by Shazwan Zulkiffli
Good Vibes Festival is just around the corner and we got the chance to talk to one of the best rappers around, Zamaera, at her hometown Subang Jaya about her humble beginnings, career, and performing at Good Vibes Festival.
Ze: Hi Zamaera! Thank you so much for your time today. How did you start?
Z: I started with singing, I had always been singing since I was 9 but never with the thought of being a professional. All I knew was I loved to entertain, and that feeling like when I make a stupid joke and people smile and laugh at it — like watching people feel that excitement, it gives me so much satisfaction. That’s where everything stemmed from. The transition, the growth from singing to rapping was because I listened to Tupac’s album, ‘All Eyes on Me’ for the first time — consciously, I was like, “Okay I’m gonna listen to a hip hop album and its by Tupac”. I listened to him before but it didn’t really occur to me that I’m gonna dissect it and really learn it. This was really the first album I consciously listened to, and from there I was like ‘wow I actually have always rapped, it’s just I never knew that it was called rapping’ because I did poetry, storytelling when I was in school.
Ze: So actually, you are an all-round artist because you don’t just sing or rap, you do a lot of other things too?
Z: Rapping is one medium, singing is one medium, cooking is one medium, another way for me to express myself — I don’t want to just limit myself to one thing, you know. But some people, they want to just be focusing on one thing and that’s fine. Yeah, that’s how my progression into a rapper came about.
Ze: I think another one of the reasons why you stood out in the Redbull Blend was because you were the only female rapper who beat the other rappers to get through to the finals. How is it like to be one of the few female rappers in the very male dominated industry?
Z: It feels great. This is actually my favourite question to answer, because every interview asks it and I love repeating this answer because it gives me the clarity of it. So basically, you know as a female, there’s so much — in most things that we do we always get questions and are scrutinised for being a female and for doing so, and i dont think im wrong in saying that because it’s so relatable in every period in time. Whether it was a hundred years ago or until now. Women always get scrutinised for voicing things out. So as a girl, whatever I do I always get judged in a way, but I took it positively because there’s very few females so you stand out anyway. It’s easier for you to kinda like differentiate yourself. Easier for you to say that I’m different, and it’s a great advantage for me because there’s so many males out there doing it as well.
Ze: Is that how Wanita happened?
Z: Well, Wanita happened, it was more so from me trying to express that the presence of a woman in your life really makes how you are, your personality. I don’t mean it like romantically, it can be your mom, your sister, I think that tenderness and empathy comes from having a woman in your life. I think men would agree with me when it comes to that because a woman’s love and personality than that of a man. There’s a lot that women have to do and undertake as their responsibility, as a mother, a sister, they need to love and to be firm. I made that song because I wanted to pay tribute to all the women in my life that has been that role model for me in that sense and I wanted even men to kind of relate to the song and go like oh yes when I listen to Wanita I think of my mom, my sister. It’s just about us acknowledging that and recognising that because that’s when the narrative of equality starts — when you actually acknowledge something, oh this is what the women gives in the society.
Ze: Also it’s about acknowledging there are problems with the way we treat women within the industry?
Z: Yeah there is (that message) and that’s something that’s always persistent from the beginning of time — it’s just the matter that now we have so many more means to show it. Currently there’s this whole sexual harassment that’s been circulating in regards to a band member, I’m not sure if you’ve seen it? Have you seen it?
Ze: Oh, thats me. I’m not the predator but i was the one who wrote it.
Z: Oh you wrote it? See that was amazing that you wrote that and then you see the true colors of men coming like “oh you don’t have to publicly shame him” and I’m like what are you talking about? And these are the kinds of things that women have to go through and I hope that the song Wanita actually could open the eyes of not only men but also women to see the position that we have to put ourselves in and the strength that we have to carry on our backs today not just for ourselves but the people around us because most of the time for the woman you have to be the person to everyone — to be the friend, the mom, sometimes you even have to be the dad.
Ze: Do you like like, macam contohnya when people say, “oh you’re a woman so sometimes there’s like a special treatment towards women” — but it’s because of the tragedies that happen before. Do you think that this special treatment is good for women as a whole or do you think it shows some sort of weakness because there’s always that argument and no one really knows. Do you think the privilege should be there or do you think it stops women from being equal?
