Maya Azucena Interview by Tom Paul

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    Maya Azucena works hard at getting her music heard around the world. She recently just returned from a full month oversea in China and South East Asia promoting her new release Junkyard Jewel on Purpose Records . Now back in states and barely catching a breather, she is preparing for her May 12th Show at The Blue Note. She has received a lot of positive press regarding her beautiful voice, poignant music and great live performances.

    Maya has been featured this past year on Stephen Marley single "Let Her Dance," from his latest Grammy winning Universal/Tuff Gong release "Mind Control." In addition to keeping a busy touring schedule between the US and Europe where Maya made it to Croatia where Croatian superstar Gibonni put Maya's talents to work on a track entitled "Andejo U Tebi"("Angel In You") on his latest CD. This song garnered 2 Croatian Grammy awards called PORIN with a performance for the ages at a televised ceremony."

    You can go to these links to hear her music, view some great live performances on youtube and read up more on Maya Azucena. and

    Maya's music can be purchased on these websites including her new release "JUNKYARD JEWEL" which is available at the following retailers

    Borders Books and Music - National
    Kemp Hills - DC
    DiscoRama - NYC
    Sound of Market - Philly
    Street Corner - Detroit
    Dr. Wax - Chicago
    Norman - NYC
    Earwax - ATL
    Sounds in Da Hood - ATL
    Bush Baby Cafe - Brooklyn
    BK Music - Richmond , Virginia
    Blue Note Records, Miami, Florida
    Other Music - NYC
    J & R Music World, Amoeba, Virgin Mega Store, Fingerprints

    What was it like to being on the road for a full month? Must've been an incredible learning experience on so many levels?

    A 5-week tour to be specific.  I have desired to be on a focused tour for sometime.  Having always booked my own tours, in the past it has been more sporadic and broken into shorter trips.  This April tour was fantastic, to be able to get into a real unbroken rhythm with my band. However, having toured a lot already, the learning experience had less to do with actual touring and more to do with the incredible people we met in those countries.
    What was it like to perform in countries that you've never performed in before?

    In many ways it is the same, as performing around the US, proving my belief that music is a universal language.  When it comes to hitting the stage, even when there is a language barrier, the people can feel the spirit of what I am singing and they respond similarly.  The thing I said to a friend yesterday is that this tour felt unique because we were in territories where the music wasn't just something they wanted to hear, it was what they "needed" to hear.  There was an overwhelming sense of urgency in every show and a very emotional response, beyond mere entertainment.
    I've heard that the Asian countries are extremely emotional over live music?
    How many countries/cities did you perform in?

    On the contrary, I was warned that the Asian audience, particularly in China, is very NOT emotional and quite reserved. I was told to expect them to clap politely, expressing little enthusiasm, no matter how much they like it.  I was told not to expect them to participate in call-and-response, and definitely not to expect them to dance.  SO, imagine the magnitude of it when every single show we managed to inspire them to their feet, screaming, cheering, dancing and demanding encores. We played in BURMA (Rangoon), CHINA (Beijing, Shenyang, Ghanzhou, Kunming, and Hangzhou), PHILIPPINES (Cebu and Manila), and SRI LANKA (Colombo and Galle).
    Any Classic funny stories from the road that you can share with us?
    I was reading some of your blogs while you were overseas, how important is it to be able to keep in contact with your fans as an Indie Artist via the internet?

    I can't possibly write out all of our stories in this interview.  Please keep posted on my blogs where I am still entering my journal from the trip.  As far as keeping in touch with fans, I have said many times before that I believe my career is founded on real people.  I have not had a luxurious career seated on the lap of an institution. It is the FANS who have made my career so.  Fans can help you to accomplish anything, so give people the benefit of the doubt and show them respect - that's my opinion.
    Talk about the band that plays with you live?

    I have a few configurations of my band. There is an Acoustic Trio; a 7-piece electric band; a 9-piece electric band with horns; a 7-piece Acoustic band with Strings; a 5-piece and a 4-piece electric band.  
    I took a 4-piece on the Asian tour. This is comprised of guitar, drums, keyboard player using left-hand keyboard bass parts, and myself. Comprised of my core team of Christian Ver Halen (acoustic guitar) and Ivan "Ive 09: Katz (drumcussion) we added Bruce Mack to the team.  
    At the Blue Note on Monday we will have my a-list players in a 9-piece

    Christian Ver Halen (guitar & general hotness)
    "Ive 09" Katz (drums & general kick-assness)
    Chris Rob (piano, keys, vocals and general genius)
    Solomon Dorsey (bass, how low can you go)
    Rashida Bryant (vocals extraordinaire & general sass)
    Honey Larochelle (vocals extraordinaire & general oolala)
    Maurice Brown (trumpet & general fire)
    Lakecia Benjamin (sax & general gangster lean)
    Guest Rapper: Hasan Salaam (awwww yeaaa)

    Do you produce your own songs or do you work with band members to assist in production?

    I write music by ear, rather than playing out on piano, or scoring it on charts.  I was trained classically, singing opera in high school, etc.  However, even though often times I know exactly what I want, I need to collaborate with musicians and producers in order to complete my songs.  I write my lyrics, melodies, vocal arrangements then work together with my collaborators on the musical arrangement.

