Review/interview: Maya Spector’s Honey & Heartache
✅ Words, music and vocals: Maya Spector
✅ Producer: Graham Ward
✅ Buy/stream: https://mayaspector.hearnow.com/
*Scroll down for production and other details regarding streaming and purchasing
“Seeing all the little people on their ways to places – I don’t know. Maybe we can simply join them but for now, let’s just be all alone. Turn down all the lights down low… I want to watch the city glow… I am not sleeping… hold me in your arms – kiss me and hold me tight – never let me go.” Words and music by Maya Spector from City Lights, first track on her album, Honey & Heartache (Released May 12, 2020, on digital platforms).
Maya Spector worked on Honey & Heartache for almost three and half years. Undeterred by the roadblock of the Covid-19 and the national lockdown, she released the eight track album – her first full length album- on Spotify and other digital platforms. The release was on May 12. The launch was hosted live on Facebook on Saturday May 16, by broadcaster, Khanya Sosibo.
The launch is archived on Spector’s Facebook page. Sosibo muses that Spector’s songs on Honey & Heartache are like ‘offerings’ – from the artist to her listeners. They ARE offerings. Sosibo adds that she wants more. I concur. Thirty one minutes of album time and I thought – “oh no, it is finished, already.” You may wonder why it has it taken from mid-May to mid-August to post this review/interview, of an album which I love. In essence, I was holding tight onto this beautiful album, frozen in a black hole of life; one calamity after another; shrouded in heartbreak around me. That aside, in lockdown, there has been a flurry of music releases. There is always someone performing live on Facebook or Instagram, urging: “Watch me”, “Support me”, “Share, share.” There has been noise, fury, creativity- signifying a lot. I needed the space to write about Honey & Heartache– a highly considered album – with eight original songs -recorded with 10 musicians- in a studio. Considerable investment – creative and financial – went into making Honey & Heartache. Here I am with my reflections.
The songs on Honey & Heartache were written before the pandemic and yet the lyrics – when I first listened and now- feel like they are achingly poignant echoes of the year of the pandemic- a time when everything has been juddered out of kilter.
There is that first track, City Lights. Beyond being a love song- “kiss me and hold me tight – never let me go”, I see this song as an ode to our beautiful city, Cape Town. Spector told me that she wrote the song, shortly after moving to Cape Town from KZN, where she had been living, after completing her musical degree. She said: “I was sitting on my balcony and it was full moon. I was watching people going up Lions Head with their head lamps fastened on. So it is about the hikers – and love- and the city.”
During hard lockdown in a Cape Town suburb, we were cut off, dislocated from the twinkling of the city lights. It was not possible to leave our area. We were disconnected from the city. Listening to City Lights and it was if that song has been written for me- the blinking lights – out there. Spector conjured up the lights and brought the city into focus. When lockdown was eased and we could once again venture into the city, I could hear Maya singing those lines. Honey & Heartache has become my lockdown soundtrack album.
The album is emblematic for me of the honey and heartache of these strange days. The honey expresses sweet-ish moments, love, and gratitude. One reviewer described Maya’s sound as “syrupy vocals”. I do not agree. Spector’s voice is thick and knotted but not syrupy in a sweet treacly way. Five months into lockdown, with things starting up, people have been remarking – “so, how has your lockdown been?” I am flummoxed. Uhhm, no, it has not been a holiday camp. For me, there has been an overwhelming sense of heartache – witnessing the loss of jobs, income; homelessness, despair. I cannot speak of “good” parts of lockdown. I can speak about meaningful moments, when I was able to transcend the heartache. I can say that some of my most treasured meaningful moments have been through listening to music and watching digitally streamed theatre. With headphones on, in my bubble at home, listening to Honey & Heartache, I was contained by Maya Spector’s words and music- honey and heartache of love, loss, fear, unity and longing. In a time where meaning and context has been largely lost; containment helps – wherever you can find it.
At the Facebook launch, Khanya Sosibo said that for her the album invokes a sense of acid jazz. I would agree with that. There is an edge that undercuts the honeyed tones of Maya’s full bodied voice. Others use the term “soul music” to describe her music which is lovely but it is more than that. I think that she has poured her guts into each song. Each song plays out like a story song – a narration. I think of albums and songs by Nina Simone, Carly Simon, Carole King, Sade, Janis Ian, Joni Mitchell and others- songs carved from stories of life.
