‘I kind of became known as the pregame girl’ Maya Amolo tells me over a Zoom call on Thursday afternoon. The 21-year-old artist who is currently studying in the States excitedly recounting the story of how her project ‘Leave Me At the Pregame’ came to be.
Born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya, Maya was in a ‘social’ bubble of her own design for most of her life and became used to the nightlife that Nairobi had to offer. When she moved to New York for college, however, she was not prepared for the difference in partying experiences between the two cities. After arriving back in Kenya from a deadly New York winter, Maya realised that ‘the only part of the night out I enjoyed was the pregame. That’s because you can control it, and it’s kind of organised. It’s like a safe space but when you leave the bubble, it gets popped and all becomes confusing’ she admits.
Being a young adult in a big city like New York for the first time can be quite scary for anyone, however, it can be particularly daunting for a young woman who constantly has to watch her back, two times over. This fear is what birthed the concept of her album, and she said: ‘That’s what these songs represent. They are a safe space for me as they took me through difficult phases of my life’. Much like r&b’s leading ladies before her, such as Jhene Aiko and Summer Walker, Maya Amolo’s project offers deep introspection and healing for listeners who welcome it, as couched underneath ambient synths and pounding percussions is the story of a young woman’s path to growth and declaring her independence.
“All the songs on the project helped me get through a difficult time at some point. So, processing bad habits with “Puddles” or a really bad relationship on “I Know” and actual growth with “Growth” and winter away from home on “Crashing”. Even “Jokes” was like a petty anthem to show how much better I am doing than who I was with back then. Well not better but I’m a different person.”
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‘Leave Me At the Pregame’ is her debut project, and it could not have come at a better time as within the first week of its release, the 7-track piece had already shot up to the #1 spot on Kenya’s Apple Music r&b charts, marking a career-defining moment for the young artist.
Seeing as the New York-based artist is still on the come up, she has the room to find herself and her sound in the music industry, as she hasn’t released enough music to be boxed into one sound. Recognising that she isn’t defined by one sound, she tells me: ‘I’d describe myself as an r&b artist but more of alternative-r&b’. Growing up on a musical diet of Brandy, Erykah Badu, Prince, Eric Wainaina and more, Maya was never afraid to try her hand at a wide range of sounds, and sure enough, a quick scroll through her Soundcloud page will reveal many hidden gems that give a nod to hip-hop, pop, and lo-fi ‘sad girl tunes’ as she aptly describes.
Some of the best pieces of art come from the most difficult periods of an artist’s life and Maya knows this all too well. With her debut project, Maya was certain of the sonic direction to take, as r&b helped her to express her emotions clearly. On the opener, “Puddles”, she draws listeners in with gentle pianos and soul-piercing lyrics as she pours her heart out about a failed relationship. ‘Fuck a fairytale/you and I ain’t enough’ she sings, mulling over lost love and showing her mastery of masking blunt kiss-offs with honeyed tones. Even in her moments of vulnerability and anger, her voice is soothing and effortless.
Vulnerability can be daunting for anyone, but Maya does not hold back from digging into the frustrating parts of her life, in search of some much-needed catharsis. On pre-released single “I Know”, hearts and the men who break them become the topic of conversation, as Maya delves into her lingering frustrations from an ex-lover who is ‘really tripping’ and will never ‘come close to [replacing] her’. She takes this metamorphic period of her life, and shapes it into music that many people will be able to relate to.
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Elsewhere, on “Crashing” she delivers a confessional, open-wound r&b number over gentle strings aimed at soundtracking listeners into cosmic healing. ‘Tell me what you feel/keep taking breaths and tell me what you see’ she sings, almost as if she’s addressing her listeners and creating something that sonically feels like a conversation with a close friend. On “Lush Green”, she delves into feelings of incompetence as she sings ‘the thought of failing scares me’, a sentiment which could be instantly relatable, as we’re often pressured to have it all figured out at such young ages.
Moving into the project’s closing track, “Jokes“, we get to see a different side of Maya Amolo. The tempo switches up, allowing Maya to really talk her shit over a bass-heavy beat. ‘I don’t care about you at least I am trying so hard not to/ I’d rather drown than have you as a life-saver’ she sings, delivering the project’s most heartfelt song in an impassioned tone, which shows off her incredible vocal range.
‘Leave Me At the Pregame’ may be a brief introduction to the talented singer, but it is definitely a very sound project, and going from the quality and depth of her lyrics in tandem with her vocal dexterity, it looks like she’s in it for the long game. Maya Amolo’s music is here for you while you access, confront, and move on from your pain, something we are all too familiar with, in these desolate times.
Stream ‘Leave Me at the Pregame’ below.
Featured image credits/Instagram: papayamayaaaa
Tami is somewhere dissociating. Tweet her your favourite meme @tamimak_