“I never fit into what people wanted me to be. Coz they look at me and think one thing about how I’m going to sound and then I sound different.” When you owe parts of your identity to four countries, you’re bound to exude eclecticism and a deeper understanding for the power of music. Jazz songstress Maya Spector talks her music journey, her teaching career, her new EP and why she’s here to stay.
With all the music in the world today fighting for a place in the digital space, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to stand out as an artist. If the past has taught us anything it’s that when it comes to matters of music we are more often than not drawn to eclecticism. This couldn’t more true than for one jazz songstress by the name of Maya Spector.
I arrive at the exuberant Cape Town suburb of Woodstock a few hours after noon. The city has been kind to us today by pardoning us from the miserable autumnal weather that has ruined many a festive Capetonian’s social calendar. The Woodstock Academy of Music is situated on the colourful street of Albert Road next door to every hipster’s favourite mall, Woodstock Exchange. It’s home to a jazz songstress whose EP, My Simple Little EP, has recently been playlisted on Heart FM and Good Hope FM. But even with all she’s got going for her – gigs, interviews, teaching and radio features – Spector arrives early for our interview as she is needed at the Academy to sort a few things out.
She makes her way back downstairs on time for our interview and returns with the same heartfelt demeanour that she initially introduced herself with. We walk through the courtyard on our way to a quaint, diner-inspired coffee shop and along the way we are confronted with striking murals, intriguing follies and what looks like designer bean bag couches. “That’s Shelley,” she informs me. “She lives here,” pointing out the Dalmatian assuming its position as queen on the art-nouveau-bean-bag-couch-cum-canine-throne. It would soon become apparent to me that this abundant eclecticism, the feeling of home and where they meet would begin to echo my interview with Spector.
Born Maya Elizabeth Spector to a white American father and coloured South African mother in Japan, and having to call Swaziland, then Pretoria, then Washington DC, and then Tokyo home is perhaps not the easiest thing for a child to have to go through. The beautiful irony in all this is that Spector finds her winning formula in her mixed gumbo background, instantly evident in her music. If she wants to be a jazz singer, she’s a jazz singer. If she wants to be a reggae star, she’s a reggae star. “Most of the radio stations are going with “Slow” which is a reggae song,” she says reflecting on her EP submission to radio. “Which is very strange because I’m a songwriter so I just write whatever happens, and it just so happens that this specific song was a reggae song and now people that are hearing me think I’m a reggae artist.” She laughs. Because why should artists be bound by labels anyway? With the advent of the internet the world has blossomed into a global community and, consequently, boundaries and boxes have been reduced to nought. You get the feeling that Spector wants in on this.
That being said, you’ll have a hard time trying to pin the singer-songwriter down on a classification for herself as an artist, especially if you hold a particular pre-determined expectation of her. “I never fit into what people wanted me to be. Coz they look at me and think one thing about how I’m going to sound and then I sound different.” When it came down to what mattered most, Spector chose authenticity – even if it meant a mixed gumbo – and it seems to have paid off for her. Like most of the more established artists of this world, Spector set aside her own money, paid for her own studio time and funded her own EP. However, in an unusual turn of events, Spector had to record her EP while recovering from a case of laryngitis. Later on in our interview she comes to tell me, “In a way I was groomed to be a music teacher and what’s very strange about my life is that there’s been quite a few times where I’m like, ‘Eff this music thing. I’m gonna go do something else.’ And you try so hard to do something else but something keeps pulling me back to music, not allowing me to.” And so I began connecting the dots.
As with many – if not all – careers in life, the best way to realising one’s potential is through submitting to the relevant calling. It is as though Spector could simply not live without music and her email signature echoes this: I don’t live for music, I live because of it. You can hear it in the way she performs her music on her EP. It’s in the way she radiates when she speaks about her favourite musicians from Bobby Mc Ferrin to Jill Scott and Erykah Badu. It’s especially in the way she stands by the importance of teaching music to young musicians through the work she does at the Woodstock Academy of Music.
Just after 3PM, I follow her to her vocal training room where we await her student for the day. If you’ve been to a music concert and seen one of your favourite artists live, you know what it’s like to share an almost tangible love for music with a complete stranger. Although it was just Spector and her student in the room, it was as though I was at a show all over again and feeling that same feeling. Spector has discovered the power of this and how to hone it, and she has dedicated her life to imparting this wisdom to whoever will listen.