In terms of life experiences, Maya’s journey has been eventful. Her father, American born J Brooks Spector was in the diplomatic service and the family lived in four year chunks around the world – including periods in South Africa. Maya has soaked it all up. She treasures the opportunities and immersion in different cultures. Her culturally involved parents have nurtured her creativity but at the same time she is aware of the dislocation of her upbringing. There is the duality between America – her father’s home country and her Africa – South Africa – her mother’s birth country. Her mother Ruth Jacobs-Spector is a classically trained singer (she studied at UCT). Ruth was Maya’s first teacher. Maya pays homage to her in the last track of the album, Goodnight Moon/Thula Baba.
Maya said in the launch interview that her mom always makes her feel safe. This song makes her feel safe. The title of the song – references a children’s book –Goodnight Moon – by Margaret Wise Brown – an American writer. The book was published in 1947. Ruth Jacobs-Spector read the book to Maya. It was a bed-time story. Inevitably Ruth would break into song and Goodnight Moon became intertwined and was overlaid with Thula Baba- the Southern African traditional lullaby. Both transport Maya to a safe place- bedtime story and African lullaby. The track on Honey & Heartache, begins with archival sound footage of Ruth Jacobs-Spector singing, Thula Baba. Ruth was age 11 when she sang on the soundtrack of the 1964 film, Dingaka, directed by Jamie Uys and starring Ken Gampu and Juliet Prowse – about a man, guided by traditional laws, who seeks revenge for his murdered daughter.
On Goodnight Moon/Thula Baba, we hear the crackly sound clip of Ruth Jacobs-Spector’s voice. Yeah, wow – South Africa, 1964; a fragment of song from those days. That is followed by Maya singing to the melody of Thula Baba. Then we hear Ruth’s voice – recorded last year  in the studio. Goodnight Moon/Thula Baba is a compilation of Goodnight Moon and Thula Baba and is Maya’s Spector’s way of saying thank you to her parents and particularly to her mom.
Another song in the album provides a sense of Maya and Ruth’s deep connection – not only as mother and daughter – but the artistic and spiritual affinity with one another – almost finishing each other’s sentences -through song. Tiny Little Bird– a song on Honey & Heartache is an example of the bond that connects them. At the launch, Maya spoke about how Ruth’s eldest sister passed away. At the funeral, Ruth lost her voice. She was lost for words and could not sing. Maya sang and held her mother’s hand. Shortly after the funeral, Maya saw a hadeda on the road – a broken bird that inspired her to write the song. Maya Spector: “It is about trying to help someone get through and make it through an ordeal.” As I mentioned all the songs on the album were written before the pandemic and once again, listening to this song in lockdown, I gasped. Many of us feel broken and we are getting through as best as we can. Honey & Heartache is a balm; a comfort. It is Maya Spector soothing us – “I know. I am with you. It will be okay.”
When I put it to Maya how the album has resonated for me – as a soundtrack of these days- she responded: “I am glad that my art is a reflection of the strange and uncertain times. As Nina Simone said, ‘An artist’s duty, as far as I’m concerned, is to reflect the times.’ I absolutely was aiming to reflect as best I could on life’s experiences – however in my case it wasn’t so much as a socio-economic reflection, but how I experience love stories. I didn’t even realise I was so political – that would make my parents very happy to know they have rubbed off on me, even if it subconsciously – making me a sort of closet activist.”
Humans, I present to you Maya Spector’s Honey & Heartache. Listen and you will understand why I rave about this very special album and why it has become my lockdown soundtrack–laced with shots of honey to get through- these heart breaking and baffling times.
Buy/stream Honey & Heartache: https://mayaspector.hearnow.com/
✔ Purchase album: If you want to buy the digital album, the cost is R39. 99, from https://music.apple.com/za/album/honey-heartache/1511233465
Or go for individual links:
✔ Google Play Music:
❇Honey & Heartache album credits❇
✅ Words, music and vocals: Maya Spector
✅ Produced, engineered and mastered: Graham Ward – Wardwide Music, RSA
✅ Musicians: Nick Williams, Angelo Syster, Graham Ward, Alvin Dyers, Nobuhle Ashanti, Chad Lawrence, Tumi Pheko, Anthony Clark, Bradley Russell, Andre Webb and Ruth Jacobs-Spector (backing vocals)
✅ Album cover design: Maya Spector
✅ Cover: Paige Fiddes
✅ Hair and makeup: Chloe Hicks
❇Maya Spector links❇
✅ Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/maya.e.spector
✅ Instagram: @mayapapayaspector
❇ Image credit: Supplied. Photo of Maya Spector by Paige Fiddes.