While Maysa is no newcomer to the music scene, her ninth solo CD, Motions of Love (Shanachie Entertainment) that boasts cameos by the legendary Stevie Wonder and neo soul crooner Dwele, promises to introduce the veteran soul and smooth jazz vocalist to the widest audience of her career. She first gained fame as the featured voice on British acid jazz band Incognitoâs defining `90s era hits such as âDonât You Worry About A Thingâ, âStill A Friend of Mineâ and âDeep Waters.â She then launched a concurrent solo career with the hits âAm I Wrong (For Lovinâ You),â âFriendly Pressureâ and âHypnotic Love.â With a sultry alto on par with Phyllis Hyman and Patti Austinâs honeyed notes, Maysa should be one of the biggest names in the urban mainstream but instead sheâs earned a loyal underground audience.
âThis album has more popular appeal than my other stuff,â Maysa offers as a remedy for her status as Urban AC radioâs best-kept secret. âI love my cult following. I have no complaints about that because thatâs more meaningful to me than anything. I donât want to walk into a store and have to have bodyguards and all that crap. I donât want that. If people come up to me in the supermarket and give me a hug, I love that.
When I was a kid I prayed to God that I would have longevity in the music industry and thatâs what I have. I havenât gone anywhere. Iâve been working 20 years straight.â
The Motions of Love project, primarily shepherded by Chris âBig Dogâ Davis who has also produced Will Downing and Kim Waters, marks a new chapter in the book of Maysaâs career. âThe original album title was Uncharted Territory because I kind of branched out a little bit on this record,â she confesses. âI had planned on having a rock song, I rapped a little bit and I had a country song. The country song and rap made it but the rock song didnât make it because we didnât have time to finish it. My degree is in classical performance. If I wanted to, I could go into opera if I put my mind to it. This was supposed to be an all R&B record with no jazz at all because Iâve never done a whole R&B album before.â
Instead, itâs a fourteen-track R&B album colored with funk, jazz, disco and a little New Orleans gumbo. Moreover, itâs the completion of a quartet of albums detailing Maysaâs rollercoaster romance with a now ex-boyfriend.
The couple broke up and Maysa funneled both her fury and her desire for the perfect man into this new album. âI chose the songs because of my raw emotions,â she adds. âOne song says, `there may be some butt I have to kiss but your name ainât on the list.â I was on a plane to go work with my producer Big Dog and do a writing session. I told him that I had nothing to say. `Iâm so heartbroken right now. Iâm so angry that I canât think of a word to say about this man or about how I feel. Iâm just numb. Iâm 45 years old and Iâm still going through this craziness.â It was a 45-minute ride and the song `When Itâs Overâ came to me on that plane. As soon as I got to Big Dog I said, ` I wrote this on the planeâ and he was like, `wow!â â
âOn the album, Metamorphosis , I was feeling the same way but this is ten times what I was feeling then.,â she confides. âI love that album. I did a lot of writing on it and it all revolves around the same man. From me choosing songs on the album Feel the Fire  that had a lot to do with this man. The last five years weâve been together, weâve broken up several times and Metamorphosis was like a letter to him. Then, by the time A Woman in Love came out, we had gotten back together. It seemed like we got it right and everything was cool. Then, on this new album we just suddenly broke up again â¦I will never give up on finding the man for me. I donât care if Iâm 85 years old, Iâll still be looking for him.â
Knowing that these musical tales sprang from Maysaâs real life soap opera makes them even more poignant. On her smooth co-write, âYou Wonât Find Your Way,â the lyrics echo her details of the breakup. After critiquing her lover for spending the âsummer awayâ and âplaying summer games,â she informs him that âthree strikes and youâre outâ and declares: âYou wonât find your way back into my heartâ¦never again will you get in! Baby, the door to me is locked.â
Although, that relationship is over; Maysa clearly knows what sheâs looking for in a mate and joyfully fantasizes about it on other songs. She co-produced and composed the dreamy disco-styled âLove Sweet Love (LSL)â with her bassist Charles Baldwin and keyboard player Damon Bennett. She boldly seeks love from that âSpecial Placeâ on one soothing track and tempts a man to a shower of love on the fast-paced âGet Wit Me.â She shows off her admiration for disco divas such as Linda Clifford and Thelma Houston on the club tune âDay N Nightâ in which she promises her next lover that, âanytime that you want it, Iâm a give it all to ya baby.â
Maysa met a husband and wife singing/songwriting duo, Tony & Joann Kemp aka Southern Silk Duo, at an Incognito concert years ago. âThey gave me a song called Motions of Love and every year, I keep saying Iâm gonna use the song because I love it so much but I finally did it and it turned out to be the title track,â she offers. In spite of her recent heartbreak, Maysa finds strength in her faith. On the Latin-tinged âHold Onâ she lays down some sweet scatting adlibs and encourages the faithful to, âhold on to Godâs unchanging hand.â
