Music, Mother and Marriage
Interview and photos by: Lexi Lewis
Smooth Jazz Magazine’s Lexi Lewis had the opportunity to speak with Maysa on the Capital Jazz Super Cruise V to talk about her musical past, present and future.
SJM: You have been in the music business for 20 years now. Tell me about the evolution of your music from then to now.
Maysa: Wow, I think we’ll start in 1991. I was singing backgrounds for Stevie Wonder. And I auditioned over the phone to become the lead singer for a band called Incognito. And during that time I was just trying to find myself really and musically I really didn’t know where I was going. But joining Incognito really started bringing focus to what my sound was going to be. I knew I wanted to sing jazz and my biggest influences were Sarah Vaughn, Chaka Khan and Patti LaBelle. And I think I tried to put them all in one person. Basically, being the lead singer of Incognito, the leader of the band (Bluey), encouraged me to scat and encouraged me to use different colors with my voice. But from then to now, it’s just a steady progression of growth from me period. I’ve gone through periods where my voice changed dramatically into a lower register; almost man sounding voice because of vocal damage. So when I listen to my records I can hear the transition of when I was with Incognito sounding like a really young 25 year old girl to really hearing the wear and tear on my voice throughout the years. We really tried to keep it together. I think me and my producers did a good job trying to mask some of that. Now it seems like on this last record I feel like I’ve returned, emotionally, to a more youthful sound and it kinda came through in the record.
SJM: You said “vocal damage.” What have you done to repair that damage?
Maysa: Well, it turned out that the doctor’s found out that I have something called silent reflux and I don’t have any symptoms of it. I didn’t know I had it but it was burning my vocal cords. So I drink a concoction of apple cider vinegar, honey and water and I sip on that daily.
SJM: And is that your regimen before a show?
Maysa: Oh yeah (laughing) and during – just when I feel like my voice is dry. I don’t tend to drink water during a show and I think that’s one of my biggest problems because I’m so focused on the show that even when my voice gets dry I just sing through it and that’s not a good thing. So now I try to sip on that [the apple cider vinegar, honey and water] during the concert.
SJM:Now you said earlier that you knew you wanted to sing jazz.
Maysa: Oh yeah. I knew it for a long time.
SJM: Why jazz?
Maysa: Because my uncle turned me on to jazz when I was twelve. I would sing a lot a pop music at that time and he ask me if I could please turn on PBS one night and Al Jarreau was on there scatting. I was like oh, okay….I really want to do that because I really loved the fact he sounded like an instrument in the band and he wasn’t just a singer out front, he was a part of the music and I always wanted to do that.
SJM: Who has been your biggest supporter in your career?
Maysa: My biggest supporter I would say is my family and friends in total as a whole because they supported me in every way they’ve helped me up when I got down and wanted to quit and encouraged me not to quit. They’ve watched my back when I had to deal with people in the industry weren’t nice to me or weren’t fair so they were my biggest supporters.
SJM: What was your most difficult period in your career in the 20 years now in the industry?
Maysa: In the musicians line of business it is a feast or famine lifestyle. You can make a lot of money and then for six months you don’t work anywhere so those periods in my life have been the most difficult. That’s probably been the hardest because I’ve consistently made records either every year or every two years for twenty years, I’ve been really Blessed.
SJM:Do you play any instruments?
Maysa: I play piano just for myself, for my own enjoyment not for everybody in the world to hear (laughing).
SJM: What advice would you give an aspiring singer?
Maysa: Focus on your craft and make sure you develop your own sound and not try to be the next Beyonce or next Nicki Minaj or the next somebody who is already established because what happens is you end up chasing something that is not true to yourself. And once you are true to yourself and you express that, there is a stamp on it; nobody can be you.
SJM: So there really is something to what those American Idol judges say when they say find yourself; be yourself.
Maysa: Right, exactly.
SJM: Do you get invited to speak to children about music?
Maysa: Oh yeah.
SJM: Tell me a little bit about that.
Maysa: Oh I love going to schools to talk to kids. I haven’t done it in a while but when I do it’s so fun because they are little sponges and their minds are so open to it. And the thing is, I want to expose them to more than what they see on MTV. They are growing up in an MTV world and now all they see is people kissing and what does that have to do with music? So, my whole thing is to get them exposed and they are excited about it. I did a scat class to teach the kids how to scat and do syllables and stuff like that and they really liked that.
SJM: Can I take that class? (laughing)
Maysa: That would be cool, that would be really cool.
SJM: Your CDs, you said you made one almost every year of your career, which one has been your most successful?
