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Amber Maya: From Barbados to Berlin

TRE GREAVES, [email protected]

Amber Maya: From Barbados to Berlin

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SHE WATCHED HELPLESSLY as death snatched her “first love.” But during her personal crisis, Barbadian-born artiste Amber Maya was able to breathe new life into an old talent.

She was born to New Zealander entrepreneur Scott Gribble and Barbadian Rozanne Gribble.

Amber and her mother shared an unbreakable bond. In fact, she was instrumental in many of the 27-year-old’s pursuits.

First, it was poetry, which would later help Amber turn her thoughts into lyrics.  Then Rozanne watched and cheered as the Back Pedal singer took her first steps with the Louise Woodvine Dance Academy and made moves with Dance Strides Barbados.

And since her mother’s passing about five years ago, the Barbadian singer-songwriter has been forging forward with music.

EASY recently spoke to Amber at The Walk, St Thomas and during our conversation, the independent musician recounted her mother’s corageous fight with multiple myeloma, cancer of the bone marrow.

“She had been misdiagnosed for like a year. And we went on without knowing so by the time she got the correct diagnosis, she was at stage-four cancer,” Amber said.

“So it was really quick, it was like all of a sudden everything started to change.”

The cancer affected her bones, resulting in lesions that eventually caused spinal problems.

Amber, who had to quit her studies overseas, watched as her mum had to be supported by a cane and then a wheelchair.

“I was studying dance at the Alvin Ailey School in New York. I was there for a year but then I had to withdraw from school because my mum got the diagnosis. So I had to move back to Barbados and in that time I stopped dancing so that’s really when I got into music more,” she recounted.

“From the slightest movement she would get fractures in her spine and that actually changed her height. Her spirit was still the same but it definitely slowed her down because she wasn’t able to do much.”

She also received a stem cell transplant and went into remission for a year before she passed.

“It’s been five years now and I’m still processing it. It was a lot to deal and it was really hard to witness at that time and it’s something that I still have to get used to,” Amber said.

A lot of what she went through during that time can be heard in her first EP, Fly By Night.

The influence is even more pronounced on the acoustic guitar-based Dance On The Mountain. 

Since its release, the song has been added to numerous playlists and it has garnered over two million plays on the digital music service Spotify.

Eventually she went back to school but this time at Unitec Institute of Technology in New Zealand, where she majored in contemporary dance and received a Bachelor of Performing and Screen Arts.

She continued with music, releasing other tracks including Bare and The Storm before 2017’s Back Pedal.

Amber writes about personal experiences and in Back Pedal she sings about reclaiming her independence. The song has a heavy Caribbean influence.

The song has been picked up by MTV in Australia and New Zealand.

Like most Barbadian children, she grew up listening to soca, dancehall and reggae but she said the work of musicians such as Sade, Nina Simone, Tracey Chapman, Billie Holiday and Earth Wind and Fire resonated more.

“I really connected with the other kinds of music and art that I was surrounded by, which I am really thankful for,” she said.

Amber not only has an ear for music, she has an eye for fashion.

This love also blossomed from watching her parents run clothing stores Roscoe Tees and Irie Blue stores in locations around Barbados.

She often wears some of her own clothes which she sells via her online store, Crown Heights Clothing.

The name comes from the famous West Indian melting pot in Brooklyn.

By now I’m sure you can tell, she is well-travelled, once living in Britain, where she had her most recent gig. She currently resides in Berlin, Germany.

But home is where the heart is. She was back in Barbados recently writing and recording for an album, which she plans to release by the end of the year.

In the two weeks she was here, she met up with Chris Allman of Slamcity Productions and worked with Barbadian producers Haresh Singh and Mohammed Hanif.

She said working with Mohammed was a dream come true because of their musical journeys. In their earlier days, they used to share their music online. But they were never in the same place at the same time to physically collaborate.

“For us to be working together, it feels great and like a long time coming,” she said. “And I definitely wanted to make a point and work with local producers because there’s this idea that greatness can’t be produced from at home but that’s not true.”  

When the project is released, she hopes more doors will be opened.

“I’d like to be able to tour the album across Europe and even the Caribbean when it comes out. But I just hope that people will be able to connect with my music,” she said. (TG)