NATIVE Exclusive: Maya Amolo is keen on love in debut album ‘Asali’

“I called it ‘Asali’ because I was experiencing sweetness in a way that felt natural and not over-indulgent”

Kenya’s music scene irrefutably changed in 2016 making way for alternative artists in Nairobi. Dubbing their movement as Nu Nairobi, Maya Amolo was a forerunner in the scene, releasing sad girl tunes such as “Check The Stove” and “Rainy Daze(Hope U Good)” via her Soundcloud page. Maya’s minimalist soul sound and unvarnished, clever lyricism have built a solid foundation for her fanbase as she illustrates the embattled courtships of young Black women in the Internet age.

Releasing her debut EP Leave Me At The Pregame’ in 2020which quickly went to the #1 spot on Kenya’s Apple Music R&B charts—she opened a portal that represented a major leap in her music career. Maya Amolo explored an intimate journey to self-healing where her exquisite penmanship explores the themes of self-sabotage, self-realization, toxicity, love, and depression as she tries to tackle her daily experience. The body of work contained standouts such as “Lush Green” and “I Know”, in which Maya’s silvery voice pacified her fans as she reflected on the authenticity of her relationships, distinguishing her as a witty Gen Z anecdotalist.

Since then, Maya Amolo has left an indispensable mark in Kenya’s R&B scene with her lovesick numbers, candid lyrics, and a lo-fi sound which have paved the way for her to spread her wings and experiment with different sounds. After months of anticipation, the singer has placated her fans’ desperate pleas for new material with the release of her debut album ‘Asali’Unlike her previous project, Maya now knows the essence of happiness and is no longer the “pregame girl. This is quite evident as ‘Asali’ is a compilation of the various faces that love wears. Her glistening vocals illuminate modern love against moody, soulful R&B landscapes.

Teased with the earlier release of the infatuated Can’t Get Enough and Foundry, Maya Amolo delivers an album full of perfectly fragile lyrics, delivered through her lilting vocals, encapsulating the euphoria and cautious joy of embracing love head-first. On album highlight “Drama Kwa Base”, featuring Lukorito, she talks about a relationship that feels unresolved: “Tell me are you done with this, give me honesty and not empty promises”. Through vivid lyrics carried by her signature, sugary vocals, delicate harmonies, and carefully structured melodies, Maya finds solace and peace in “Amazing”, featuring Mau From Nowhere, as they dive into their pure consciousness finding solace and peace in love.

Highlighting the importance of nurturing platonic relationships and self-love, “About Time” calls on people to take more time with their souls as a reminder of the necessity of picking yourself first. “Fuego” is an ode to Kenyan Women reminding them they are as bad as they want to be—”don’t need to look over at them to know the whole gang is staring at me”“I called it ‘Asali’ because I was experiencing sweetness in a way that felt natural and not over-indulgent,” she recently told The NATIVE. “When you add a spoon of honey to something, it always feels like a healthy option.”

Our conversation with Maya Amolo follows below and has slightly been edited for clarity.


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NATIVE: How did you get into music?’

Maya Amolo: I’ve been singing my whole life. When in school I took music lessons. I played the drums, piano, and flute. Then I started recording music in 2016 when I was in high school. It was the Soundcloud year so I would find beats on YouTube and I would record with the worst kind of setup—just microphone and headphones—then I would put them out on Soundcloud and that was the genesis of making music seriously. I was very inspired because it was at a time Nu Nairobi was popping with the likes of EA Wave and Karun. So I started to tap into the scene at that time

Your previous project ‘Leave Me At The Pregame’ projected the tough times you underwent at various points in your life, is ‘Asali’ also something similar?

Well, Asali is the opposite since it highlights the best points. I used to think I make the best music when sad but its really more about honesty than the feeling of sadness. The turning point was when I started working with Nigerian producer Sirbbastien. He would send me beats full of life so it was easy to think about feelings of love and happiness. I wrote “Fuego” for the Kenyan babes and the outcome is still reflective of the time I am at now and the feelings I am experiencing and it’s much like ‘Leave Me At The Pre-Game’.

