Issue 02 Cover: Maya Jama

Photography by Laura McCluskey / Styling by Calvin Opaleye / Creative Direction by Hamish Stephenson / Set Design by Lyndon Ogbourne / Words by Storm Thompson / Hair by Aaron Carlo / Beauty by Letitia Sophia
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This article is an excerpt from the Maya Jama cover feature from Issue 02 of GAFFER: Heart & Soul. Available now from our online store now.

Maya Jama is at the top of her game right now and it’s been a long time coming. The poster girl for a new generation has been navigating her way through the music and media industry since the age of 16. She began her career in London presenting the weekly music video countdown on JumpOff. TV. She then held the well-respected drive-time radio slot at Rinse FM, one of the most uncompromising and innovative music stations based out of East London. Now, Maya confidently graces global airwaves and screens with her light-hearted tongue-in-cheek demeanour. From Stand up to Cancer on C4 to True Love or Lies, the 25-year-old’s CV is bursting at the seams. 

Maya was raised by her Swedish mother in central Bristol right next to Stokes Croft. “I had the cool mum that let my friends come and stay late and we would have mini parties in my bedroom” she reminisces. She also jokes that another overriding memory growing up is of her brothers in tears when Liverpool FC would lose. Despite being a Bristol girl, Maya spent a fair amount of her childhood in Sweden. “I went to nursery there and my younger brother was born there too. When I lived at my mum’s house we would go back to Sweden every Christmas, Easter and summer holiday,” explains Maya. Although she is super close to her roots in Sweden she admits she’s never been to Somalia before, the birthplace of her father. Nevertheless she told us Somalia is definitely a country she wants to visit soon. 

We asked Maya to paint a picture of some of her earliest memories of football and she begins by saying “I remember it was a World Cup, I can’t remember what year but Brazil and Sweden were in the quarter-finals. I had the Swedish flag hanging outside the house and had face paints. I hadn’t even watched that much football before but it made me so upset when they lost just because I got so stuck into it. I cried and I think my Mum let me have school off the next day.” 

During the 2014 FIFA World Cup, Copa90, blessed Jama with the opportunity to really immerse herself in the spirit of football. She hosted a travelogue covering the competition in Brazil entitled Maya’s FIFA World Cup Cities. “It’s still one of the best trips of my life,” she empowers. “I was there for two months and I got to experience the whole of Brazil and to be at probably one the best World Cups there is ever going to be in life! It was incredible. Brazil was like half carnival, half football tournament. I got to meet all these footballers and get stuck in with the fans.” As she tells the story, you can literally see the excitement of the trip still fresh in her mind as though it happened just last week.

Young Maya always had huge aspirations for herself and her fearlessness has been installed in her since she was a little girl. “I would perform dance moves and songs to all my family members and charge them 20p for a ticket to my front room,” prides Jama. It’s no wonder people would always tell her she would end up on TV. Some of us may find the thought of others having such high expectations hard to handle however for Maya it didn’t feel that way. “My mum was kind of just happy for me in any way shape or form. Even if I worked in a corner shop in Bristol for the rest of our life she would be like ‘I’m so proud of you’” swears Jama sweetly. 

Growing up, the BBC Radio 1 presenter really looked up to Davina McCall who she describes her as her childhood ‘hero’. “I just thought she was a G. She was one of the first presenters I saw on TV that showed me you can just be yourself and have a laugh. It doesn’t have to be so prim and proper and perfect”. The media industry is a tough one to crack and sometimes it can feel like it’s impossible to make a name for yourself among the big corporations. In 2014 Maya joined MTV as a presenter for The Wrap Up and made the first crack in the tough outer shell of the industry. “When it finally happened and I got that screen test audition, I felt like this is my one shot and I’m going to make it, my life is going to change forever. It didn’t but it got me on the right path. I remember leaving the building praying my little heart out,” chuckled Jama. It seems like she’s been soaring through that “right path” ever since. In 2017, Jama made history by becoming the youngest ever person to host the MOBO Awards, which she did alongside presenter and former JLS member Marvin Humes. Something she describes as a “pinch me moment.”

