The Mak Nova Experience

By Brian Upton
June 5, 2024

I know what it’s like when you can’t use your voice. I’ve made it to a place where I’ve found my voice, and I want to help other people get here so they also feel more freedom.”

Mak Nova

Only one person had a better year in 2023 than Makana Curtiss.  

That would be the dynamic on-stage persona that Makana created: Mak Nova.  

To say that Mak Nova, named “Musician of the Year” at the 2023 NEXTies Awards, burst on the scene from nowhere is not too far from the truth.  

Her bio, well-trodden territory over the last 12 months covered beautifully by our local media, is still worth acknowledging because of her unique story in the spotlight.  

Curtiss hails from Duncans Mills, CA., a small unincorporated community nestled off the coast in Sonoma County with a population under 200. Early musical influences had young Makana dreaming of the mic and a rap career. The artistic mind, however, has a way of introducing other avenues of expression to those searching. Curtiss gravitated in her teens and early 20s toward the freedom and liberation the theater offered. She credits her time with local burlesque troupe The Do-Rights as an integral building block of the liberty she manifests on stage.  

On May 25, 2020, a real-life event transformed Makana Curtiss, impacting her not only personally but also as a performer, when George Floyd, a Black man, was killed by Derek Chauvin. Chauvin, a white police officer, knelt on Floyd’s neck for nearly 10 minutes outside a convenience store, leading to Floyd’s tragic death.

The murder not only lifted voices across the nation demanding a long-overdue reckoning of inequity in the justice system but also triggered a series of profound reflections for Curtiss. These reflections forged a deep connection between the sheltered, self-professed theater nerd from Duncans Mills and her culture and heritage on both local and global levels. Additionally, the event served as a catalyst for the eventual creation of the Mak Nova persona a couple of years later.

As Curtiss walks toward my table for the Vibes interview, I look forward to getting to know this person a little bit better and also cannot help but wonder who I will have the pleasure of having the conversation with… 



VIBES: Hey there, Mak. Or am I interviewing Makana?  

Mak Nova: Both. [laughs] Makana and Mak Nova can occupy the same space.  

VIBES: Has it always been about music?  

Mak Nova: Believe it or not, there wasn’t a whole lot of music in my house because my mom has a rare condition called synesthesia; when one sense is activated, another unrelated sense is activated at the same time, so music was a trigger, and I was into rap so that wasn’t happening [laughs].  

VIBES: Is there theater DNA in Mak Nova? 

Mak Nova: 100%. I did a theater production with my band, The Kings, at the Santa Cruz Art League last year. It wasn’t publicized that well; it was called “We Are Gold.” It was essentially a story that was built around the current music we had. We had a stage designer and sound technician; I recorded some original audio files we laid over the top like a narrator. And I was the central character in the show, the protagonist that went through a transformation. It was a journey. At the end of the production, I was in a different place than where we started artistically. 

VIBES: So we know that Mak Nova is a created stage persona. Makana is sitting across from me right now. Does Makana have conversations with Mak?   

Mak Nova: Definitely.  

VIBES: How’s that going? 

Mak Nova: [laughs] I love that question: ‘How does that go down?’ Makana is an introvert, highly private. I think Makana understands Mak and tries to stay out of her way when she’s doing her thing. Beyonce says that when she is on stage as Sasha Fierce she’s not responsible for anything Sasha does. [laughs] That’s also the goal for Mak Nova.  

VIBES: How do you describe Mak Nova’s music right now?  

Mak Nova: I’ve been playing around with Afro-hip hop. 

VIBES: Interesting. Has that influence changed in the last year?  

Mak Nova:  The last year? How about the last few months? Yeah, that, too. It might have changed the previous two days even [laughs]  I’m having fun. I want to feel good and for people to feel good when I perform. It’s evolving.  

VIBES: What is the process of a Mak Nova song?  

Mak Nova:  I find a baseline I love that turns me on to speak. Then I see a drum pattern that kicks it off. And then I just go crazy. 

VIBES: Let’s linger on the crazy for a minute.  

Mak Nova: Well, there are some songs many artists talk about that are meant to be like, like it’s downloaded from the universe. Sometimes, I get those downloads. It’s a whole song, and I’m like, this is amazing. Other times, I am chipping away; I’m rewriting. I’m working with my writing partner. I write about 90%. And then he fills in for the rest. His name is MT, and that’s all I’m saying about that [laughs] 

VIBES: You usually get it all laid down in one session?  

Mak Nova: We try. I have some OCD tendencies and have pretty strong feelings about completion. It can be challenging because I also have some ADHD tendencies. So I’m like, this new thing over here is super exciting, right? So, I must have the discipline to stay on it.  

VIBES: How about some inspiration? Do you do anything daily to find balance?  

