Emotive Soul Vibes by Mayyadda
“Her soulful voice fills every nook and cranny… flawless” – The Present Situation
Mayyadda is a Minneapolis-based singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and producer who wants to utilise music to help people slow down, see things from a different perspective, and feel their way to personal and collective healing. She calls her genre “BlackGirlMagic” because of the eclectic combination of neo-soul vocals, folksy guitar, pop-style piano, and trap beats thrown in for good measure.
She’s been a recording artist since 2015, producing four albums since then, the most recent of which being TRY&REMEMBER, a sonic journey through the chances one takes on the road to healing, published in October 2021.
Black Velvet Punks is a jazz punk, neo-soul, and hip hop band led by genderqueer multi-instrumentalist Taylor Ngiri Seaberg (they/them), Traiveon Dunlap (drums and vocals), and Roderick Glasper (bass). Any players who collaborate with the soulful brainchild to emphasise the kick and splatter of punk with a tapestry of neo-soul charm and smoothness are referred to as Black Velvet Punks. The band has appeared at events such as Walker Art Center’s Terrace Thursdays, Indeed Hullabaloo 2019, KFAI MinneCulture, First Avenue Goes to the Minnesota State Fair, MCN6’s Bands on Vans Series, and more.
Mayyadda Major would have laughed two years ago if you told her she’d be performing at Minneapolis’ Dakota Jazz Club, where the likes of Prince, Esperanza Spalding, and Vusi Mahlesela have performed. But that’s exactly what happened last July when Mayyadda, a singer-songwriter and instrumentalist who goes by the stage name Mayyadda, was added to the late-night lineup at the club.
When I asked how she obtained the job at the famed Dakota, she said, “It’s all about who you know,” and recounted a series of events that started with the Fourth Precinct takeover and ended with her opening for Davina and the Vagabonds at the Lowertown Line. Davina Sowers, who was impressed by Mayyadda’s voice, inquired if she had ever performed at the Dakota. Davina got her name into the appropriate ears at the Dakota after Mayyadda said no, which led to her July 8 gig last year.
Anyone who works in the music industry understands that it’s all about who you know, but having the correct gear also helps. One of the three producers on Mayyadda’s new EP, Don Strong, recalls the first time he heard her sing. “I was at Moto-i one evening, and Mayyadda was singing, and her tone and mood struck me. “Who’s that?!’ I exclaimed to the bartender.”
Strong and Mayyadda easily struck up a discussion when Strong introduced himself. “Mayyadda has a lively personality; she speaks with her hands and her eyes twinkle. “She was extra on that evening,” she says, attributing some of her positive energy to the high of just killing her stage performance.
For what seemed like hours, the two music fans sat and talked honestly. Mayyadda’s musical taste and unique sense of style piqued Strong’s interest, which she attributed to her Breck school choir days. Strong is a regular at open mics in the Twin Cities, but after meeting Mayyadda, he stated, “When I heard her, she inspired me.”
Mayyadda has that effect on people – with a honeyed voice that pierces the air in songs like Blue, where she takes you through agonising heartbreak – her voice and songwriting harken back to India Arie’s early days, with deeply soothing melodies matched by relatable lyrics that make social commentary. Mayyadda tells me about her unusual journey from Ivy League student to professional musician, with a monthly set at St. Paul’s Vieux Carré (previously the Artist’s Quarter), as she prepares to release her second album, “EIGHTYNINE.”
“I’ve always been singing and performing,” she explained, “but for a long time I didn’t think of it as a career.”
Taking a risk with your creativity
Mayyadda, who began piano lessons just before her third birthday, learned herself to play guitar at the age of 14, and participated in choruses, musicals, and a capella groups throughout her education, didn’t have a foolproof strategy for her Ivy League degree as she approached graduation. She observed as many of her friends prepared for high-paying banking and financial positions as a senior at Duke University in North Carolina, where she double majored in religious and Arabic studies. She, like many young people, felt torn between doing the right thing and pursuing her own ambitions.
Mayyadda, a Liberian immigrant who attended Breck School, one of Minnesota’s most prominent private institutions, said she was always under pressure to make her degree “matter.” This, combined with the relatively restricted conceptions of success she found at both Breck School and Duke University, meant that music was not something she considered when considering a career path.
“Success was promoted in these circumstances as ‘you’re going to be a businessperson, a doctor, or a lawyer, and you’re going to be wealthy.’ “That’s how you know your sacrifices were worthwhile,” she explained.
Mayyadda decided to take a risk as the pressure mounted as she started the first semester of her senior year.
“I knew I’d loathe myself if I didn’t do the music thing when I was 50,” she remarked.
