I am an advocate for art as power: US singer Maya Azucena

Business Standard, 30 Oct 2015

Press Trust of India  |  New Delhi

Sporting the quintessential native American mowhawk and traditional Indian crimson hued bangles along with Jodhpuri jutis, American singer-activist Maya Azucena’s voracious personality vindicates her urge to bring about a change in society through her music.

“I am an advocate for art as power. I believe that music has the ability to bring people together and has the power of being able to deliver the message and support humanitarian causes,” says the Brooklyn-bred vocalist.

Azucena’s music, which is broadly categorised under the genre of “Contemporary Rhythm and Blues,” is a reflection of her heterogenous cultural descent- African American, Jamaican and Cherokee on the maternal end and Scottish, Irish, English with a pinch of Spanish on the paternal.

Besides her multi-cultural lineage, the MTV Made’s award winning singer grew up in a Caribbean neighbourhood amidst Jamaican, Trinidadian and Guyanese ethnicities.

“It is just a part of my environment to be a fusion of cultures and it shows up in my approach to life and in my music and song writing,” she says.

Azucena’s music thus is a combination of genres like American Soul, R&B, Rock and Roll, Hip-Hop and Pop with Jazz and Reggae springing up every now and then.

“It’s similar to having ingredients that go into a recipe. I take all these ingredients(genres) and they fuse together to make a sound that’s very me,” the artiste says.

The musician, who performed yesterday at the Kamani auditorium here with her band from New York City, will also be singing in Chennai later before ending her first visit to India on November 2. “I am very happy to be able to share my original music and

it was a fun show even though we talked about heavy subjects. I try to touch upon the spirit of such conversations but in a really empowering and uplifting and fun way. We tried to bring in the New York kind of thing mixed with a world inspiration,” she says.

One of the songs that she performed last evening was “Dance Revolution,” which was composed to support the 2012 ‘One Billion Rising Revolution’ which aimed to end rape and sexual violence against women.

“It is a song in support of the ‘One Billion Rising’ campaign to end gender based violence. The campaign has had a beautiful presence here in India,” she says.

Azucena also rapped for the audience.

Although the 38-year-old vocalist, who has studied opera, does not play any instrument herself, she says her “voice is her instrument” and that she is also capable of teaching the art.

“When I write my songs, I have to sing out the notes to say what I want,” she says.

Her music focuses on themes of empowerment and justice.

A survivor of domestic abuse herself, she says, creating awareness about the issue is very close to her heart.

“I was in a psychotic relationship. My first major (7-year-long) relationship was an abusive relationship and it took me a very long time to realise that. Somehow in my mind, I had tricked myself into thinking that I was different because I wasn’t afraid. I thought I could handle it,” Azucena says.

“I share this uncomfortable story that’s vulnerable because I would like other young women to know that there is something after that. You don’t have to stay. You should leave. There is something more for you,” she says.

The activist-singer also deliberated on subjects of domestic violence and self-empowerment at Delhi University’s Gargi College here. “It was really powerful to be able to feel the energy of a

room full of young women and hear that we are about to take on the world,” she says.

Her journey as an activist really began when she witnessed the September 11 attacks on the twin towers in the United States of America, following which she has continued to bring about a change through her music.

“I was there when the twin towers were hit and along with all the New Yorkers, I too wanted to help. What came over me was an incredible feeling to sing. It was just like my moment of discovering my superpower,” Azucena says.

“It was music I had access to which I could use to help the world. From that point forward, I kept thinking about using it consciously, not by mistake but consciously, as a tool for social change or healing,” she says.

She is also the Artist Ambassador for “Bead for Life,” which empowers women to overcome vulnerable states of extreme poverty by becoming business-women with sustainable skills.

In Chennai, she will be conducting workshops for musicians at KM Music Conservatory, a higher education institution founded by Oscar winning composer AR Rahman.

“That would be exciting because I will get to meet a lot of young musicians and singers and will be able to talk about the more technical side of our music and what we do,” she says.

For her performance there, she will be collaborating with Indian vocalist and performer, Sunita Sarathy.

“I love the vocal style of traditional Indian singing. It comes from a different place in the voice than the way I sing. I also like the instrumentation and the scales. They are different from our Blues. I think if you put those together, it will be interesting,” she says, while expressing her interest in studying with an Indian vocal teacher in the future.

Her latest album “Unleash Me,” which is near completion, is scheduled to be released next year.

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