It hasn’t always been smooth sailing for Jama and like all of us she’s had to overcome challenges, heartache and feelings of doubt too. “I feel like every person in life doubts themselves, I’ve had a million ‘doubty’ moments but I think that’s what separates people that go super far to those that don’t. If you don’t let the doubts take over your performance or state of mind and you just see it as ‘yeah do you know what, I’m human, so I’m not going to feel 100% all the time,’ it’s all in my mind I’m fully capable of this,” affirms Jama. 

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“If you don’t let the doubts take over your performance or state of mind and you just see it as ‘yeah do you know what, I’m human, so I’m not going to feel 100% all the time,’ it’s all in my mind I’m fully capable of this.”

The optimistic radio and TV presenter put her glass half-full outlook on life to good use during Mental Health Awareness week this year. She returned to her community in Bristol and gave advice to young people on how to deal with their emotions and tackle bullying at her old school in Cotham. “You should check on yourself and take moments out when you need it,” Maya advises. She explains that whenever she feels overwhelmed or not in ‘my best spirit,’ she has a moment in the bathroom and asks herself what’s the worst that can happen before giving herself a little pep talk. Talking and communicating to people in times of trouble is another coping mechanism embraced by Maya. If it’s relationship drama she goes to friends Ellie or Nadia who she describes as “quite reasonable and logical”. If its work related she goes to her Manager and if she’s just feeling totally overwhelmed with life and “needs to Zen” then she has her friend Penny who will always pray for her. 

This year, Maya went back to her football roots when she was a guest on Twitch Prime Crown Cup, a FIFA tournament celebrating Amazon Prime Day. “I think football as a game is so special mainly because it brings people together no matter where you are in the world. It doesn’t discriminate against race or class or anything. You can just get fully stuck in, it changes lives. When I used to be a football presenter you’d meet these people where football would be there whole entire life and the joy that it brings to young people in any situation and any walk of life it’s a special game,” expresses Jama. 

Outside of the football world, Jama has achieved a number of other great successes over the past year and is becoming a bigger household name in the game by the minute. Last year, Maya secured the job as team captain on everyone’s new favourite Hip Hop comedy show Don’t Hate The Playaz on ITV2. The first series was a major success and got nominated for a Royal Television Society Award this year in the Entertainment category. Maya presents the high-energy panel show with Birmingham rap star Lady Leshurr and stand-up comedian Jordan Stephens. She fits in with the show with ease as she swans about the stage free-styling lyrics which give flashbacks of her Rinse FM days when she used to jokingly rap with urban legends like Alesha Dixon and Craig David. 

At first glance her 950K Instagram followers may assume that her job is easy because they often see her dancing, joking and enjoying life, however, Maya opens up about what she thinks is the biggest misconception about presenters and creators like herself. “A lot of people see it and think ‘oh, you just talk,’ but there’s loads of technical things behind it. You’ve got to be able to talk to everyone, make them feel comfortable and manage Autocue.” Maya continues by adding that you have to to the juggle voices in your ear when you’re doing live and it is actually a ‘hard skill.’ Although she admits it’s not “heart surgery” she’s not afraid to defend her craft and certainly won’t undermine her work ethic. 

Despite Jama being so young, people have always commented on her maturity stating that at times she embodies a 30-year-old mindset. But the 25-year-old puts it down to her life experience. “I moved out at 16 and came to London on my own and was always super independent from a young age and then when I moved to London naturally all my friends became older than me. So, from the age of 16 growing up with people at least 7 years older than me so I’ve kind of got their state of mind and then the independence of having to pay your own bills from a young age and actually grafting and working and being responsible for yourself,” she stresses. 

One of Jama’s biggest virtues in life is that she doesn’t hold grudges or hold onto negative emotions for longer than necessary. In this fast paced world her easy-going mindset is something we can all learn from. 

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Like this article? Enjoy all cover features and interviews in Issue 02: Heart and Soul – available now from the GAFFER Online Shop.

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Issue 02: Heart & Soul
Ada Hegerberg, Andre Gray, Maya Jama, Andreas Perreira, Christian Pulisic
GAFFER Issue 02: ‘Heart & Soul.’ Honouring the way football cultivates community spirit, empowers the next generation and gives fans, teams and players something bigger and more beautiful to believe in. Be prepared to meet the people who are driving the culture to new heights and those who are set to change the face of the game forever.
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