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Local, Grammy-nominated R&B singer Maysa talks new covers album ahead of Capital Jazz Fest

A Grammy nomination is a dream of countless musicians. But how much does it change their lives after the awards show ends?

In the case of Maysa, the answer turned out to be not much. Beyond her performance fee increasing a bit, the Gwynn Oak resident, who was nominated for best traditional R&B performance at the 2014 Grammys, life returned to normalcy rather quickly.


"I didn't really see a big change anywhere else to be honest with you, other than the fact that I can say that forever and ever," said Maysa. "It's just fun to say 'Grammy-nominated.'"

Last week, Maysa released "Love is a Battlefield," an album of mostly covers that she hopes will hold fans over as she works on her yet-to-be-titled 14th studio album. In between, the 50-year-old will perform live around the world and locally, including Sunday's Capital Jazz Fest at Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia.


She's been a full-time recording artist for 26 years — a fact she doesn't take for granted.

"I've never had to have a regular job," Maysa said. "That's rare, and I'm really grateful for that. It's all due to the people who have supported me, who buy my records and come to my concerts. That's huge."

Born Maysa Leak, the Morgan State University alumna with the huge voice first entered the music world via an advocate with clout: Stevie Wonder, who recruited Maysa for his Wonderlove backup group after she graduated. She took her talents to London in the early 1990s, when she became the lead singer of the R&B-funk act Incognito.

In 1995, Maysa released her debut self-titled album, and since then, she's steadily released new projects, including 2013's "Blue Velvet Soul," which led to the Grammy nod.

Her track record suggests the music just comes to her — and usually, it does — but Maysa said a bout with writer's block led to her new record of covers.

"I'm in the middle of writing it, and I didn't feel like rushing it," she said. "I didn't want to push and make it happen. I just want it to happen naturally."

She heard Pat Benatar's "Love is a Battlefield," a song she's always loved and the cover for which her latest album is made, on the radio not too long ago. The lyrics — with lines like "heartache to heartache, we stand" — resonated with Maysa in a new way this time.

"It touched me and influenced me to talk about the political climate we're in right now. Mostly about people and all these protests we're having. It's a good-against-evil [uprising] again," Maysa said. "I just want people to be inspired."


Other covers on the 10-track record include Luther Vandross' "Because It's Really Love" and Odyssey's 1982 hit-single "Inside Out."

While she's excited about "Battlefield," her next album of original music remains a focus. Part of the delay, Maysa said, was due to the record's heavy dance-music direction, one she's never explored this deeply. She has three songs finished and hopes to release the album in summer 2018.

"We're going through a lot," she said. "Sometimes, if we can just let our hair down and dance it out, and just forget about everything for a while, it helps a lot."

As she puts the album together, Maysa will continue to perform live. Aside from this weekend's gig, she plans to perform in the area more this summer before she rejoins Incognito for tour dates in Japan and Australia toward the end of the year.

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To create the ideal atmosphere for a Maysa set these days, the singer-songwriter said she simply needs engaged spectators.

"I need the audience to relax and have a good time, and just chill out," she said. "I just need the audience to receive the love I'm trying to give them. That's the best way I can say it."


Her career has taken her to places she never expected, but retirement is nowhere near in Maysa's mind. There are still songs to sing and accomplishments to pursue — including one in particular.

"I still want to win a Grammy. I'm not working for it, but I do my best that I can all the time in hopes that it's recognized by the industry," she said. "I don't give up too fast on that."

If you go

Maysa performs Sunday as a part of the Capital Jazz Fest at Merriweather Post Pavilion, 10475 Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia. It is a three-day event (and Saturday is sold out). Charlie Wilson, Robin Thicke, Anthony Hamilton, Tank and many more will also perform. $84.50-$194. Call 410-715-5550 or go to