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We’re With the Band: Maitreya

Maitreya in Harlem, NYC

Maitreya in Harlem, NYC

Rapper Maitreya has had traveled a long road — from his native New Zealand to New York and back, with a little help from the internet along the way. After years of gigging his way around the world, the artist was one of the first acts to make it big on SellaBand, a website where fans “invest” in independent artists. The result was his 2008 album Close To Home. Between tour dates, Maitreya shared with Museyon his favorite music spots around the world, his on-tour playlist and what it means to be an MC from New Zealand.


Museyon Guides: How would you describe the hip-hop scene in New Zealand?
Maitreya: The Hip Hop scene in Aotearoa, NZ is dope because it has truly grown into its own style. We grew up on US hip-hop, the original crews out here were heavily influenced by that but immediately translated into their own struggles and experiences, crews like Upper Hutt Posse and Dam Native made music for us about us. Hip-hop is like a live report from the street so no matter where you from, what makes any hip-hop anywhere in the world dope is feeling the message as true and real. Pacific and indigenous styles are what defines us here, when I see and hear cats flowing in their mother tongue anywhere I get a shiver like when I first heard Rakim or Chuck D.

MG: How do your NZ roots affect your music?
M: Where I’m from completely shapes my music. Even with the times I’ve spent overseas, everything is ultimately put into that perspective cos it’s who I am. I can’t tell a kid from Harlem much about being from Harlem but I can give them an idea of the similarities and differences in our struggles and journeys. Hip-hop is an ongoing conversion, it’s a dialogue between people and the prospect of truly sharing International perspectives is one of the most exciting things about the future of hip-hop … we don’t need MTV and a big ass record label to do that, we’re already sharing our cultures and experiences online and when we tour, it’s dope … I wouldn’t have believed how much I have in common with a cat from Amsterdam or Hong Kong until I told them my story and they told me theirs. Obviously rhyming in Te Reo Maori (Maori Language) is intrinsically where I’m from and is a big part of who I am as an artist … what’s dope is that it’s touches international audiences on a real level no matter the comprehension.
MG: Living, playing shows, recording in the home of hip-hop, New York City … what did that experience teach you?
M: It taught me that all the hype and BS of Hip ‘Pop’ over the last 10 years is a smoke screen. Hip-hop was truly born in New York and just by living there I was blessed with a much deeper feeling and understanding of it. It’s like the ultimate gift that Black America gave to kids around the world, sometimes I don’t think New Yorkers or Americans know how huge this is to us. They know hip-hop is worldwide but it’s not the sales and mass hype I’m talking about, it’s the story of a kid from Christchurch, NZ, 10,000 miles from new York who’s life woulda ended up in tragedy or ignorance if it weren’t for hip-hop and the teachers who took it to the world.
Playing shows was dope because you know, this in NEW YORK! I’m in New York City and promoting and playing my own music … no matter what genre you’re in, that’s the ultimate in taking your music out there. I still got my eyes on doing BIG shows and BIG things in New York and the U.S., but sometimes it’s the grind and hustle of the shows with 50 people, your 50 biggest fans! that make for the best memories … freestyling with heads from all over New York and the world in clubs in NY is probably one of the dopest things that can happen anywhere and it’s the great unifier of culture and history … some of the ciphers we have over there are my favorite moments in time.
MG: You were one of the first acts to make it big on SellaBand. Would you recommend that route to other bands?
M: Hell Yea! The thing about SellaBand for those who don’t know is that it changes the way the traditional music industry works. Fans go on the site, find a band they dig and then pay $10 for an album that is yet to be recorded. So the band has to raise a certain amount of cash from pre-sales and then use that money to make the album. It’s the ultimate in cutting out the middle man, i.e. the Record Company. For me it took me from having a localized fan base of people who had seen me live to a worldwide fan base of people who “found” me on the net. The potential is immense. Public Enemy has just signed up to SellaBand and are showing us now how wide the concept can reach … exciting times!

MG: Any tips for music-lovers visiting New Zealand?
M: Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch are the main centers for music. Over summer we’re big on festivals, Rhythm And Vines, Phat and Splore are a few you need to check out. In Auckland Khuja Lounge (Level 3, 536 Queen St, Auckland; +64 9 377 3711) is a dope venue, PSC (152 Ponsonby Road, Auckland; +64 09 361 2320) for jazz and nice DJs. In Welli Sandwiches (8 Kent Terrace, Wellington; +64 4 385 7698) is the spot and in Christchurch the Dux de Lux (Corner of Hereford & Montreal Streets, Christchurch; +64 03 366 6919) is where I always play.
MG: Where do you go to discover new music?
M: The internet for international stuff … I got my spies out there who always sending me links and I just get on and search through YouTube and forum stuff. Locally, mixtapes and shows … there’s always some one new doing something new and we collaborate a lot so I’m always discovering new music like that. I love jazz and roots music too and they are the best players, so a lot of times cats I perform with or meet on the road will be doing gigs and it just goes on and on from there.
MG: What’s on your playlist right now?
M: Nas, Gil Scott Heron, Eric B & Rakim, Public Enemy, BIG, Babysitters Club, Emma Paki, Immortal Technique, Dead Prez, KRS One, Talib Kweli, Marvin Gaye, Digital Underground … right now I’m producing Nearfields album so I got those mixes on constant loop on my iPod.
MG: Are there any local bands you want to see get more international attention?
M: Hip-hop wise, King Kapisi and Che Fu are probably our most accomplished artists and could easily translate to an international audience. I’m a fan of Tyna and The Nok, Scribe, Savage and Ladi 6. In other genres Opshop are a brilliant band, Fat Freddy’s Drop are a roots band who have a big European following … and my new crew The Babysitters Club is set to take over, haha!!
MG: Tell me about touring, you’ve been all over…which cities are the best for music?
M: New York is incredibly inspiring, I’ve spoken on that, Amsterdam and Hong Kong were probably my favorite places to play. The vibe is real relaxed in A’dam and people love music for music’s sake, coffee shops don’t hurt either, ha! Hong Kong is just a crazy place, I love it there, so much going on in a relatively small place with artists from all over the world. The Filipino bands there are awesome. My favourite show outside NZ was Paradiso (Weteringschans 6, Amsterdam; +31 20 6268790) in Amsterdam last year, packed venue full of people who have been down since day one of my journey on SellaBand. But of all the places in the world, my bro Sloppy in Methven, NZ puts on the best party! We do an annual show at Steel-Worx (36 Forest Drive, Methven; +64 3 302 9900), this year with King Kapisi and Scalper was off the hook … but you gotta fly 24 hours ‘cross the globe to get there! Ha ha… start saving now!
photos courtesy of Maitreya

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