Z: I guess that it’s not so much about women having the privilege, because privilege is what you have that is lebih, like an advantage. But we just try to get it on like equality. So, even myself, like you said being in a male-dominated industry, I dont feel like I’m being given special treatment. Like you said you saw me at the Redbull session and they were like screaming ‘no mercy’ and just kena kaw kaw. And you kena because it’s fair and up til now there has been no special treatment for me – at least I guess – when you put in the effort to actually progress and to better yourself people realise that through your work and you don’t need to show people that you’re in the studio or you’ve been working on new tracks but then the result is like meh. You can just be quiet, but this isn’t just in the music industry this is also talking about when you lepak dengan kawan like kau apa cerita sekarang, aku nak buat plan ni pung pang pung pang then jumpa two years you’re still down the same road.
You can just keep it within yourself, I’m only saying that based on experience, because I’ve been that person before and i’ve been that person who’s like oh I have this big idea and plan — but I never did it and the person who really gave me a wake up call was my dad. He was like, “you know, Zamaera, you wanna do this music thing all your life you’ve never finished doing what you wanted to do, you know” and that was like a kick in the butt for me la because it came from my own dad — someone who I love and not some random person who’s angry like on Twitter or Instagram. So that’s also an important thing to have people around you who support you and can give you that push. Coming back to Wanita, people like my mom and people in my life that I meet who are not directly related to me have given me that push hence the result which is the song.
Ze: So other than your previous work with Sonaone and Joe Flizzow, you’ve worked with Kartel. Macam, apa what’s your, I’d say the next new songs are you looking to collaborate with anyone?
Z: Actually I just finished recording my EP album, which there are no collaborations in terms of features and stuff but obviously in terms of a bigger team of people, which will be released when I release the new music. But so far as of now, I’m focusing on this EP album that will be shared with everyone and creating that experience for people when they watch it live. Especially when they come to Good Vibes, which will be the first time I perform all the new tracks, and the first time people will see me play in a live setting. Like not the first time, but it’s more like a full band, visuals.
Ze: So, tell me about the EP album. So you travelled to the States right to record, produce, master semua sana? How was that process? So you travelled there and recorded there, but the creative process was here or there juga?
Z: Obviously I had some time over here to kind of, like you know, be creative with the songs. I wrote the concept. The thing about this album is that it’s quite and orthodox. Even though there was so many people involved, I was given a lot of creative control in terms of writing the concept of the album. I wrote it in a certain way and then I sent that back to the people who were making the music and then it came back and it sounded exactly like how I wanted it to sound like. It’s just a natural thing, if I don’t like it I would just say eh I tak suka la can you please rework it. So I had some time to give some input while I was here. But most of it was when I was there, because it was the first time I met the team of people i was gonna work with, and it was such an amazing experience.
There was no one there that I didn’t like, and it’s not because I was feeling forced to enjoy my experience there because its my first EP album, it was more of like Alhamdulillah I got to meet people that was so conducive to my experience and they were not greedy in sharing their knowledge. I duduk kat situ tanya soalan, macam macam nak tau semua diorang bagitau and I was like how do I come back home with all these information and share it with the world? Because not everybody has the opportunity to go to the US and do all these things you know like apatah lagi buat this as a full time career. Music — not many people get to do it, for Malaysians, doing it as a full-time thing because there’s still so many people looking at music like, its not gonna go anywhere. But those things are starting to change and its great for our society especially the youth because there are so many talented people. and I’m blessed to be that bridge. It’s not about me, making my EP album, it’s more than that. The purpose is bigger.
Ze: So when you met the production team and all and you said you were from Malaysia, what was their reaction?
Z: Obviously before I went there they knew, but when they first heard of me they were like what? It’s a Malaysian? It’s crazy because i think the thing that really captivated them, is that I don’t look or sound Malaysian, so they can’t place what race i am. So it was exciting for them that i could be put anywhere and still be able adapt. I want that for myself. for us, for the people. Because when I went there I was like I’m representing Malaysia in all forms, if this trip to the US was an employment trip I am Melayu, Cina, India and others. Because my mom is Malay-Chinese, my dad is Indian-Arabic. So one Malaysia. And I knew that with that you know, cultural heritage behind me, I knew I had to do something about being relatable to more than just one cultural ethnic group. And English is a good way to break those barriers. Doesn’t mean I don’t want to speak Malay – I love speaking Malay, when I speak Malay I sound like a makcik I love it, I embrace the fact that I’m a Malaysian. I never loved being a Malaysian so much when I was away, because when you’re away you tend to appreciate your culture and I felt so motivated. Dengan GE14 happening, ya Allah best nya tengok sampai 12 jam i tengok benda tu. I love being a Malaysian, I love how everyone around here supports one another and our pot has already melted in that sense — we live unitedly.
