For local Maysa fans, Christmas will be coming early in a number of ways.
First off, the veteran singer is finally coming to the Carolina Theatre in Durham next week. She was supposed to do a Bull City show in May, but the Carolina postponed it so she could recuperate from gallbladder surgery. But not only is she all rested and ready to perform, she’ll also be releasing a Christmas album, “A Very Maysa Christmas,” at the end of October.
Considering she has nearly a dozen albums in her discography, it’s kind of surprising that Maysa (full name: Maysa Leak) hasn’t released a Christmas album before. “I just thought it was time,” says the singer, 48, on the phone from her hometown of Baltimore. “It seemed like the older I get, it just seems like I’m trying to do different things. And, at this point financially, I thought I had enough to kind of do it because I wanted to own the record. So I was trying to save enough money to do it on my own without record company assistance.”
A deal for ownership
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Maysa’s label, Shanachie, struck a deal with the performer to fund the album and give it back to her once it sold 20,000 units. “The music industry has changed so much now that independent artists – we’re kind of forced to do things in different ways,” she says. “And ownership of your music – and not just your music, but the masters – is really important now, because the music will live on for years and years and years. And why does somebody else own your artistic contribution to the world? You should own it.
“Eventually, maybe one day, I would love to be able to go back and buy all of my previous records, buy the ownership of all my records one day. That’s my biggest hope.”
As for guest performers, saxophonist Gerald Albright appears on her rendition of “Silver Bells,” while Will Downing joins her for a duet of Donny Hathaway’s “This Christmas.” It seems that getting in the yuletide spirit has led to some major opportunities. “I’m glad I did (the album) because as soon as I started on that, Dave Koz called me and asked to do his Christmas tour with him,” she says. “So that’s a good thing.”
Maysa always has good luck getting together with the right people. After all, this is a woman who was lucky enough to record and perform with Stevie Wonder back in the day, briefly landing a spot in his backup group Wonderlove.
“I just learned a lot by watching him,” she remembers. “I just observed how he is and how he’s handled, how people deal with him. I only sang with him less than a year before I joined Incognito. I wasn’t with him for a long time, but I learned a lot in that little bit of time I was with him.”
The Incognito influence
Ah, yes, let us not forget about Incognito, the U.K. soul/funk/jazz collective that Maysa continues to collaborate with from time to time. (She says she might be included on tracks on their next album.) She’s been through a lot with this band. They were even there when she was about to give birth to her son, Jazz. They were literally there – her water broke onstage while they were doing a show in Japan. “I was only six months pregnant, so my son was born three months premature,” she says (her son is now 15).
Even though Wonder taught her a lot about professionalism and musicianship, Maysa says she got pointers on how to be an authority figure from Incognito.
“From Bluey (guitarist/singer Jean-Paul Maunick), the leader of the band, I learned from him how to handle being a leader,” she says. “He taught me how to be a leader because I watched him and how he handled everything. And there’s much responsibility fronting your own band. So when it came time for me to do it as a solo artist, I already had some knowledge as to what to expect from the industry and from audiences.”
Maysa also believes that working with Incognito influenced the fusion style of music – which people often mistake for smooth jazz – she traffics in to this day.
“I’ve been an R&B/jazz/funk singer from the beginning,” she says. “I mean, I appreciate people associating me with something, but that’s not the right thing. I’ve been working on changing that all these years, but it’s changing. The more I get out there, the more records I put out, people realize what kind of music I sing.”