Maysa got a hand from neo soul artist ,DWELE on the mid-tempo hand clapper âFlower Girlâ that is currently making its way up radio station playlists. Maysaâs stirring remake of Angela Bofillâs 1979 classic, âI Tryâ is another special moment. âIâve been on tour with her the last couple of years,â she says of Bofill who suffered severe strokes in 2006 and 2007 that have left her unable to sing at her prior standard. âShe narrates her life story and asked me to sing her songs for her in the show. Itâs been a great experience.â
Another great experience has been the track âHave Sweet Dreamsâ that features Stevie Wonder who gave Maysa her first music industry gig as a member of his Wonderlove backing group in 1991. Maysaâs friend Kim Brewer told her that she had written her a song that Wonder was going to produce on Maysa. âWhen I got to the studio to go over the keys, Stevie started playing another song and he started singing and asked Kim to tape it,â Maysa recalls. âSo, Kim started taping it on her phone and she said, ` is this a Stevie Wonder song or a Maysa song?â He said, `itâs a Maysa song.â He wrote a song on the spot for me and Kim worked on it with him. He played harmonica on it that night and then he said he wanted to put one more background part on it. I thought he wanted me to sing it and when he went up to go to the mic, I was like are you kidding? Itâs almost like a gift. God has been putting these aha surreal crazy moments in my life. Twenty years ago I was singing backgrounds for Stevie Wonder and now heâs singing a background part for my song. Iâm like whatâs going on? Itâs just beautiful.â
Romantic setbacks aside, itâs been a beautiful life for the Baltimore, MD native. Unlike many R&B singers, Maysa wasnât raised in the church, so her musical style wasnât shaped from the choir loft. Her early influences were her motherâs favorite soul records. âMy mother played so much music in the house,â she laughs. âWe woke up to it. We went to sleep with it. We celebrated to it. We ate food to it. Music was everyday, all day long. We had this big ole console record player. To wake us up in the morning, she didnât come to our room and say get up. She would play the Gap Bandâs `Get Up Early in the Morningâ song and sheâd blast that so loud that you had no choice but to get up or have a headache.â
When she was about 14, Maysaâs uncle took her aside and turned her on to jazz. âI used to listen to Janet Jackson and all of that and he wanted me to stop listening to pop music,â she recalls. âHe told me to turn on PBS one night and thatâs when Al Jarreau was on and I was like oh my God! What is that? I want to do that!â
She then started studying jazz masters ranging from Dianne Reeves and Carmen McRae to John Coltrane and Stanley Turrentine. âI listened to them to get a different sound.,â she adds. âI think all of them are in me somehow.â
The songbird studied music at Morgan State University before heading to California to sing back-up for Stevie Wonder. During a tour break from Wonderlove, she auditioned for Scottish drummer, Steve Harvey, who was best friends with Jean-Paul âBlueyâ Manunick of Incognito. Bluey was looking for an American singer to front his band and asked Harvey to compile a list of 25 prospects. He put Maysa on that list. âBluey asked Steve which one of these singers would you trust with your children and he said me, so Bluey called me first.â Bluey asked her to sing Stevie Wonderâs tune âDonât Worry About A Thingâ over the phone. He, then told her where the official audition would be the next day and to show up there. The following day, Blueyâs manager called her and said she didnât need to audition after all. Bluey had hired her and wasnât considering anyone else for the spot.
The next few years were a whirlwind as Incognito reached new levels of fame with Maysa at the forefront. Their 1992 CD Tribes Vibes + Scribes produced the bandâs first American urban radio hit with the favorite âDonât You Worry `Bout A Thingâ which was equally huge in Europe. Their 1994 CD Positivity is their biggest seller to date, pumping out megahits like âStill A Friend of Mineâ and âDeep Waters.â
A turning point for Maysa came in 1994 when GRP Records Vice President of A&R Carl Griffin experienced an Incognito performance at the Northsea Jazz Festival. âWe were playing the biggest room, The JVC room â 18,000 people,â she recalls. âIf I waved my hand, they waved their hands. It was one of those surreal moments. At the end of the show, I was walking down the ramp to leave the stage and Carl was walking up. He stopped me and said, `I think its time for your solo career.ââ
A year later GRPâs Blue Thumb imprint was releasing Maysaâs self-titled debut CD that featured radio charms âCan We Change the World,â âSexyâ and âWhat About Our Love?â While firmly established as a soloist, Maysa continued to perform with Incognito off and on. After GRP founders Dave Grusin and Larry Rosen sold their label, they founded N2K Encoded Music and Maysa moved there with them and recorded three other fine albums before joining the Shanachie roster in 2005.
As Maysa looks towards the future, she hopes to one day star in a stage play about the life of jazz great Sarah Vaughn that sheâs been working on but her primary mission in the interim is to have the music on Motions of Love heard. âEverything Iâve worked for over the last 20 years,â she sighs. âI just want to see it blossom. There have been a lot of enjoyable parts and a lot of hard things in my career. I just want to get to the place where Iâm on peopleâs minds without anyone asking. If thereâs a part in a movie, I want them to say, `why donât we get Maysa for that role?â Or, `do you think Maysa would sing on this track?â Thatâs all I want. Thatâs my biggest dream. This CD is the big one. I know it. I can feel it in my heart. Iâm so excited.â