Maya Azucena: No Sleep Til' Brooklyn
There’s no rest for Maya Azucena.
The spellbinding Brooklyn songstress would trek from Brooklyn to Manhattan to Brooklyn to Manhattan again, then finally, back to Brooklyn on the day of this interview. She had to pick up a U-Haul in Brighton Beach packed with production equipment and drop it off in Chelsea for her video shoot the next day, then straight to DUMBO for an appearance on #BodegaRadio at PNC Studios. After that, a dinner meeting in The City before heading back to her creative haven in Flatbush -- somehow squeaking in fifty-eight minutes to talk her latest release, Cry Love, over appetizers at re-Bar’s bustling gastropub on Front Street. In the background, Sillicon Alley techie-types decked in button-downs and flip flops revel in happy hour, sipping in the week’s end. Sitting in front, Maya skims the menu.
“I like the steak fries,” she says easily, as if oblivious to her loaded schedule; as if fatigue doesn’t exist in her world.
Visually, Maya Azucena is the picture of conquering resilience. Her eyes smile when she talks, remaining fixated even when it’s her turn to listen. Her laughs erupt freely. Her words seem to float like incense, drifting initially while first answering each question then landing resolutely on her ultimate conclusion. She’s a captivating communicator, really, both calming and disarming all at once.
Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Maya began writing and performing at 4 years old. Her father is a freelance journalist in the Washington, DC area and her mother worked for the Department of Corrections. “She was a parole officer that wore long dangling earrings and cowboy boots,” she says proudly. “She was fabulous at the same time.”
A creative gene is ever present amongst Maya’s siblings. Her younger sister focused on the visual arts, working as an illustrator for MTV and Nickelodeon, among others, during her career. Not only is her older brother a journalist as well, but also a mixed martial artist, body builder and front man for, what Maya describes as “death metal meets performing arts” band, Oxbow -- a modern day renaissance man by it’s most modernest definition. “My brother is a person that is a genius,” she says. “He does a million things at once. When I was younger, I always looked at it like, ‘Hey, why do I have to do just one thing? Why can’t I do it all?’”
Her brother’s example quickly ingrained itself in Maya’s artistic journey. She studied classical voice at Manhattan’s LaGuardia High School and minored in acting at Swarthmore College. The secluded Pennsylvania campus offered a stark contrast to The City’s congestion, but once she realized that what she needed to experience couldn’t be learned in theory one-hundred and eleven miles south of The Big Apple, she dropped out in the Kanye-sense.
“I had a professor who literally said, ‘One day when you audition...,’” she says. “I’m like, ‘Did he really just say that?’ I’ve been auditioning for major things before I came here. I don’t need to spend $28,000 a year talking about ‘one day when I do this.’ I need to get in the game as soon as possible.”
Such a weighty decision came rather pragmatically for the raw soul singer. Her seemingly unwavering confidence, relentless work ethic and a voice empyrean enough to reverb the soul cemented the foundation of what’s grown into an impressive independent career. The Village Voice and Washington Post rained praise on Azucena’s live show, while The New York Post compared her to luminaries Chaka Khan and Roberta Flack. Billboard Magazine describe her vocals as “soaring” and The Austin Chronicle declared her possessor of “The Best Pipes At SXSW” -- racking up two Porin Awards (the Croatian equivalent to the Grammy’s for her work with Gibonni), AllHipHop.com’s “Best Alternative Artist of the Year Award,” and business publication, The Network Journal’s “40 Under 40 Achievement Award” in the process.
“That was really deep for me,” she says about being recognized by a business community. “They’ve only acknowledged something like three artists in eleven years.”
She even received a Grammy Certificate for her collaboration with Stephen Marley on his album, Mind Control. “I recorded in Bob Marley’s house and Tuff Gong [Studios] in Kingston, Jamaica,” she describes.
“That was really surreal. A surreal moment was being in the office of Bob Marley’s house and Stephen Marley was there and Rita Marley. Rita Marley showing me the harmony to a Nina Simone song that I was going to sing. It was like this baton being passed feeling. I’m singing a Nina Simone song being produced by a Marley, harmonizing with Rita in Bob Marley’s house. It was just crazy.”
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