Maysa: My most successful one was called "All My Life" where I think I sold about 300,000 worldwide. I think it was more successful because I did a song on there called Got To Be Strong and I kinda mimicked Sade on that song, she’s my favorite singer, and I wanted a Sade type song on my album and we did that and people were waiting for Sade to come back and they probably thought it was her!
Maysa: Yes, so that helped with my sales a lot.
SJM: Wonderful, if it works…right?
SJM: Who are the artists that you enjoy working with?
Maysa: Wow, Will Downing is one of my favorite people to work with. Angela Johnson, she’s a fantastic producer and singer.
SJM: She’s here (performing on the cruise)
Maysa: Yes, I sing with her Friday night; she is awesome. So those are two of my favorite people.
SJM: Who have you worked with the most in your career and who would you like to work with that you haven’t?
Maysa: I’ve sung more with Will Downing more than anybody. I’ve sung with Walter Beasley, Gerald Veasley…pretty much everyone that’s on the cruise I’ve worked with at some point but I would love to have Chaka Khan produce my vocals one time; that would be awesome.
SJM: Wow….that’s huge.
Maysa: Yeah. (laughing)
SJM: I love Chaka too….in addition to you!
SJM: Changing the subject a little bit, tell me something funny that happened to you on stage or prior to a show.
Maysa: I remember being on the road doing a concert and the people were a little shady. So I’d gone on stage already and my tour manager and best friend, Troy, told me to go on and he’ll get the money. So I remember during the middle of the concert and he hadn’t come out yet so I don’t know what’s going on. He was supposed to give me a signal. So in the middle of the concert I stop singing and I saw him walking down the hall and he said “keep on singing, I got the money, keep on singing.” (laughing)
SJM: You had to check on the money, right? Or were you checking on Troy? (laughing)
Maysa: (laughing) I had to check on the money so I kept on going; it was funny.
SJM: You seem to have a great sense of humor after watching you perform.
Maysa: Aw, thank you.
SJM: Where did you get that?
Maysa: My Mother. My gosh, she is probably one of the funniest people in the world. She doesn’t mean to be, she speaks the truth and from her heart and she is no nonsense so whenever we did anything she would just say one line and that would just set me straight. I called her a lot from the road when I needed to get some support because something is going really wrong or somebody is acting crazy and she’d just say one thing and that would make me feel better.
SJM: Now what do you when you are not singing?
Maysa: I don’t think I do anything besides singing. When I’m at home, I’m pretty much at work on the computer trying to plan the next gig or trying to do work for the record company that I have to do and spend time with my son and take him out and spoil him, that’s about it.
SJM: Sound like you need a little “me” time.
Maysa: I know, yeah, I do. (laughing)
SJM: What is your favorite color?
SJM: Why Blue?
Maysa: It’s been that way since I was a kid, since about five or six years old. I was drawn to that color mostly because it’s peaceful and it makes me feel good.
SJM: You are a veteran performer of the Capital Jazz Super cruise.
SJM: So being from Baltimore, how much fun is it performing with people from your area?
Maysa: Oh, I love it. I want to have a big Baltimore concert because so many great musicians come from Baltimore and they don’t really perform together. I want to help do that when I get home but it’s fun seeing everybody on the boat.
SJM: Is there a performance in the past on a cruise that is very special to you or meaningful to you for some reason?
Maysa: Well, I don’t know about the past but this recent one.
SJM: Really, this one?
Maysa: Yeah, it meant a lot to me. The musicians worked really hard and I really didn’t have a lot of time to rehearse. But the musicians worked really hard to put on the show and when you come on first, you kinda have to set the standard. The people look forward to seeing what’s going to happen the rest of the week and you have to do the best you can and these musicians pulled through for me. And before we walked on stage we had a prayer and I swear, it seemed like God walked into the room, took over and that made me feel really good.
SJM: Well that certainly came through on stage and you certainly set the bar very high!
Maysa: Thank you.
SJM: In closing, would you share something with me, about you, that you’ve not shared with anyone else who has interviewed you?
Maysa: Wow, I tell my business so much I’m not sure if there’s anything else left. (laughing)
Maysa: Anything else that I haven’t told anybody….whoa, that’s a deep question. I don’t know…I’m really open but my biggest dream is to be married, to love and be married and that’s my biggest dream right now.
Maysa's latest CD "Motions Of Love" released on November 08, 2011 features 14 songs. With speical guests Stevie Wonder, as producer of the ballad he and Maysa wrote especially for this album "Sweet Dreams" and R&B heartthrob Dwele's soulful vocal on the hit single "Flower Girl" which also has a video of this song.
View this and other Maysa Leaks's CD's at her website HERE.
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