By Angela Romanos
In her first music video ever, Cuja (Alyssa Cudamat) plays her electro-pop over beautiful frames laden with themes of the divine feminine, mysticism, and confidence. As the sole woman in the video, Cuja is shown as a strong woman of color having fun by herself, with no one else influencing her.
As a Filipina-American, Cuja (Alyssa Cudamat) is no stranger to the lack of Asian representation in the music industry. Cuja brings us electro-pop music with messages of female empowerment scattered throughout her songs. The team at Honeysuckle was able to talk with Cuja about her music, her goals, and her part in diversifying the music industry.
HS: How did growing up as a Filipina-American shape your identity? How does your identity translate to your music?
C: I grew up in Denver, and I was just about the only Filipinx I knew besides my dad! I felt very far away from my culture. Additionally, the public schools I attended were very segregated between black, white and Latinx. The Asian kids sort of floated around. I considered myself to be surrounded by what I called a ‘white narrative,’ where I wouldn’t necessarily face violent racism but was constantly subjected to the micro-agressions that wear down the Asian-American community and contribute to larger systemic issues. I felt misrepresented and underrepresented, like all Asian-Americans growing up then. The drive for me to pursue music came from the need for visibility. Not for me, but for some young AAPI girl somewhere looking for a pop star who looks just like her. We see how visibility is so important to all marginalized groups, so I decided that my mission as an artist was to tell my unique story and support as many marginalized people as I can in the process. I think in many ways, this drive comes from a deep connection to the Filipino culture. We are workers, we are lovers, enjoyers of life and resisters. There are spiritual genetics that are passed down when you are born Filipinx. It’s warrior blood.
HS: Do you have experiences in which people treated you differently growing up or in your professional music career, due to your identity?
C: The stereotypes of Asian-Americans are still waging war on us in the US. I still fight against comments about being good at math or a bad driver. But I think professionally, what we’re seeing is a lot of confusion over cultural appropriation. When I tell people my heritage is a part of my music platform, I still get suggestions that I should wear a kimono in my music video or try to look more Asian. Much of this is simple ignorance rather than maliciousness, so it’s a part of the job to educate people on how to talk about AAPI people and remind them that our cultures are not accessories to wear. When I do get treated differently or experience something offensive, I try my best to address it right then, and if I meet resistance (which I always do if I’m talking to a white man), I make the note that I won’t work with them again. I’d rather spend my energy on people who will do the work to uplift others and practice compassion.
HS: What are your beliefs concerning mysticism, such as the influence of tarot cards in your music video? How does that spiritual aspect affect your look/sound as an artist?
C: Tarot has been in my life for a long time and has provided me with so much guidance. The Queen of Swords has been a card in my life that has always come up and in many ways; I consider myself to be her. She is a strong women who has discovered her strength only through the act of being alone. I related to that a lot when I was growing up and didn’t have many friends and during times of hardship where I had no support. The commitment to pursuing music is a lonely one to start with. You are pretty much on your own until people start wanting to jump on the bandwagon. Hopefully soon I’ll evolve from the Queen of Swords into something more collaborative, like The Lovers.
HS: What is your message to women who are single or recently getting out of a relationship? Do you think alone time should be embraced?
C: Absolutely! Being alone is difficult, and I admit it is not for everyone. My advice is to let the disruption of a breakup reveal who and what really needs to be in your life. Then, put your energy and love into those things/people. All of my breakups have shown me who my true friends are. They’ve also helped me realize what type of people I really need in my life.
HS: Where do you gain confidence from and what advice do you have for women looking to believe in themselves?
C: After I graduated college, my self-esteem was truly in the gutter. I put a lot of energy into practicing yoga and loving my body through fitness. I think exercise is great for your brain and your body. It doesn’t have to be rigorous workouts or trendy cycling places either. Sometimes, just going for a walk and knowing that you’re doing it for your body is enough to give yourself a little love. On another note, I think it’s important that you feel cute in your ‘laying around the house’ clothes. We don’t really think about it and for years I just wore old sweats, feeling totally bad about myself. Now when I wear some cute lounge pants or something, it’s like I’m showing up for myself. Building confidence while sitting around eating chips and watching ‘Friends’ is a win, I think.
HS: I know you’re releasing this amazing video; what’s next for you, if you have any idea as of right now?
C: I’m doing a lot of writing over the next few months and will be working on some fun content to share in the fall. Hoping to get another EP out to you early next year! We’ll see!
Check out her new music video for New Bitch, Who Dis? here.
Angela Romanos is a staff editor for Honeysuckle Magazine. She is currently a second-year at New York University, pursuing her passions in sociology and economics. In her free time, Angela enjoys playing basketball, debating communism, and cooking vegetarian meals.You can follow her on Instagram at @AngelaRomanos