Sound: Sonic Birth – Celaviedmai

Posted 3 months ago in Music Features

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Celaviedmai is channeling self love and empowerment as she prepares to launch her latest EP, ISSA NEW ERA!

The main room of Whelan’s is crackling with electricity on the Saturday Celaviedmai headlines the venue for her Issa New Era tour. The crowd isn’t massive — people are understandably nervous to be out, as the horrific, hatred-fuelled Dublin riots were just two days before — but makes up for its size in sheer excitement. The underlying energy is intoxicating, whipped up even further by Celaviedmai’s magnetic stage presence, her dancers, live band, and guest artists like Plantain Papi. Celaviedmai raps, she dances, she flashes the audience a wry smile. In those moments you can tell that she has that special something that gives her utter command of the room.

“I’m not gonna lie to you, I had the best time of my life,” she tells me a couple days later, chatting over Zoom. Mai’s effervescence is palpable (even over a laptop screen) and she’s effusive as she adds, “I’m glad that the people who came, came. I love them. I love you. I love everyone that came and showed up regardless. It was just a great night for me.”

The Whelan’s show kicks off her first-ever Irish headline tour, with gigs in Prague and Brussels also lined up, to celebrate her forthcoming EP ISSA NEW ERA! Celaviedmai’s new project begs for you to dance and sing along, while her debut release Both Sides of the Story provided a tenderer look at the hip-hop artist’s own interiority. Songs like HEAL, which explores a contentious romance, lean into vulnerability and are sonically haloed in a soft-edged haze (with the major exception of the roiling beat underpinning WORK).

Image Credit: Caught Up Creatives

“​​I just wanted to remind people that, although I make hype music, and it’s fun, it’s great, I still have a heart and I still have emotions. I deal with things just like everybody else,” the Galway native says, reflecting on her 2022 EP.

ISSA NEW ERA! on the other hand, bursts with bravado and unabashed sexiness. The first track, Break Me Down, is sheer catharsis, inspired by a time when Mai found herself surrounded by naysayers and had to push through their negativity. Thinking back, she explains, “I transmuted that pain into something fun.”

That sense of playfulness definitely comes through, and Mai is sure to utilise her biting sense of humour. “You eat the apple / Imma eat Eve,” she raps in one particularly quotable line. Her bars are complemented by eclectic singer-songwriter Zapho’s smooth backing vocals, which Mai likens to “a pumpkin spice latte on a rainy day.”

The aural gap between Both Sides to ISSA NEW ERA! reflects a sea change in Celaviedmai’s own day-to-day. “Life has been different. I feel like I’ve really evolved because I’ve met so many different people along my journey who have introduced me to different sounds, and different versions of myself as well,” she shares.

Credit: Caught Up Creations

One of those influences is Ben Bix, who produced the new EP. Celaviedmai met Bix during a serendipitous trip down to West Cork in 2021. DJ and producer Arveene Juthan invited Mai and her manager Bekah Molony down to make some music, Bix was there too, and the rest is history. “We were like, ‘What the hell? Why would we go to Cork for a week?’ But surprise, surprise, I ended up loving the place,” Mai recounts. “I was like, ‘Oh, my God, I want to live here’. It’s literally out in the middle of nowhere, but the energy that the people have in that place is so lovely. I don’t know what it is. Everyone’s so nice. Everyone’s so creative.”

The EP’s penultimate track, Make Ya Go, resulted from an unlikely collaboration dreamed up by Molony. She suggested jazz soul singer Qbanaa and afrobeat rapper/producer Plantain Papi as featured artists on the song, a far cry from Mai’s typical sound.

“Their genres of music are completely different to what I do, and the song in general is just so different. So it wasn’t something that we expected, but it works so well,” Celaviedmai shares, later continuing, “They really put their own spice and their own identity into the song, but still made it work for the song as a whole.”

The connection between Mai, her band, and her various collaborators radiates throughout the room when you see them perform live. Their interactions in turn buoy the audience, and the show transforms into a celebration that we’re all invited to. “I think it’s good to work with people that you have good chemistry with, because music is kind of like a baby,” Mai explains with a laugh. “I know that sounds weird, but it’s like making a baby and nurturing and caring for it. So if you have a baby with the right person, your child will be great.”

Baby making aside, ISSA NEW ERA! is a return to form for Celaviedmai, back to the days when she used to rap over electronic and house beats (most of those releases, put up on Facebook, have now been archived). That sound, partly inspired by the likes of Azealia Banks and Doechii, serves as the foundation for the upcoming EP. Getting in touch with her musical roots was a way of finding some reassurance when Celaviedmai found herself feeling artistically unmoored.

Credit: Conor Diggin

“I felt lost, in a way. I didn’t know who I was anymore and I didn’t know why I was still [making music] to begin with. So I was like, let me go back to where I started,” Mai explains. “I think I listened to an Azealia Banks song one day, I want to say it was Luxury, and when I listened to it, I was like, ‘Oh, my God, like I forgot about the song.’ And the nostalgia started to hit and I started to think about the time when I started doing music and all the great times.”

Mai’s exuberance on the EP is also fuelled by her newfound love for herself. Putting so much of her passion into her art used to make her feel drained, but thankfully that feeling has changed as she’s made space to show herself the love she deserves.

“I’m pretty obsessed with myself right now. And I know a lot of people probably thought I always was anyway, but there’s something different about me recently,” Celaviedmai says, later elaborating, “I’m giving myself all the love that I feel like I’ve normally given to people so openly and I’m just like, ‘Okay, why don’t I give that to myself either?’ Because I wasn’t giving that to myself, but the moment I started to love myself like I would love someone that I was in love with, the confidence just naturally started to come out and now I just always feel good and empowered.”

Celaviedmai hopes that listeners come away from ISSA NEW ERA! with the same sense of empowerment that’s propelling her forward these days: “I want like my EP to be one of those where when you’re having the shittiest day ever, you get home and you blast it and you’re dancing away to yourself and just feel great.”

Words: Clare Martin

Feature Image: Rich Gilligan

ISSA NEW ERA! is out on March 15 via Self-Release.



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