Photo Credit: Amy Asyraf
Making the move from Singapore to Canada at the tender age of eight, Masia One experienced what it was like being the lone Asian wolf in an all-white neighborhood. Now back in Southeast Asia, she’s put the past behind her and is focused on her future. One that includes breaking down the negative connotations associated with Reggae music in her native land. Masia One’s sound takes the best of the island sound and marries it seamlessly with elements of dancehall, pop and electronic. All of which culminates into not only her latest single, “Oh Na Na,” but her explosive LP, Far East Empress.
Kendra: Did the moves inspire your interest in both hip-hop and dancehall, or did you move to find the music?
Masia One: I discovered a bootleg Public Enemy tape in a Singaporean wet market when I was eight-years-old and fell in love with hip-hop. My cousins all listened to J-Pop and Taiwanese Pop while I was bumping’ “Don’t Believe the Hype.”
When my family immigrated to Canada, I searched out anything hip-hop. I discovered Native Tongues (Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Jungle Brothers) and Canadian hip-hop including the Rascalz, Maestro Fresh Wes and Michie Mee. After listening to Lauryn Hill, Bahamadia, Ladybug Mecca of the Digable Planets…I decided to write my own raps. During this time my brother always played Peter Tosh, Toots and the Maytals, and Black Uhuru around the house. Subconsciously I was vibing to this sound as well. Which was very confusing to our Singaporean-Chinese parents.
I got into rapping and emceeing mostly when I moved from the West Coast to Toronto to study architecture at the University of Toronto. In Toronto, there was a more vibrant West Indian community as well and the Bashments are lit. This helped to spark my interest in Dancehall and Reggae as well.
Kendra: We got “Oh Na Na” as the lead single, which is a total banger by the way. But are there any songs you had to leave out this time around that might be released on a later record?
Masia One: Yeah, actually the record is 14 songs long. I know today it’s a singles market. So I wanted to test the waters with eight tracks first before revealing everything. Eight is an auspicious number for Chinese people anyway. There’s a song called “Blood, Sweat and Crowns” that I left out of this LP. The lyrics are intense and about what it takes to actually build respect and lasting movements. I figure I’d re-introduce myself before getting too intense.
Kendra: If you had to describe Far East Empress using only three words, what would they be?
Masia One: Royalty from within.
Kendra: It’s been said that you’re introducing Reggae to South East Asia. So it’s safe to assume that scene is pretty nonexistent. What are your goals with being the Reggae ambassador or sorts?
Masia One: This region of the world has so many islands, so Reggae music is naturally welcomed. Actually, the vernacular music of Malaysia and Indonesia called Dangdut can have a similar rhythmic pattern to Reggae. It has been Bob Marley cover song singing for a long time. Now the scene has developed and now I can play a Ska festival in Surabaya to over 10K teenagers dancing. The scene’s actually very big, but it’s not well organized and definitely not corporate. There’s a strong stereotype by higher-end venues and people that Reggae is “beach bum music” or has a negative connotation due to very strict drug laws.
I think my role as an ambassador is to break these stereotypes here in Asia and show that there is a culture around the music from food, dance to history. With regard to the international market, it would be to showcase some of the amazing talents here in Southeast Asia, singing irie songs in their own native language and play with new instruments.
For the holiday season, I’m launching the first Southeast Asian grown Jamaican Jerk Sauce called Suka Suka Sauce. I couldn’t find Jerk anywhere when I first moved back to Singapore. So I grew some Jamaican spices and started to develop the first Halal, no MSG and all natural jerk marinade. I want to see if Jamaican food culture can be a gateway to more people in Asia loving Reggae. On the flip side, there’ll be a download link of different Southeast Asian Roots artists. It’ll provide a new way for the world to discover their sound.
For myself as an artist and performer, I will be touring Southeast Asia extensively to perform the new album. When we meet face to face with the people, we understand the vibes better and can begin to connect the community.
Kendra: Other than gifting South East Asia a new genre to love, what else is on your plate as we head into 2019?
Masia One: Further developing my record label Nusantara Records, bringing more International acts to the region through Singapura Dub Club and…fulfilling my ambition to tour Europe’s Reggae festivals. When I’m all done, I’ll settle on one of the Southeast Asian islands – open a jerk shack and sell my Halal Jerk Chicken.