What inspired the creation of ‘Asali’?

It’s just an exploration of love as a whole. The first song I wrote was “Asali” and then “Fuego”. “Asali” is about not being able to resist falling for someone and “Fuego” is an appreciation of myself and Kenyan women. I mean, come on, we are so bad. The other songs were about infatuation, its feelings for a person, and still for myself. The intro was a voice note I recorded. After putting out my EP, I was not in a good headspace so I said to myself I am going to put the project out and quit music. When I recorded the voice note I reminded myself I need to get over the negative feelings. “Choma Kwa Base”  is a love song but it’s about the downside of love.

On your socials, you mentioned the cover art is in your handwriting. What artistically drove you in that direction?

I wanted to own it. Since everything on the album is very honest, I want to give a proper glimpse into me and what I am all about. My mom is very good at shooting my cover art but I wanted to tie everything back to me and make it my offering to people. I wanted it to be a gift I have completely crafted.

You are very visually oriented and artistic when it comes to your projects as we have seen in your lead singles “Foundry” and “Can’t Get Enough”, can we expect more videos from the project?

Definitely. I think early next year I will have a couple of visuals. It’s very hard since I want every single on the tape to have its visuals but the way the independent artist budget is set up, it couldn’t happen. I do assure though it’s gonna be very sick visuals. 

Your mother acts as the director of most of your music videos. Are there any challenges when working with her?

I think she has challenges working with me. I am very particular about how I want to be seen and it’s gotten worse as I progress. When it comes to shots sometimes I don’t like close-up shots since I am self-conscious. She has the best understanding of me so there is always room to make changes and we both compromise but it’s lovely working with her.

You are an integral part of the fashion community in Kenya as you are often seen rocking streetwear such as AKIBA. How important is the co-relation between creatives?

I think it’s super important. We don’t have to move as a whole but we can develop it by collaborating. I love streetwear and I feel since I am inspired by 90s R&Bs, I want it to reflect in what I wear. I think the streetwear designers I collaborate with help create this look. So I think it’s very important. At the end of the day, we are doing it for the culture.

You were featured in Buruklyn Boyz debut project ‘East Mpaka London’ on “Niskize” and we heard you on an R&Drill beat. How was the experience of being on a beat different from your soulful tunes?

First of all, it was the highlight of my career. I still can’t believe it, one of the top ten moments of my life. Being on the beat was easy since it was still an R&B vibe. I was guided by the hook Mr. Right wrote. The second he played it I knew exactly what I was gonna write. I was quite nervous at first since I didn’t know how I was going to fit into the song with these icons but it was really easy they were nice at the studio and it all worked out.

What is your favourite song from this new project and why?

I see them as my children. Right now I have been listening to “House No. 6” I wrote the freestyle about my community over a beat Lukorito sent in. I was talking about the space I was in at the moment that allowed me to create this project. It’s not my favourite song at the moment but its what I have been resonating with at the moment.

You have teased ‘Asali’ for the better part of the year with a detailed rollout project releasing two music videos and often interacting with your fans on Twitter. How important is a rollout strategy for an independent artist?

It is everything. We started discussing my rollout last year. It’s really important to get people to listen and understand what the online community is looking forward to. At the end of the day, you are trying to communicate something to the listeners. You have to interact with them and be interesting. I am glad I am working with people who are taking rollout plans seriously. Before it was my chance, I was putting myself out there as an artist but it still felt like my socials were my personal page looking at it now there is a huge difference when you are intentional with your craft.

Is there anything different you would have done in the album?

Honestly no. As it is I am really happy with the way it’s going. I was to add an interlude off a voice note my mom sent me but it was too emotional and personal for me to put it put. The album is exactly how I wanted it and how I want people to hear it.

What next for Maya Amolo after the release of ‘Asali’

I wanna go on vacation but I am performing at Kilifi’s New Year’s eve. It’s going to be my first big performance after the release of ‘Asali’. I also want to do a solo show hopefully in December. Definitely want to do a lot more shows since I have been rehearsing with brilliant artists and of course more visuals. I guess you guys have to wait and see more!

Listen to ‘Asali’ here.