Photo by Riley Ryan-Wood
Interview and Text by Rebecca Blandón
"I’m Kat da Silva, a writer, artist and literary performer hailing from Brooklyn, NY. After recently graduating from Brown UNIVERSITY, I’m back in my hometown making a name for myself by writing sound, sight and meta-religion. As a young, black woman from a Caribbean family who happens to be queer, I often focus (but don’t limit) my work, be it essays or songs, around these intersecting identities and the ways they impact my interior and our exterior worlds. Apart from my end-all goal of cultivating spaces with other like-minded black artists for our people to be seen and heard, I’m out here preaching #theNewPussyHallelujah and continuing to lay the foundation for individual narratives, like my own, to be honest sources of light."
Katarah da Silva, the artist known as “Kat the Mia Maxima,” is a different breed of woman. Kat isn’t one to stick to one medium or one level of understanding; she pushes things ahead and beyond, reaching farther inside herself than most people can. Her most recent work is dazzlingly diverse, ranging from music to written poetry to spoken word pieces. Her most notable prose, titled "Oh, Godiva [k]new nude," was published in the feminist publication, Bluestockings Magazine. A sonic piece of its own accord, the poem was also recorded and released online for readers to experience in depth. A being who creates what she breathes, and breathes what she believes, Kat the Mia Maxima comes from a place that, for many, exists merely in their dreams: Herland. Come into her reality and read below.
DRØME: When did you start writing prose?
Kat: I hated most things literary growing up; I was very much a math person! Very technical math and science. Then in high school at St. Ann’s, there was this thing called the writing marathon, which was one week of just creative writing. I fell in love with being able to write freely, so I started writing on my own all the time. When I got to Brown and decided to be a Literary Arts major, I started taking prose and poetry and essay writing a lot more seriously and began to see myself as a writer.
D: How did that influence your songwriting?
Kat: With lyricism, that started when I was a high school student. I would get pretty fucked up with my buddies and just freestyle and they would say, “Oh shit you’re kinda good” and I would be like, “Oh wait I kinda am, I really like this!” For four years after that, up until I was 20, I was just freestyling for fun. Then I went to Spain and met this really awesome musician who played the bass - we would just vibe off of my poetry and his bass line. So I picked up bass and tried to understand more about production: That’s when I realized I could make songs out of my writing. So the two kind of coalesced and bred Kat the Mia Maxima.
D: Do you create the beats and melodies as well?
K: When I first started, I had my bass line, and I would throw it on GarageBand. Then I filled in the blanks with either keyboard, guitar or synths. I still love that and it definitely is the core of Kat the Mia Maxima, but as of now, the process is very much one of two things. A friend has a beat, we vibe, we understand each other, we understand what we kind of want in music – and then we work together and finesse it. Then I would write to it. The other way I go about things is going back to my roots - just me alone with my bass – and creating a simple bass line and writing to it. And then I would either find a producer who I think could use that exact baseline, or heard my flow in whatever I was writing and could make a beat for it.
D: How do you know when you’re finished?
K: I don’t know if I know when I’m finished (Laughs). But I know when things are ready. And that feeling is when I can have this double consciousness – it’s like dreaming and knowing that I’m in the dream, almost as if I’m awake there but it has a life of its own.
D: On your SoundCloud profile, you say you come from “Herland.” Tell me more about this magnificent place and what it means to you.
K: I come from Herland. I totally do. So, Herland has a couple of layers. The name itself is inspired by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. She is an author from the early 1900s who wrote, for the time, a pretty radical utopian / dystopian novel about this community of women who produced asexually. It was only women on the land and they were able to live in this world that had no violence, no war, no conflict, and also produce new generations of just women. When I read this novel I was taken aback and identified with it so much because I felt, in some way, it pertained to my upbringing. I was raised literally by female wolves: my mom was a single parent growing up, my grandma was a single parent to her 10 children and most of the women I knew as a kid were these very matriarchal, super, super, empowered women. I kept thinking, “this is Herland.” That is where my headspace was, and that’s where I grew up. So I kind of want to continue that. I think that a lot of people who identify as women should feel comfortable to have a world where you can actually deny patriarchal bullshit and embrace the “her.”
D: Do you express the way you feel to the women in your life – do they know that you’re from Herland and that they may also be natives to Herland?
K: I don’t know if I’ve articulated that to them well enough to be honest – in my family, people don’t always articulate exactly how they feel about things. I don’t know if that’s because we are West Indian people - it’s very closed off. I definitely fall a little further from the tree in that regard, in that I’m an artist and I’m very vocal in expressing myself. But I think that they know they’re part of Herland just because of how they speak to me about who I am and the world that they live in and what’s possible without men.