Mak Nova: For sure. I write every day. I find inspiration in nature. I’m more and more connected to indigenous ways of knowing. That daily writing leads me to places. Elements of that are even in my most recent single, “Walkabout,” about initiation. And, like, that’s a whole rabbit hole. But, like, I’ve had some powerful initiations in my life. And it’s just…. I don’t know how to tie that all together.

VIBES: Is it possible that Mak Nova is a manifestation to be a voice for a reckoning of who Makana Curtiss is? 

Mak Nova: Definitely. I always felt that’s something I always knew wasn’t right. Even as a young girl, even in a small town, you get the trickle of what’s happening outside the broader society. But I think the craziest thing was spending so long not knowing how to articulate it or understand what was happening. 

VIBES: Are you angered about the realities of the world we live in? Or are you a little angry also about being sheltered from it for so long? 

Mak Nova: Interesting question. Yeah, I guess I’m a little angry. I was repressed for a long time. I didn’t understand why things were happening the way they were, why the world was the way it was. I was a young black child in a white town. I didn’t understand why things were happening to me, like in school and couldn’t fully articulate it. My mom’s white, so from a cultural standpoint, I kinda had to figure a lot of it out on my own. Long story short, It was a long journey to get to where I am, where I feel empowered and inspired. I know what it’s like when you can’t use your voice. I’ve made it to a place where I’ve found my voice, and I want to help other people get here so they also feel more freedom. So yes, I’m angry, but I recognize that I’ve had a beautiful journey. I’m enjoying it, feeling grateful for the path that I’m on, and appreciating the way it all happens. I’m just trying to trust it. 




It’s like something inside me, this insatiable energy that is obsessed with music, art, performance and just isn’t going to stop. I don’t know, maybe one day I’ll get tired [laughs], but right now, it’s like a force driving me. 

Mak Nova

VIBES: Did you have a tipping point where you felt empowered?    

Mak Nova: I did. I was a ritual theater intensive. I was part of a ritual theater troupe for three years. The first two years were highly intense. And there’s daily practice. There’s abstaining from substances; it was like, hardcore, it was super hardcore. I went through initiation, and I came out on the other side of it a different person. It makes me think again of my single “Walkabout.” It’s amazing. So, I broke down many barriers and walls within myself through that training. I just found greater freedom for myself and greater freedom of self-expression.

VIBES: Your name ‘Makana’ is Hawaiian. I looked it up, and it means gift. Do you like it? 

Mak Nova: Yeah, for sure. I love my name. But lately, Mak has been resonating more; it feels like big energy. 

VIBES: You were named Musician of the Year last year at the NEXTies. Tell me about that night. 

Mak Nova: My feelings have evolved about that award [laughs]. I think I was in my head a lot that night. And it felt disjointed in real-time. I just couldn’t connect to my actual self at the moment. It was like I was getting this accolade and why I mattered, but I was sitting there thinking, ‘I’m going to do this whether anyone recognizes me or not.’ Right? So, like I said, just deep in my head and overwhelmed a little. Months later, and to this very day, I’m trying to get festivals and book things locally and nationally. I’m like, ‘Oh, I have….. I have this amazing honor and great press. I was like, gosh, dang.’ Thank you, Matthew Swinnerton, Event Santa Cruz, and Lookout [laughs]. It’s just been a great year.  

VIBES: What’s now and next for Mak Nova? 

Mak Nova:  Yeah. So, Mak Nova 2024 is all about business. I am fully stepping into my businesswoman shoes and assembling all the resources I can, studying, writing, performing as much as possible, maybe drop a reggaeton album. Locally and nationally, I’m just pushing for those bookings. 

VIBES: What is the most significant evolution between your first single, “Don’t Rush It,” and “Walkabout” the latest release? 

Mak Nova:  Competence.  

VIBES: As an artist, do you feel every song must be a message? 

Mak Nova: No. Sometimes, it just flows. It has taken me a while to get to that place, though. Mostly, I don’t ever want to be one-dimensional. I just want to be honest and real to my full true self. For example, when I go on tour, I don’t want just to be one part of myself or one song. I want to bring all of me. Sometimes, there is a message; other times, I want to be the girl with her feet in the sand, having fun. 

VIBES: Do you feel any particular boundaries with Mak Nova? 

Mak Nova:  Not at all.  I’m one of those artists who wants to be in the world of ‘Take me or leave me’ because I’m dedicated to the music and the art first. Art is my muse, and I listen and follow it. I’m not here to please people, so they will like it or not, right? They might be mad that I do a pop thing and drop some reggae, but it is easier if I’m true to myself and the art.  

VIBES: Let’s finish with that muse. Tell me about her. 

Mak Nova: Yeah, it’s like something inside me, this insatiable energy that is obsessed with music, art, performance and just isn’t going to stop. I don’t know, maybe one day I’ll get tired [laughs], but right now, it’s like a force driving me.