Work in Progress

The Baltimore Sun

Working against the music industry's preference for wishbone-thin ingenues, full-figured singer Maysa Leak has made a name for herself over the past 15 years as vocalist for the British soul-fusion collective Incognito and as a solo performer. Her latest CD, Feel the Fire, made its debut in May in the Top 30 of Billboard's R&B; charts. Maysa (she goes by just her first name) is working on two albums: a still-untitled, self-produced live set recorded in Alexandria and a CD of new songs called Metamorphosis. She's also producing Revenge of the Underground Divas, a tour featuring fellow category-defying vocalists Lalah Hathaway, Caron Wheeler, N'Dea Davenport and Amel Larrieux. When she's not on the road, the 41-year-old lives in Pikesville with her son, Jazz, 8.

FLYING SOLO -- If you say "Maysa of Incognito," people know me. But I want it where more people know me as just "Maysa" right off the bat. ... I'd like to be like Nancy Wilson and be around forever. I'm never doing something where I'll have, like, 20 dancers around me on stage. I want people to age with me.

ON THE ROAD --There have been times where I'm still getting dressed while running to the stage. You do what you have to do. I believe in being ready.

MULTIPLE DIVAS --We did [a Divas] show in Atlanta in June, and it was great. It was me, Caron Wheeler and N'Dea Davenport. We did one song together I wrote called "Scat World." Then we did three songs apiece. It's one of those shows where we wanted to band together. We didn't want any diva stuff, no cat fights.

FINDING FUNDING --Trying to get the money for the tour is the hardest thing in the world. Lincoln Mercury sponsored it [in Atlanta].

BEING THE COORDINATOR --As the producer, I was putting flights together, hotels, coordinating schedules, hiring the band. I enjoyed it, actually. It's a lot of stress, though. Then I had to jump in and be an artist. I had to learn when to stop being the producer and be Maysa, the singer. When we do the tour, we'll hire people [to coordinate it]. When we get the sponsorship together, we'll start the tour in February.

THE LIVE CD --We recorded the CD on June 29 and 30 at the Birchmere. Sold out both nights. It shocked me. I didn't think I could sell out two nights. But I announced that I was recording the concerts, and we got a really good turnout.

DO IT HERSELF --I produced it all myself. My whole thing was to own this record so that my son will have something forever. If you own the master [recordings], you get the royalties on it. Right now, I've never received one royalty, and I've been doing this for 15, 16 years.

METAMORPHOSES --On the new record, Metamorphosis ... it's still going to have that jazz-funk vibe, but it's going to be more spiritually based, more organic-sounding, more exotic-sounding, more like world music. During that process, I'm also making a physical metamorphosis through diet and exercise. So by the end of next year, the record will come out. I'll have two records out next year.

COMPENSATION --Being in this world -- smooth jazz, soul jazz, whatever -- the money isn't as big as in the pop or R&B; world. I mean, I get paid pretty good, but it's not what I should be getting. I'm just trying to get to that next level, so I'm making some changes and putting myself out there more. The weight-loss thing may help. I don't know. I just want to try to make high-quality music.

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