Maysa’s music seeks to inspire change

Grammy-nominated Baltimore vocalist Maysa will perform her most treasured cover songs on Sept. 16 at the Birchmere.

Photo courtesy of Shanachie Entertainment

A velvety “ooh” cascades over acoustic-guitar musings and finger snaps as a pensive version of “Love is a Battlefield” gets off the ground. The artist, Maysa, reinvents the song as the title track on her new collection of her most treasured cover songs. Since hopping on a tour with Stevie Wonder in 1991, the Grammy-nominated Baltimore vocalist has fronted a British jazz band and released 13 albums as a solo artist. Catch her Sept. 16 at the Birchmere.

What led you to reinterpret Pat Benatar’s rock anthem “Love is a Battlefield” into something more chill and introspective?

We’ve always been in this battle of good and evil, but it seems more prevalent. Like Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” this is my little political statement. And the lyrics of the song—instead of taking a romantic turn on it, it just kind of hit me as a cry for more love and compassion in our world.

What was one of your favorite moments performing with Stevie Wonder?

There were so many. My first professional gig with him was singing background on the Jungle Fever project. We toured all of the major television shows like Oprah and David Letterman, Johnny Carson, Arsenio Hall. Being in that A-list kind of environment was a lot of fun.

Who were your biggest influences as you transitioned from classical to popular music?

Chaka [Khan] had a huge hold on me as far as being an influence because I saw her as that jazz, funk and soul singer that I wanted to be. Melba Moore is the reason why I’m a singer today because when I was 6, my mother took me to see her in Purlie, and that made me instantly want to be a singer. Al Jarreau was definitely one of my biggest heroes as far as wanting to be a jazz singer.

What brings you back to Baltimore?

I wanted to raise my son here with all his family around him. I love my hometown; I just wish better for it. And I hope that we can accomplish more things to make Baltimore a safer environment for everybody.

(September 2017)