Lebanese-British Music Artist Maya Marie Teases Debut Album Dubbed "Antelias"

I had the great pleasure and honor of interacting with Lebanese-British music artist Maya Marie, who recently launched her debut album Antelias in an ode to war-fraught Lebanon. Maya was born and raised in Beirut during the height of the Civil War, and she and her family straddled living between Cyprus and Lebanon before seeking asylum in the UK in 1989. However, the memories and scars of war are indelible, and she invokes them masterfully in Antelias and single “Shelter.”

Read on for my exchange with the decorated musical talent, whose work via band New Pharaohs can be accessed freely on Spotify.

Maya Marie of the band New Pharaohs

(1) You mentioned being half-Lebanese, and that your father continues to reside in Antelias. With what other ethnic background do you identify? What year did you leave Lebanon? Where do you presently live? 

My mother is Irish-British, and she came to Lebanon when she was 21 to study Arabic and nursing. She met my father on the AUB campus. We left a few times in the mid-1980s and split our time between Cyprus and Lebanon. At one point, I was attending school both in Limassol and in Rabweh. My Dad would take me back to Beirut on the ferry so that I could continue my education. But Beirut was already feeling like a ghost town, and I hated being away from my mother and brother. Eventually we moved to London in 1989 when I was 10. Moving to London from the Middle East was a serious culture shock to me, and I struggled a lot in the beginning.

I continue to visit Lebanon every year, and my dad remains in Antelias in our old apartment.

A photo of Maya on the Cyprus-Lebanon ferry. She was attending school in both countries.

(2) Have you been able to transform your music into a professional pursuit? 

I have. Before New Pharaohs, I was in my other band, Sohodolls. We had a record deal in the UK and Japan, so we toured Korea, Japan, Russia, Europe and the United States. We had our songs featured three times in the HBO series Gossip Girl, which brought us instant recognition globally. I loved that overnight our audience became younger and female and, dare I say, more glamorous?!

After that, our music featured in Nip/Tuck, Californication, and the film “The Vow,” and our music was used in TV commercials globally for Max Factor and Budweiser. I've had a couple of publishing deals, as I also write for other artists (British pop group, Girls Aloud, and the Korean pop group, Twice), so I can more or less sustain myself.

(3) Where do you perform?

At the moment, plans are on hold until music venues open again. But I have previously performed at Wembley Arena in the UK, every dive venue in the UK, the Playboy mansion in Moscow (for the Playmate of the Year Awards), Tokyo, Seoul, New York, LA, and most European cities in fact. 

(4) What are your aspirations in the music world?

I want to shoot my music videos in Lebanon to highlight the complexity of our terrain, architecture and people. I get so sick of seeing the Beirut that Hollywood projects - shot in a bazaar in Morocco with dust and animals everywhere. It's so insulting and it's kind of racist to assume that anything east or south of Paris is a homogeneous desert. When I tell my friends that there isn't a square inch of desert in Lebanon, they can't believe it. The same goes for Hollywood's casting of Lebanese/Palestinians, etc. To them we're all one dark fuzzy face with crazy darting eyes. And more often than not, we are usually the bad guys together with the Russians. So this needs to be corrected, and I am desperate to start the film rolling!  

Secondly, it would be a dream to sing my New Pharaohs songs to Lebanese, in Lebanon! I wrote ‘Empire,’ ‘Shelter’ and ‘Ya Habibi Yalla’ about Lebanon. I have a larger following in Turkey than in my home country, and it's because I played there once. So I really need to sing in Lebanon to feel complete! I visit Lebanon every year, as I miss my father and cousins, so inshallah it will be possible in the coming months.

Maya is half-Lebanese, half-British/Irish

You can access Maya’s debut album “Antelias” on Spotify here. The current single is 'Shelter' - a song about the oil wars that Lebanon endured and the “inhuman actions of old men making decisions to bomb people without impunity,” as Maya describes. But it also speaks to the survival instinct of the Lebanese, that even if war is imminent, we still know how to live, love, and enjoy life to the fullest. Maya composed it with Roc Nation's Jesse Frasure in Nashville, Tennessee.

Official Press Release:

Critically acclaimed New Pharaohs – the gloriously exotic project of singer Maya Marie – has released its brand new single ‘Shelter’ taken from the debut album Antelias.

Melancholic vocals and big hooks highlight the song’s infectious melodies and poignant lyricism, alluding to singer Maya’s experiences of life and connections to an ill-fated homeland, one that has been used as a battlefield for many proxy wars. 

 ‘Shelter’ is the first new material from New Pharaohs in over two years and follows its previous singles, ‘Nothing Without You,’ ‘This Changes Everything,’ ‘Empire,’ and ‘Ya Habibi Yalla,’ which have variously garnered acclaim from the likes of Notion, The Guardian, The Line Of Best Fit and Beat Magazine, alongside radio play from Radio 1 and 6Music, and playlist additions from Radio X (UK).

New Pharaohs is the project of Maya (Hawie) Marie, formerly lead singer of electro-pop act Sohodolls, who were signed to Alan McGees’ Poptones label and enjoyed considerable international success. Maya also co-wrote Nicola Roberts’ single ‘Beat Of My Drum’ alongside Grammy nominated Dimitri Tikovoi and Diplo. She had a number one hit in Asia for a song she wrote with Charli XCX and MNEK for girl band Twice. 

Now the release of ‘Shelter’ and the magnificent album Antelias sees Maya – aka New Pharaohs – at her most personal and honest. Channeling the influences of her Lebanese childhood and emotions reignited by the recent war in Syria, New Pharaohs infuses musical references as varied as Fleetwood Mac, Lana Del Rey, The Cardigans and The Eagles.

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