    Do you have a set way of working with your collaborators?

    There are no rules on song writing.  So, there are so many different approaches that can be used.  Many times a producer will send me an almost complete musical track via email, and I will put the track on repeat and come up with melody ideas.  Once I determine a melody I like, I pull lyrics from my journal that match the feel, and then I demo a song idea at home on my home studio.  I email the demo to the producer to get feedback.  If they are feeling it, then we go into a real studio and lay down vocals on a high quality microphone and tweak the arrangement to match the song arrangement, including adding of more instrumentation.  When I write with a live musician, we mostly write in real time, making up the song.  I may come with one melody idea already, or the musician may have a chord progression already, but then we build it in each other's presence until we have a complete song.  
    I love your first CD "Maya Who?", I really love the grooves and the vocals on that album, can we expect to hear more tracks in that style from you on your next recording?

    My next CD will be a fully produced project with drums, beats, big sounding production, full live band as well. I plan to have it ready before the end of 2008.  
    Next week TASTE THIS!, my first official Mix Cd, sponsored by, LukaBrazzi, and Intlx Productions, will have its digital release, MAY 15TH. Mixed by Amore (of Fat Beats acclaim), and featuring brand new songs and guest features with Immortal Technique, Hasan Salaam, Ness, Pete Miser, Steve Marley, Doujah Raze, Luquantumleap and more.  This will be the beat heavy one for all y'all DJs, Dancers, and HipHop heads. It has 16 songs on it, including 10 new songs. A hard copy will also be made available.

    How difficult is it for an Indie artist to get the exposure you've been fortunate to receive via the press and live performances?  How has this helped you grow as an artist over the years? I used to see you play street fairs in Brooklyn and now you are playing to thousands of people.

    I do not know if it is easy or hard to get press exposure.  I just believe that if you commit to quality, and you keep on doing it, always challenging yourself to be better the next time, people will notice.  The old adage "build it and they will come."   I believe that professional presentation is also essential.  You want people to take you seriously, so you have to come off serious.  I also take my fans seriously, so I don't like to waste their time by doing low-quality shows and venues.  If you are not that excited about the business side of your music, then collab with enthusiastic supportive people who can help with that.  I treat my music like a business, so I always compare what I do to the way someone runs a business.  To build what you have to the next level, the music should be on point, and so should the business. This is a quick answer. I have philosophies for days.  I have lots of interviews that go into great detail on my thoughts.  Check out my website for links.
    Does one performance stand out as the most exhilarating feeling on a stage you've ever felt?

    There are too many incredible, very spiritual experiences for me to compare or count.  One of the most special was when we performed on the Washington National Mall in DC at the SAVE DARFUR Rally.  There were about 10,000 people in the field and when myself and Christian were back stage (in company with Barack Obama, George Clooney, Russell Simmons, etc.), I said with tears in my eyes, "Christian, this is why we write these songs!!"   When we performed "Warriors" for that crowd, every time we got to the chorus the crowd raised their signs of protest high in the air.  It was such an affirmation of why I live, and why I sing. That is one of many times it mattered.  Others at the top of the list are: My concerts in Burma, and my concert in Sarajevo, My performances at Rikers Island.
    Can you talk about other collaborations you have in the works at this time? When can we expect these songs released?

    Bob Sinclair (huge dance, pop DJ and Producer from Paris): "My DJ," a single for this Summer
    Immortal Technique song on his next album
    Cheeks (of Lost Boyz); 5 or 6 songs on his upcoming Tuff Gong release.
    Man, I have a lot of collabs actually, it's hard to remember them all.  Please, if you are reading this, join my email list so that I can keep you posted in real time.  The email list is at on the homepage
    What musical influences have been prominent in the development of your songwriting and singing?

    Earth Wind and Fire, Mahalia Jackson, Ella Fitzgerald, Stevie Wonder, Prince, Michael Jackson.  I study them for a variety of their technique, songwriting styles, feel, rhythm, daring-ness, conviction and social consiousness
    Name some artists that you would like to work with in the future?

    KRS-One, Jada Kiss, Outkast, Bono, Anthony Hamilton, Sting, Bob Dylan, Danger Mouse, Ghostface Killah, Quincy Jones, Prince, Meshell Ndegeocello, Ledisi
    Are there any other Independent Artists that have made an impact on you when you've seen them live or on a recording?

    Ledisi had a huge impact when I saw her shortly after Sept 11th at SOBs in NYC.  She is anointed.  I really admire her massively.
    Do you handle all of your own business? Or do you have assistance with other chores that Indie artists deal with?

    I have historically managed, booked, and self-distributed myself for 7 years of my career.  Recently my team has been expanded so that I now have a very collaborative management team at Purpose Music Group.  I still handle a lot of my own business, and Purpose Music Group now adds a lot to my opportunities, distributes my latest cd, Junkyard Jewel, and help me market and handle incoming requests.
    After the Blue Note show (details and eflyer below) where are you off to next?

    House of Blues in Cleveland, OH on a bill with Algebra on May 16th.  I also will be doing shows on the West Coast at end of June in collaboration with The Rebirth.  

    Please come out this Monday May 12th at The Blue Note in NYC for 2 shows at 8pm and 10:30pm

    Here is a link from the Blue Note website for Maya's show

    By Tom Paul