughs, “Of course I decided to launch merchandise when I’m doing a bike tour. I couldn’t do it last time when I had a truck. So one is underwear, high-bush/lowbush, those lyric magnets, some of my lyrics are pretty funny, postcards, cool little things like that.”
Doors will open on the Dirty Thirty Tour kickoff show, at the Old Fire Hall in downtown Whitehorse, at 7 p.m. on May 26, and will also feature Felipe Gomez, a Chilean virtuoso bass player who is also on a bike tour. “He biked across Canada last summer and he’s always wanted to see the Arctic, so now he’s biking from Tuktoyaktuk to Whitehorse,” says Merher. “It just seems kind of cool that my tour is beginning just as his is ending, so there’ll be a ceremonial bike tour torch that will be passed.”
Big Mama Lele’s bike tour is not just a show, it’s a farewell. This fall, Merher is off to Toronto to start her master’s degree in geography at York University. So this could be your last chance to catch this honest performer in the North for a while. Tickets are $20.