In 2018, local dancer and artist Makana was working on some songs, including a Caribbean-infused hip-hop tune called “Women.”
She intended it to exalt the beauty of the feminine, but as she worked on it, the song became so much more. It was such a powerful, personal expression that the first time she performed it, in 2018, she got a standing ovation.
“It was going to be a totally heterosexual song,” Makana says. “It turned into me revealing my true story—I basically came out of the closet in front of my community in Santa Cruz, as someone who’s definitely not straight.”
“Women” is one of the four songs she released last month as part of her debut EP My People. Before this, she’d been a dancer and did burlesque for a while. More recently, she did solo dance performances, including with local Congolese dance company Bitezo Bia Kongo, and was also rapping/performing/dancing with a local Afro-fusion band called Native Trance. This EP of experimental hip-hop represents the first songs for which she not only wrote all the lyrics, but also produced all the music herself.
“I’m kind of obsessed. I found happiness through making music. I’m blissed out. I don’t really need to do much else. I am all about music right now,” Makana says.
Back in 2018, at that first show, she rapped her lyrics for “Women” and other words she wrote over beats she found online. In March, when everything shut down, being a dancer wasn’t much of an option, so creating music moved to the top of her priority list. That included producing the music for her lyrics.
“Before Covid, I was a little unfocused, just trying to take any gig,” Makana says. “Coronavirus hit and I was left to my own devices. I pulled my resources together and set up a studio in my home, and taught myself how to use a digital audio workstation and a bunch of other technical aspects of making music. I’m not a trained musician in any sense of the word, but I’m a dancer. I know rhythm. I understand the intricacies of music in a kinesthetic way.”
The four songs—all hip-hop—are eclectic in their influences, including trip-hop, R&B, reggae and spoken word, and produced in a way that makes them very intimate and emotive, yet also exploratory and at times avant-garde productions. Not just that, but she methodically created unique and individualized music beds for each of these songs that she’d written.
“The words were already there,” Makana says. “It was me trying to create the fullest expression of those words instrumentally, and just to create a full, comprehensive world around the lyrics. I didn’t want them to be all in the same world, because they’re not.”
The lyrics are poetic, spiritual and stirring—sometimes straightforward, other times abstract and expressionist. She devoted a long time to crafting them.
“I’m a word nerd,” Makana says. “I’m obsessed with words, to the point where if I’m in a conversation, and I blurt out like a word like ‘oxymoron’ and I didn’t use it correctly, I have to use self-control not to pull out my phone at a restaurant and look up the word. For me, it’s a love affair with words.”
The four songs on My People is only a sampling of what’s to come. She’s hoping next year she’ll release a full-length. She’s also excited to find out what else she uncovers about herself in the process.
“I’ve had a pretty crazy journey, coming into myself as a human, basically feeling alien, and now feeling whole,” Makana says. “It’s a yearning to unearth all that and heal and share it with other people through exposing myself. It goes even beyond anything I can control.”
For more info, check out euphonicrecords.org.