Ze: So would you say that in your album, the concept, I’m really intrigued. So what’s the concept?
Z: Actually we won’t be releasing any of that information. But that just means that you can have another interview haaa! I just think its exciting for people to know, that, because like I said this is the first time I actually sing physically and that i can say that I have an EP coming out. Because before this it was just like people trying to get interviews and my manager’s just like oh no she’s in the US. So I’m just excited for people coming to good vibes and expecting something different and more that I can share with.
Ze: Alright, talking bout the songs and the album kan, so how many songs are you playing kat Good Vibes?
Z: My set is 4-4:30. So you can imagine me playing as many songs as I can.
Ze: But you’ll also play Helly Kelly and Wanita lah.
Z: I don’t know! You have to be there you know what i’m sayin’.
Ze: Tak because I interviewed Noh Salleh, and Lunadira and both of them said they’ll be presenting something special. So and then you said something about full band, I mean jarang kat Malaysia ni a hip hop artist perform with full band unless kalau the venue is like a jazz club.
Zamaera: Yeah i think we wanna break those norms, exactly like what you’re saying about like, I don’t wanna wait for the venue to be a jazz club, I don’t wanna wait for people to like, ask me oh can you do it with a full band — because I want this experience to be different, if not fresh for people. Because hip hop is like an evolution from blues and jazz music which so much of it requires different instruments and a lot of feel and I need the live instrument for that feel to happen. And I want people to feel music the way I do. Because when that happens, to me, it’s like me arriving at my goal at that moment. How is it that whatever you plan for yourself in your head in terms of the stage presence, and how you want the songs to be played and all that and that the audience they feel the exact same thing you’re feeling in your head. Which is an exciting experience you know, being able to plan it out and watch it happen and that really is the most exciting thing. But a lot of people have been very important to this process, having you someone from the media be able to showcase or question me so i can share my thoughts. or Good Vibes, giving me the platform in the first place, it’s not just the artist providing you with a great experience there’s so many other people involved.
Ze: Like you said Visuals-
Z: Yeah Visuals, and moods, everything is planned and thought of because I want people to feel a certain way. Which i think Alhamdulillah until today it has been very positive for me and even if there was anything negative which there has been, but I’ve always taken it in a positive light because that’s the only way that you can survive in this industry. You can’t look negative comments as something that can break you but more so you have to look at it as constructive criticism. I can’t wait to share this performance with everyone so don’t forget 4 o’clock! 21st July.
Ze: So talking about Good Vibes again, obviously you know that SZA is coming down. So other than SZA, is any other artist that you’re excited about?
Z: I’m looking forward to see What So Not, Chet Faker, but I’m most excited about the local artists. Like the lineup on local artists is like gang, macam kawan-kawan that we watched shows with. Eh kau ingat tak aku datang kau punya show dua tahun lalu and takde orang datang, aku bayar RM15 you know – it’s that kind of experience that you keep in your head that obviously people won’t know who we’re excited to see and now its like all your friends are able to showcase what they do best. Like don’t you want all your friends to be successful and be able to reach that kind of, goal, wherever it is they want to go and this is the next step for them and i’m so happy for them. I can’t wait to watch Naufal, I’ve known him since I was in primary school – we’ve known each other since we were 9 so it’s been an amazing relationship like we’re so close we’re like family friends, and to be able to kind of go to each other’s stages and be like damn ingat like time dekat Fight Club dulu dengan Monkey Business you know all these thoughts just coming in and there’s nothing more that I want for the local artists than to reach this point of success that’s only going to grow even more and i hope that the listeners have an amazing time and do their part as an audience in supporting and sharing the local artists’ music because we have so many talents.
Ze: So this year, there’s you, Lunadira, Bil Musa, and then-
Zamaera: After that ada Altimet and the Kawan Band, you know so then there’s the Electric Field the DJ punya stage ada ramai — Irama, DJ Vin, Roshan and you know the Saturday Selects everyone from there is performing. If you know their story of how they brought down artists from Soulection, it’s a collective from the US and their story of them being able to do that and provide that platform for other people and now this platform is being provided to them it’s an amazing, victorious feat for them. I really can’t wait to experience this together with the fans. I wanna be there in the crowd with people and enjoy SZA together.
