Alex Casey talks to Bajan-New Zealander Amber Maya about making music, going to school with Rihanna… and how to dispose of a body.
Okay. Let’s start with something easy. Who… are you?
I am a performing artist from Barbados and New Zealand. I make what I like to call soul-tronic, or electronic influenced RnB mainly. I am a dancer, a singer and a writer. And a clothing designer. I’m basically just all over the place doing all of the things.
What is your relationship to Barbados like now? How does it compare to New Zealand?
I think of Barbados as home and New Zealand as a second home. Barbados is where I feel the most connected, just like any place where you have spent your formative years. I was born and raised there completely so it feels like home. More recently though, I’ve been thinking about being queer and how such a small island like Barbados still has a very long way to go in terms of any kind of rights or visibility for queer and LGBTQIA+ people.
That’s one of the big difference between New Zealand and Barbados – how free and accepting we are. Barbados is my home that I love and I feel strongly rooted to, but that reality is something that is very salient for me. New Zealand is a place that is a lot more liberal than Barbados is, and I would love to see more of that in Barbados and across the Caribbean. But I mean, New Zealand is one of the first places to legalise gay marriage and give women the vote, so we’re starting from a much more progressive place already.
A lot of people hear ‘Barbados’ and think… Rihanna
Exactly. She put Barbados on the map in a very real way. That’s definitely the first and most common thing people say when they hear about Barbados. We went to the same school. People often make jokes like ‘Oh, I bet she was your neighbour’ or whatever and I tell them ‘Well, yeah, we were in the same class’. It’s literally not that far-fetched. We’re in the same age group, and it’s a small place, you know?
Incredible. Where did your song ‘Jealous’ come from?
I recorded and wrote it last year in Barbados. This song came out of a conversation I was having with a friend about jealousy generally, and about how it can manifest and become quite manipulative. He told me a story about him and his partner and how they were playing on each other’s jealous tendencies. It got me thinking along the lines of using jealousy as a tool, and toying with someone a little bit.
We filmed the video in Berlin in the middle of winter in the freezing snow. The outside stuff was in an empty fountain. In the video, I wanted to contrast this luxurious Victorian-esque setting with this outside scene that represents the bold, manipulative side.
What is your favourite album that no-one would guess would be one of your favourite albums?
Ben Howard, I think it’s called Every Kingdom. It’s beautiful, but it’s folky, a singer-songwriter-vibe. People wouldn’t guess that because he’s a surfer – they’re kind of the songs you’d play around a campfire – which is not what people would expect of me.
And on the flipside, what is the most obvious album that people would think you like that you just really like?
Easy. SZA’s CTRL or Solange’s A Seat at The table.
What is the biggest thing about being a musician that people who aren’t musicians don’t understand?
For me, as an independent artist, it’s the amount of admin. The emails. Being a musician is a lot of sitting in front of a computer, not really making as much music as I would like to. There’s a lot of hidden admin involved.
Unrelated: what is your favourite plant?
I’m going to go with lemongrass because at the moment I’m really addicted – I say at the moment, but it’s been for a good few years. I’m addicted to lemongrass in all forms, I like to eat it, I like how it looks, I like my room smells like a constant Thai villa because I’m constantly burning lemongrass in my room. I literally smell like lemongrass right now because I have lemongrass oil on. I douse myself.
If you could live forever, would you?
No. Amber’s only here for a time. I’m good with that.
Are there any conspiracy theories that you can get behind?
I can kind of get behind the 9/11 Twin Towers conspiracy theory.
I’m sorry, I haven’t delved too deeply because I think I could really go down a scary rabbit hole. All I’m going to say is: I have some questions.
Unrelated: how would you get rid of a dead body?
I think the best way would be to cook it and then serve it straight to the police, like in that Roald Dahl story. In practice, I don’t know how I would actually get through the gruesome part, but if someone else could do the barbecuing for me, I would serve it. And then we’d get rid of all the evidence.
Oh my god. What book are you reading at the moment?
At the moment I’m reading bell hooks’ ain’t i a woman. It’s amazing, I’ve been reading a lot of bell hooks and I would recommend everyone read bell hooks, or just watch some videos of her on YouTube, she’s a really brilliant black feminist writer.
Finally: what’s coming next for Amber Maya?
I’m going to release a project soon – either one LP or split into two EPs – quite soon. Then I’ll just be playing live and touring – I’m going to be staying in New Zealand for a while, so that’s exciting.
And just so we’re clear: 9/11 was an inside job?
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Yeah… just so we’re clear.
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