Noted American singer Maya Azucena lived in an abusive relationship for seven years, even choked and badly bruised by her male partner. Today, her music is a source of inspiration for a ‘billion’ people around. Over to KARAN BHARDWAJ
For the women, as well as the men, sitting in the packed Kamani Auditorium, it was a liberating experience to see noted American songwriter-singer Maya Azucena performing her own stories through her music. For good seven years, she was vicitimised by her male partner, leaving her choked and suffocated in her own world. But with the power of lyrics and rhythm, she not only walked out the abusive relationship but also turned into a fearless musician, who today vouches for gender quality. She also wrote track Dance Revolution for the international campaign against violence, ‘One Billion Rising’. In this interview, she talks about the violence she faced and how music can heal anything and everything.
Karan: It’s really amazing how a lot of women are expressing their stories through art. Your songs are really inspiring.
Maya: I am an advocate for arts as power. It’s a privilege to have millions of people listening to you. I always try to find personal stories to weave into my tracks. I often ask young people if their story is important. A lot of them say ‘NO’. I think it’s sad because every individual is empowered and their story is unique. What you say about the world around you is important. Silence doesn’t serve you. Sharing your story could be a liberating and empowering experience and you may find that you have more support than you think you do. Because when we are hurt, we feel alone, we feel that no one understands us, we feel separated from the world and just by talking to people who you trust and have safe relations with, you discover that you are not alone and people are experiencing what you are experiencing all around the world. And in this process, we unite and try to look for solution to our pain.
Karan: How powerful you think the medium of music is?
Maya: Well, I particularly believe in the power of music to bring people together. It is a universal language. I had been privileged of traveling all around the world, many times in countries where I need a translator and I have seen people clap at the same point of the song or still connect. I sincerely believe that music is the thing that can get people into a room from different size of incredible fans from different experiences but they can all love and sing the same song and I think, it opens door of communication and unity. Message through music spreads like a wild fire, especially if it is a good song.
Karan: I am sure it would be inspiring for women to know how you actually battled against the violence you faced.
Maya: Well, unfortunately I was in a domestically violent relationship with my boyfriend. So, I started the relationship when I was in my high school. I was 17 but it was a long relationship of seven years. I call it a psychotic relationship, because he was not just beating me but chocking and cutting me with a knife and threatening to kill my family and himself! I kept it secret and everyone saw me happy and strong. Then I thought in my mind that I was helping him and so I tricked myself into thinking that I was different than someone who is afraid. I finally came to the conclusion that if a wrong man doesn’t change in seven years then he is never going to change. I should have noticed that 6-7 years sooner. I try to encourage women not to go as long as I did and know that you deserve to be loved and to be loved is a human right. Love is an action, it’s not like someone’s just saying it and then treating you like they hate you.
Karan: So what did you write when came out of that experience?
Maya: I have written many songs that speak in degrees about pain that I experienced. Like the one I sang today called Dance revolution and wrote this anthem in support of the One Billion Rising campaign. The One Billion Rising is an international campaign to mobilise a billion people to stand up and say no to gender-based violence, rapes, beating or any kind of abuse. Facts show that there are a billion women who have been beaten or raped at one point in their life.
Karan: Like anywhere else in the world, India too is a victim of violence against women.
Maya: Well, we all know that India is so much more than that. It has very deep, rich culture and art and history. Violence against women and human rights violation are universal issues. I know that abuse by men is not happening from the majority of men in India. I think it’s a minority ratio of men that are contributing in this abuse. So my challenge is to encourage majority of men to not abuse and step up for their daughters, mothers and sisters and not be silent. If the abusive men know that the other men of the community will stand against them, there will be hesitant in their actions. And for women, I think it’s a wonderful thing for us to continue to find support in each other and put ourselves in upper hand of feeling strong and not feeling victimised and pushed down. There is of course so much more to India, so one should never scar the history and story of India.
Karan: Tell us about your stay in India.
Maya: This is my first visit to India. In Delhi, I went out on shopping and bought reasonable stuff from Connaught Place. I’m heading to Chennai now. I am having a workshop with young musicians. I will also visit AR Rahman’s music school.
Karan: Oh, have you heard of AR Rahman?
Maya: Of course! I really love his compositions. I was introduced to his music through Slumdog Millionaire, and I have become a big fan of him.
Karan: Would you like to collaborate with him?
Karan: When did you start music?
Maya: I started to sing when I was four and was really serious about it. I had a professional training in high school for opera. After that, I got into song writing and singing. My parents are not musicians. My mother is counsellor, works with the students of psychology and my father is a journalist.
Watch Maya Azucena performing at Delhi International Arts Festival
(The interview has been transcribed by Divyani Raghav)