Heard on Progressive Underground

From Stevie Wonder’s Backup Singer to Solo Star, Maysa Makes Waves

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Image credit: Roy Cox Studio

Listen to 5 essential tracks from the Baltimore-born singer/songwriter Maysa.

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Born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland, jazz-soul singer/songwriter Maysa Leak was operatically trained and studied voice performance at Morgan State University, where she started writing and recording her own original material.

Around this time, she placed second in Baltimore’s first annual Billie Holiday Vocal Jazz Contest and subsequently auditioned for Stevie Wonder’s vocal group, Wonderlove. She was accepted into the group and, upon graduation in 1991, moved to North Hollywood and performed with Wonderlove on the “Jungle Fever” soundtrack, appearing in live and televised performances to promote the film. The buzz from those appearances resulted in her being recommended to the British funk-jazz group Incognito.

Maysa wowed Incognito band leader Jean-Paul “Bluey” Maunick during her over-the-phone audition and was accepted into the group, moving to London and joining the band just in time to record the 1992 album “Tribes, Vibes & Scribes,” a release that would place the band at the head of the class of the burgeoning acid jazz movement.


Listen to 5 essential tracks from Maysa.


1. “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing” – Incognito

Tribes, Vibes & Scribes” established Incognito as one of the top international acid jazz performers.

2. “Still A Friend of Mine” – Incognito

After signing to Gilles Peterson’s Talkin’ Loud label imprint, Incognito’s next album “Positivity” upped the ante as the group perfected their fluid studio groove aesthetic led by Jean-Paul “Bluey” Maunick’s ethereal sound-painting but driven by Maysa’s passionate, vibrant and ebullient vocal work.

3. “Deep Waters” – Incognito

Positivity” had many stand-out tracks, including “Deep Waters,” which became one of the defining songs of the acid jazz movement. It enjoyed an extended shelf life on numerous jazz and adult contemporary charts, catapulting Maysa into the spotlight. 

4. “Can We Change the World?”

Maysa continued recording with Incognito for seven more albums, extending all the way to today. But she also started releasing material as a solo artist, including her self-titled 1995 debut. The album was released to critical acclaim and universal praise for its sleek, organic approach that combined live instrumentation with her one-of-a-kind alto voice. 

5. “Soul Child”

Maysa has released 12 additional solo works, garnering Soul Train Awards, and various other forms of musical recognition and acknowledgments. Throughout her 30 years in the music business, Maysa’s impact is deep and far-reaching. Her influence can be seen in the work of many of today’s great female singers such as Lalah Hathaway, Ledisi and Jill Scott, whose DNA can be traced to Maysa’s silky and velvety alto, which has become one of the most distinct and dynamic and recognizable voices in the industry. 

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Chris Campbell, Host, The Progressive Underground

Chris Campbell has a deep interest in curating Detroit’s rich music scene and presenting it to the world-at-large.

ccampbell@wdet.org Follow @cambeaux

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