Ze: Alright so I recently stumbled upon this video, yes the MTV Cipher one that went viral. Damn that one got over a million views! How did that happen?
Z: You know the production team, and one of the members is a great friend of mine and he’s always talking about doing something big with me and he has kept me in his thoughts and pitched to MTV Asia. And when they contacted us, we were like wow what’s this for and they told us about MTV Raps – and the amazing thing about MTV Raps is it’s the first show in MTV that had any coloured people on MTV. So before 1988, before MTV Raps aired, there was no show with coloured people. So 1988 until 1994 they aired the show and it was an amazing thing because you know how discrimination started and how hip hop was used as a tool of expression for a time that was really oppressive and knowing that in my head like now, even though the show isn’t about that anymore, but knowing the history behind it that’s what made me so excited. But then I didn’t feel the impact of the moment until after the show was played on TV. Because I think during that process I was so excited to write whatever I wanted to write for the cypher, to showcase my style of writing and rapping, then only when I saw the final product I was like yo this is crazy, I used to watch MTV and watch all the artists I wanted to become like Britney Spears, ikut dia menari kan lepastu tiba tiba sekarang I’m on MTV. It’s a surreal experience. I’m so blessed, I don’t know what I did to deserve this. Maybe it’s God’s way of telling my parents yall did well, korang punya 23 years of suffering was not for nothing.
Ze: Watching it feels like, dulu they featured artists like Lauryn Hill and now you and Airliftz, that’s crazy exciting!
Zamaera: it’s amazing even MTV in general thinking okay I wanna reboot this series in Asia. I mean like, they thought of us, they knew that there’s something else we could bring to the table and it’s true. It clearly shows how Airliftz is, how Yung Raja is, being the personality, it’s different what we bring to the table. Hip hop is still Hip Hop but the fact that people love it so much and it can come from any part of the world because rapping is rhythmic poetry and whatever kind like rhythm you do people will still bump to it like yo that sounds like a dope flow! It’s amazing that MTV Asia gave us that opportunity, I am still overwhelmed by it until today, but I’m more excited to see of what’s more to come for Asia Hip Hop. What else can we do, and show to the rest of the world. I don’t wanna live by our stereotypes, which we don’t anymore. But there’s a lot more that can be improved on obviously. For me, and everyone.
Ze: From the first Cipher I saw you perform, to the MTV Cipher that the people watch. How much have you grown?
Z: I do a lot of self-reflecting, I actually watched my Redbull cipher before the MTV one because that was the first cipher I’ve ever done and i was like wow, this is quite a progression. And I feel like the growth has expanded not only through my style of rapping and way of writing but also my thought processes. Being able to think more logically and put emotions when it’s the right time because being a female sometimes you get so lost in your emotions and you can’t proceed to continue writing with your writer’s block but like yeah the growth has been the reason why I’m here today. And a lot of people have been a part of that growth, my mum, my dad, Kartel, Joe, Sona, Aman Ra. And everyone who has been in my life walaupun dia satu minit je dia cakap dengan I, it affects me, and it contributes to my growth – regardless if it’s positive or negative, it’s how I decide to come out from it. Thank you to everyone who was been a part of my growth, whoever i bumped into.
Ze: Final question. A lot of females have come out and say you’re an inspiration. Some even tried to learn from your flow. What’s your advice to females yang nak masuk dalam dunia rap?
Z: My advice to females, or anyone in general. Or females who want to try anything in general. Just do it, don’t allow the thought of what someone might say of you affect your decision in trying. Because whether you fail or succeed, it’s secondary. The disappointment will come from you not trying. I see people like tagging me on Instagram like girls and I’m like yeah go girl. I wasn’t great when I started, people laughed at me. And if you wanna learn, the Internet is there, Youtube is there. Lagu lagu Lauryn Hill, Missy Elliot, Foxy Brown, semua ada kat situ. Don’t limit yourself through your own thoughts. and that’s a lot of the problem, why certain things persist. So don’t allow them to happen. To females and males, try your best. and try. Your best can always be improved. Your version of best will always be different five years from now. But try.