Fear of regret may propel you down the path, but there’s no assurance that it’ll be simple or inexpensive once you’re there.
“She needed to raise some funds in order to do this.” I provided her with information about crowdsourcing and Kickstarter. “She reached out to her peeps – college pals,” Strong explained, “and she already had demos and people were supporting her.” Strong claims that when she had enough money to rent studio space and recruit a staff, she called him and said, “I’m ready to do something.”
Mayyadda, who is deeply devout, decided to put her faith in God to lead her down that path. She began to receive confirmations that she had made the right decision almost immediately. She decided to tell her mother about her plan to pursue a career in music while she was at home over winter break. Surprisingly, her mother replied positively. She grabbed up her pen and began penning songs a few weeks later, on New Year’s Day. “Hey Mister,” one of the three songs she created, would subsequently appear on her first EP and become one of her most popular tracks.
Mayyadda returned to Minneapolis in the fall of 2015 and began playing at local clubs and open mics. Her extended family was and continues to be supportive of her artistic endeavours. “I knew you were going to be this fantastic!” her friends exclaimed after seeing her play, as she claims they had believed in her long before she did. Mayyadda travelled to South Carolina at her cousin’s suggestion, where her cousin Dee assisted her in engineering and producing her first EP.
Creating her own unique sound
Her upcoming EP, which will be released on February 10, is both a window into her creative process (with most of the tracks hovering around 89 beats per minute) and a tribute to her grandmother, who will be 89 years old when the EP is released. Mayyadda’s music is both political and personal, influenced by Ed Sheeran, SZA, Lauryn Hill, India Arie, and Kirk Franklin. She’s composed songs on the grief that many people felt following Michael Brown’s death and the Charleston Massacre. “As a Black woman, everything I’m composing is about the Black Experience,” Mayyadda said, even though she doesn’t consider most of her music to be “explicitly Black.”
Alexa Aretz took the photo.
“In her songs, she has a great sense of metaphor.” Blues with a gospel tinge and a call-and-response format. “People have compared her to Tracy Chapman because her voice has a richer tone,” Strong remarked. “It could be bluesy, gospel-flavored, neo-soul, or R&B.” It’s one-of-a-kind, powerful, and full of personality.”
“She has a fascinating guitar approach as well,” Strong continued, “it’s percussionist.” “It’s like eating grits and gravy and having a pineapple placed on your plate.” Mayyadda plucks her strings and taps her guitar like a drum during recording sessions and live performances.
Strong doesn’t mind comparisons to Chapman, but Mayyadda’s range is comparable to “Chastity Brown, Cassandra Wilson, and Corinne Bailey Rae,” according to Strong.
“Being a Black woman exploring these various emotional palettes demonstrates that we are not a monolith.” Mayyadda explained, “We also have the entire depth of human emotion that is attributed to white singer-songwriters.”
I asked Mayyadda what her ambitions are with her music, or who she does it for, given that she already has 55 songs composed and is backed by a trio of producers (Strong, Andre Mariette, and Malcolm Wells).
She said, “It’s a lot of therapeutic stuff.” “I want to elicit a sense of release and immerse you in a story long enough for you to absorb those feelings.” If you’ve personally experienced it, that’s great, but if you haven’t, it can help you develop empathy and relate with someone else’s hardships.”
Are her songs well-received by white audiences? Yes. Mayyadda informs me that she is well accepted “all around,” although the response from the audiences varies. Late last year, for example, she performed for a largely Black audience at Honey in Northeast Minneapolis. The atmosphere was different.
“It was amazing to have people answer in the middle of the song,” she remarked. Mayyadda is proud of her progress over the past year, which has seen her transition from acoustic singing to incorporating rhythms created in collaboration with her producers, Andre Mariette and Malcolm Wells. Jande, another cousin, has taken over as her manager, and she is working hard to establish herself in the local scene.
Mayyadda’s artistry is in its early stages by all accounts. That peculiar moment where you understand you can fly and that a bigger audience (beyond your friends and family) appreciates your artistic production, yet you still have expenses to pay and reality to face. Mayyadda now works as a teaching artist at Washburn High School in South Minneapolis, which has assisted her with the costs of pursuing her aspirations.
“By any stretch of the imagination, I am not hungry,” she stated. “It seems more insecure than I expected to feel at this stage in my life, but I’m learning to sit with it and trust God to handle it.”
Strong’s faith in Mayyadda is based on his great eye for talent, which he claims she possesses in abundance: “she’s got a sound, she’s got concept, she’s gorgeous, she’s got a look, she’s got a career.”
Mayyada will play at Vieux Carré on Saturday, February 18th. Listen to her new album, which will be published on February 10th, on SoundCloud, Bandcamp, or Spotify.