Photos by Jenny Vasquez

Hamilton singer-songwriter Shanika Maria knows how to make a presence.  In a t-shirt from Hamilton-based brand Girls with Guns and shoes that she bought ten years ago and thought she outgrew she describes herself as all over the place but it’s these items, memories and influences that she funnels gracefully into her music.

In the summer of 2017, Maria released her debut EP, Childish Games. The five-song record is soft and acoustic, with Maria’s haunting voice singing lyrics that could be interpreted in a million ways. It’s a snapshot of where her abilities and creativity were at the time.

“Mouth Eaters” is the last track off the EP, it started off as a poem and then became part of her debut project. It was reworked and re-released on Sept. 28, 2018. Maria celebrated the release with a performance at the Mule Spinner the following day.

[spacer height=”20px”]The reworked track is more upbeat than the original and includes collaborations from several people in Maria’s musical circle. It introduced new instruments and production that lend the familiar lyrics a brand new meaning. Maria has always supported the idea of her art being read in many different ways.

I don’t think it’s…fair for me to tell anybody how to interpret what I’ve created. I feel like once I created it, I put it out there. It’s now for the audience to interpret in whatever way they feel fit. I feel that’s art in general…We all have our own lives and that’s how we’re going to come to art,” Maria said.

The single is the first off her upcoming album, Subtle Uncertainties. Like her EP, it is a picture of where she is in her life right now and describes her outlook on life. Currently in her mid-twenties, she is facing a version of adulthood where not everything is figured out.

[spacer height=”20px”]Maria isn’t pursuing music full-time and while she is balancing other work and jobs, she believes that where she stands right now is what’s best for her at this time. She is not yet sure if she’d like to do music full-time but that is something she’ll have to navigate when the opportunity arises.

“As I’ve become older and as I’ve navigated everything, things are really uncertain, things are really ambiguous. The things I thought I wanted, I don’t know if I want them… Life is very uncertain, and everything is uncertain and I don’t think that that’s a bad thing,” explained Maria.

Maria meets that uncertainty with the support of good people, from her family and friends to her mentor Kojo Easy Damptey and her label Celestial Voodoo. Damptey took her under his wing and helped to bring about the recording and release of her EP. Maria loves that she is part of an artist-run and collaborative label.

[spacer height=”20px”]The good people that she has found in the music industry let her know that her contribution has value. Breaking into music, she faced the challenge of having to interact with people who based her worth as a performer on her ability to bring in audiences.

Genuine connections with artists and listeners helped her to overcome doubts that her work lacked value. These connections are also what she loves about performing in Hamilton.

“I have community here and I feel like people are being pretty receptive to what I’ve been doing so that’s always a nice feeling…And I also just really like performing with other people…Live performance really gives an emotional and intimate look into their creativity,” explained Maria.

Maria’s creativity takes multiple forms. She writes fiction and poetry in addition to creating music. In the same vein, she takes inspiration from several forms of art other than music, from film to poetry to books.

She is looking forward to the newness that comes with putting out a fresh batch of music. She’s tried new things on the guitar and is excited about the new sound and vibe on her new album. Her excitement is accompanied by some fear, however, because life after all is uncertain.

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