D: Geographically, where are your parents from?
K: So my Mom was born in Saint Vincent and moved to the states when she was seven years old - she lived in Philly for a couple of years and has resided in New York ever since. My father was born in New York and his mother was born in Cuba and then migrated to Jamaica and married my grandfather, and they migrated here in the 80s. So it’s a very Caribbean, Afro-Latin, West Indian family.
D: Are there other things that hail from Herland?
K: One of the things I brought to college, was a Barnum and Bailey clown cup that I’ve had since I was five. I was walking home with my mom from the circus and we got mugged. I fought so hard to save my mom and she told me to go home - we were on our block already and I said, “No I’m not gonna leave you,” but she still told me to go, so I ran home. When she came back she only had this mug and an empty purse. That cup symbolizes Herland for me – there was this big dude attacking her and I was trying to fight for her and she wanted to be able to bring something back, so she fought for that cup. So I carry that around also as a symbol of that grip and that fight that I believe exists in Herland.
D: Walk me through your debut track.
K: The first one that I put out was “Gold Digga” which was very much about me being outside of school, and still having to dig for the gold. Being a black woman in America, it doesn’t really matter if I’m a scholar. (Laughs) I mean it does in some regard: the paper means something, but I still have to fight and I still have to dig. You go to school, you get the paper and then you get the gold and then that’s how it’s supposed to work. You know? So I think “Gold Digga” was about having to keep digging. I first had to dig for the shovel with my hands - and I have to do so much work to even just get a piece of this entire pie. I’m literally still digging. That was the first thing I wrote; it was really easy. I wrote it as a freestyle poem.
D: Which is the most difficult track you’ve worked on?
K: The hardest track was probably “After Midnight.” That song can take whatever life the listener wants it to, but it’s based off of a really good friend of mine who passed away. He was one of the first people to start calling me Kat and he helped me be who I was. I fall in love with my friends so genuinely, so that song was just for him. It was hard to be that vulnerable; I didn’t realize I could. I recorded it three times, because the first two times I was just crying so much. That was definitely hard, not just content wise but just being able to share it.
D: Conversely, which came out the easiest?
K: I think the easiest one was probably “She Different.” It was easy because I was just having more fun. Sometimes I get really caught in the writerly side of things ‘cause that’s my land! I’m a writer - you edit and you copy edit and you workshop and you go back and you try footnotes: there’s this whole process. But “She Different” was me deciding that I’m gonna have fun! I’m gonna dance, I’m gonna laugh, I’m gonna groove out, and do more of what I did when I was free-styling. Just go for it. Feel it, talk to the motherlands, talk to the Betty Davises, talk to the Diana Rosses - channel them, feel it and let it out. And they spoke through me, and “She Different” just came out. I wrote that in a day... less than a day.
D: What’s the message?
K: People will project things onto you but as long as you know that you’re different, that’s okay - it’s okay to be unique. “She Different” means we’re crazy… Or, we’re actually a little bit more enlightened than you. (Laughs) It is supposed to be humorous, but there’s definitely truth in that humor.
D: That’s so great. Returning to your poetry, one of our favourite lines from, oh, Godiva [k]new nude is, “the darker the berry, the sweeter the juice but you probably drink water.” How do you define your blackness as a woman of color and how do you explain that truth to the rest of the world?
K: Holy shit, you’re getting there. (Laughs). I feel like I define my blackness by taking up space; I define it through embracing where I come from, and what I don’t know about the African diaspora. As I have been getting older, I’m trying less to point out specifics of what blackness means. I was walking past [the chainstore] Rainbow recently, and there was a dashiki in the store. If I’m not mistaken, Rainbow is white owned. And they were selling polyester dashiki’s for five dollars.
D: What are dashikis?
K: Dashikis are traditional shirts usually worn by men, from the Yoruba people of West Africa. They became really popular in the States during the 70s, but they’ve always been around. So I walked past that and I immediately said to myself, “They’re selling blackness for five dollars. They’re selling polyester blackness for five dollars.” And to me that’s the antithesis of defining blackness. When I said that I define my blackness, I’m acknowledging that there has been lost history. I myself have this urge to make up for lost time and immediately place myself in something that, to the outside world, looks black; I’ve divorced that. I’ve divorced wanting to get a dashiki for five dollars because my blackness isn’t something that can be bought. I have always been black. And the fact that I am not wearing a dashiki or don’t know a traditional African language doesn’t mean that I am any less black than someone who has that access, it just means that where I am both geographically and temporally is a part of my specific blackness. My individual narrative doesn’t take away from this collective identity that I feel a part of. By being an artist, being able to define that truth, and by sharing my nuanced individual narrative, I'm coming to terms with it, really.
