Wielding the power of music

Wielding the power of music


Wielding the power of music

There are many ways to bring about a revolution in the world and she has made up her mind to draw on some of her darkest memories and the spunkiest music to make the impossible happen.

As a survivor of extreme abuse, she knows what it is like to be caught in a vicious cycle of threats, aggression and survival. If there is anything that connects women across the world, it is their shared history of abuse over generations as also their innate strength to fight it. Today, there are over a billion women fighting a war against gender violence — and MTV Made’s award-winning singer, songwriter and social activist, Maya Azucena, wants to become their “powerfully compelling voice” of love, reason and rebellion through her songs.

So, how did her journey begin as a singer-activist against gender violence? “I met Eve Ensler, who has written The Vagina Monologues and initiated the One Billion Rising (OBR) movement against gender violence, when I was invited to be a part of a women’s conference, ‘Women and Power’ at the Omega Institute in New York in 2012. Eve and I connected instantly and when she asked me to support OBR and write a song, I was very happy. As a black American who has grown up in Brooklyn, I am aware of the challenges that stem from inequality. I have lived though terrible domestic violence and emerged a stronger person. The OBR movement gave me an amazing opportunity to reach out to one billion women and girls and motivate them to acknowledge their inherent power to make a difference to their communities, families and their own lives,” explains Maya.

No longer a victim

For someone who has been singing since she was four years old, empowering women through music is a natural extension. “My kind of sound has a lot of soul mixed with jazz, hip-hop, rock and roll, reggae and other stuff. Often, when I see something that disturbs me, I write down my thoughts in my journal. I think a lot about freedom, being fearless and overcoming obstacles,” says Maya.

A victim of domestic violence, it’s inspiring to know how Maya survived that phase. “I was in an abusive relationship for seven years and it was like living in a cage. Back then, I believed very strongly in having one soulmate. I endured everything believing I could fix him. There were times when he would pounce on me and squeeze my neck so hard that I could hardly breathe. Other times, he would take a knife and hurt me on my arms and neck. After several years, I realised that if a grown man hasn’t changed by now, he
never will,” she recounts.

Women abuse isn’t an issue that is restricted by geography. Almost every country has its own share of such cases. Women are essentially surviving similar trying circumstances everywhere. “In a sense, if there is anything that connects women across the world, it is a shared legacy of abuse over generations, as also their innate strength to fight it,” maintains Maya. Women are the foundations of change in any society, she says.

“Wherever they choose to unite and work together, it brings about serious
social change — and that excites me, because that is exactly what we are trying to do through the OBR movement. No matter where we go, no matter what kind of oppression, if women decide to overcome it together, then there’s simply no stopping them,” avers the social activist.

So, does she make a conscious attempt to reflect on “woman power” in her songs? “When one is writing a song, one really doesn’t know if it’s indeed going to have the kind of impact a track like Dance Revolution has had. Dance is the chosen mode of defiance under the OBR banner and it’s phenomenal to see women in over 200 countries identifying with it,” she responds. “When I went to Haiti earlier last year, I met a group of lively girls who had memorised every word of the song and even created their own dance moves. That’s why I wrote the song. I wanted it to be an anthem, an inspiration to girls everywhere. To be able to witness this in different countries makes me feel like I am fulfilling my dream and purpose,” she adds.

Songs that inspire feelings of independence and fearlessness can play a critical role in the global fight against gender violence. “Music can truly support the ideals of
justice, freedom and equality,” believes the singer on a mission. “I want to contribute as a warrior against any form of violence. The warrior in me grew when I was in an abusive relationship — and through my songs I want to encourage women to
awaken that warrior within themselves, too. I would like to help them channelise their righteous anger to empower themselves.”

It is a known fact that women and girls from all walks of life in India have been
trying to challenge patriarchy in their own ways. But Maya feels that Indian women have something that many others don’t. “Indian women have what we call in New York, swag, spirit and the strength to fight violence. I got an opportunity to spend time with college-going girls, rights activists and regular women during my recent visit to India. They are vibrant, fun and quite remarkable. I felt very energetic and happy around them.”

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