Long gone now seems the time when the “Pounia kid” – who gets her name from the founder of the famous Ziskakan collective, from Reunion Island – then a student in Montpellier, left the safety of home to take to the stage as a backup singer.
Since then, Maya has reconnected with her island and made creole and maloya her own. Her parents and their dalons (friends), among them the celestial bum Alain Peters, fought relentlessly, as early as 1979, to keep their music alive. Proudly bearing the kayamb, its most distinctive instrument, Maya takes a hold of her own history, mirroring that of the island itself, and makes it the driving force behind her work. She picks out her second name, “Kamaty” (the name of a marginal, intense and proud woman from the village of Grand Bois, whom her father held in high esteem) as the key to her own path.
Molded on the stage, acclaimed by critics and fans alike, her first album, Santié Papang (2014), is voted « Coup de cœur » of the Académie Charles Cros, allowing Maya to tour the world defending its songs: from India to Australia, by way of Morocco, South Africa, Canada, South Korea and China.
Despite this success, with her next step, Maya Kamaty chooses to leave behind the acoustic dimension of her first album and to dig deeper into her own maps of musical exploration: “Making a second album just like Santié Papang would have been too easy. I needed to challenge myself, to take risks.”
From this, there emerges Pandiyé, released in 2018. An album hanging (a literal translation of its title from the creole) between tradition and modernity.
Powerful basslines – borrowing equally from the Islandic composer Asgeir’s electro-folk, Kendrick Lamar’s hip hop, and Björk’s pop hits – lay the foundations for some of maloya’s more traditional instruments, such as the kayamb or the roulèr, to thrive on. Other instruments integral to the island’s culture can also distinctly be heard: the takamba for instance (also known as n’goni), as well as a number Indian drums, usually heard in religious ceremonies of Tamil tradition – Maya herself being a 5th generation descendant of the indentured laborers who came from India to settle and work on the Island.
Collaborating with producer Victor Vagh (Flavia Coelho), Maya and her team found just the right fit between organic and electronic music. Their reinvented maloya doesn’t belong solely to Reunion Island anymore, but to the whole world, and radiates emotion through hypnotic pulses, messages through images. Above all, it speaks of the live strength of the creole language. For if the envelope has changed, Maya’s need to tell stories through songs has not.
The Pandiyé Tour brings the band to Europe and Canada, and culminates in the opening of the Vieilles Charrues festival in July 2021, before being brought to a halt by the current sanitary context.
But it would take more than a global pandemic to stop this rolling train. Maya Kamaty continues to lead her ongoing musical explorations and delves into the world of urban cultures to draft the contours of her new journey: “Sovaz” (“savage” in English). The world brutally stopping in its tracks gives her the time she needed to reassess and get involved in writing once more.
With this new EP, the singer cuts yet another path for herself in the current musical landscape while refusing to cut any corners, composes syncopated melodies and sings lyrics expressing a deep-rooted wrath, which she expels with an urgency well-known to any street artist. Behind the term “Sovaz” itself lies the idea of a certain rawness, of un-politeness, of brazenness even – an attitude borrowing from the codes of street gangs, of bad boys, of rebellious girls. In this regard, Sovaz can be read as the uncensored expression of a fully self-assured woman.
For this new opus, which she defines as « Kreol Urban pop », Maya Kamaty teams up with beatmaker Sskyron and guitarist Adrien Pigeat, in a minimalist format on the cutting edge of current urban creation; and with tasteful forays into hip hop, trap and atmospheric pop, she manages to build a mightily convincing and unconventionally deep repertoire.
Extracts from Hortense Volle, Frédérique Cheynet et Mounir Kabbaj