D: Do you think it’s difficult to define your blackness because there’s almost, as you said, very little authentic examples of what true blackness means to black women?
K: If I were to say what the truth about black women is, it’s sentiments. It’s grit. It’s funk. It’s dance. It’s beat. It’s truckage. It’s grip. For me it’s not something that I visualize, it’s something that I feel. And I think that in some way there might be overlap with other black women. In Toni Morrison’s Beloved, there is this one part where she talks about the scars on [Sethe] the mother’s back, and how - in some way - that was her womanhood. That was her black womanhood; it was those scars. It’s been passed down even though the next generation won’t necessarily have those visual scars; it is something that is lived through, it is transgenerational. So I think the truth is accepting what’s before you and understanding that it is not always visual. It’s not just about what you look like, it’s about that history, that family, that collective identity and narrative. Then, also being able to find the individual in that.
D: In "Oh, Godiva [k]new nude," you describe your agency as “power and reason” and you say that those things were yours but you didn’t realize they were yours. When did you realize this?
K: 19 was a magical year for me. My sophomore year of college was a magical year: a lot of challenging myself and my beliefs, a lot of unlearning, a lot of unpacking and really trying to rebuild. I realized that I still was judging myself alongside other people who look like me and who didn’t look like me, who had different stories, who had similar stories, and I realized that I was giving this exterior world power over how I defined myself. And it’s interesting that sex is kind of what got me there. I do have a history of sexual abuse, sexual violence. And I think that... understanding that I was no longer a victim but someone who had experienced sexual violence was really important for me. I feel like once I freed myself of guilt, it opened up this window for realizing that it can also be identity violence in some way: you can say no and still be taken advantage of. And that’s very physical. It’s this continuous journey of unlearning and then repacking; unpacking and then rebuilding. For me it started with just understanding what my history of sexual violence was, and then realizing how I was able to understand that and accept it – not accept sexual violence as a thing but accept that I had been a victim. And I use “had” very poignantly. I can apply that same methodology of understanding to understanding that my body in general, my identity had been in the hands of others.
D: I really like what you said about “identity violence.” It’s too easy to let the way others think of you become the only way you think about yourself sometimes.
K: Yep. I was thinking of myself as a victim. And I couldn’t see myself outside of that. That also applied to not having full agency over how I defined myself.
D: How would you describe your personal style?
K: I wrote a piece once about scars. It’s a nonfiction essay, about my piercings and tattoos and how, in some ways, they are scars. And I feel like I - again with this idea of agency and just saying fuck it to everyone - I get to scar myself. So I actually have given myself my own tattoos and pierced my own piercings. I think that’s part of my personal style. I just wear whatever the fuck I want to. (Laughs) Like today I’m wearing jogging pants and a t-shirt and that was just ‘cause I wanted to be comfortable. Then there are times when I’m like, “I wanna be really sexy.” Sometimes that “sexy” is me wearing baggy jeans and a sports bra and sometimes that’s me putting on a little black dress and some six inch heels. But one of the main things that I always strive for is being okay with not fitting into a box. I think the one thing about my physical appearance that has less of that versatility is my hair. I have locks for a reason, and it’s because I’m locking in a particular energy and I’m growing with it. So, unlike my clothes which I can take off, my hair is something that’s very naked and it’s always going to be there: it’s always gonna hold this energy. This hair is bigger than me. It’s on my head, but it’s way bigger than me. It tells stories that I don’t even know.
D: Do you think you’ve changed as an artist since you started?
K: I definitely have changed. I think because I started strictly freestyle rapping and then started taking music seriously with bass and lyrics, very much in the spirit of punk rock music and Patti Smith - I kind of abandoned hip hop at that point. Then, since understanding a little bit more about music as a whole - and also who I am as a whole - punk rock and hip hop became less distinct and more complimentary. Now I realize I can marry all of these things that I thought were disparate interests and make them one, all under the same persona. I really believe in the idea of people being able to embody multiple identities and intersectionality in general. I feel like that is represented in my music as well.
Following the evolution of Kat, it’s uncertain where and when she’ll reach her maxim, but we will be watching closely, waiting for the revolution of womanhood to take place. If it’s anyone to lead our exodus to Herland, we’d vote Kat. That’s for certain.