Although you may not hear her name in the news every day, singer/songwriter Maysa Leak has enjoyed over two decades of worldwide success. Since her college days, the sunny vocalist has flexed her soulful jazz style with the likes of Stevie Wonder and British jazz/funk band Incognito, all the while building up her solo career.
In November 2011, Maysa released her ninth studio album Motions of Love. The project features a song co-written by Stevie Wonder, dedicated to our nation’s First Lady, Michelle Obama.
Through her work, Maysa has roamed cities throughout the world, but no place has resonated to her like London, England. In this exclusive UrbLife.com interview, the Baltimore-born Gen-Xer tells us why the Brits have her heart, recommends some other interesting spots for travelers, and discusses true friendship with a living legend.
You’ve worked with Steve Wonder, which is a huge accomplishment for any artist’s career. Talk us a little about how you teamed with him, and the impact he’s had on your career.
Maysa: I worked with Stevie Wonder back in 1991 as a background singer. I auditioned while I was in college, and once I graduated I moved to [Los Angeles] and sang background on the Jungle Fever project he did with Spike Lee. That’s how I started with him.
After that I moved to England to sing with the group Incognito, and then I started my solo records. I’ve known Stevie for 20 years, he’s a friend of mine, and I just haven’t asked him to do too much because I know he’s so busy and he rarely produces other people and stuff like that. I never thought to ask him for too much. I covered a couple of his songs.
My best friend Kim [Brewer], who is a mutual friend [of Stevie’s]said “I talked to Stevie and he said that he would produce the song that I wrote on the new album if you’d like.” I was like, “If I’d like?! Are you kidding me? I absolutely would like, yes I would love that!” That’s how it all came to be.
We started on her song and then Stevie started writing a new song in the studio, so Kim said “Is this a Maysa song or a Stevie song?” and he was like, “Oh it’s a Maysa song.” I was just like, “Wow I have a brand new Stevie Wonder song and I’m watching him write it!” It was just the most amazing experience.
During the process of recording, the last day they call me back to the studio, I thought that they wanted me to sing some more, but they actually wanted Stevie to play a harmonica solo on it and they wanted him to sing one line at the end with me and my girlfriend Kim. It was a really beautiful experience. Stevie is a good friend of mine, a really cool person, and of course a musical genius, so with all that wrapped into one it’s just amazing.
What are some of the things that you like about London?
Maysa: The fascinating thing about London is musically it’s just an open place. When I moved there back in 1991, it was all about the music. They loved American music, American soul music, that was really what it was all about.
Back at home it was about how you looked and all that kind of stuff. You could make songs for people that didn’t even know how to sing. That’s what the focus was on in the U.S. When I got to London, the focus was on the music.
If I wanted to go out on the town in London, where would I go?
Maysa: London is a good place for jazz music. There used to be a club called Subterranean that I used to go to for pop and dance music, but I’m not sure if it’s open any more. I know it’s touristy, but I still love it there. The place where I used to live, it’s called the Docklands, when I lived there 20 years ago there was really nothing there but a little market and the hotel. Now it’s like a mecca [for]fashion, travel and shopping.
There are so many things about London. I just like the atmosphere; it’s a world atmosphere with people who travel. It’s like New York. It’s a great place to live and to meet people of all different cultures. The most appealing thing about London is that everyone speaks English there and it’s easy to get around.
What are some of your favorite places to visit around the world?
Maysa: I love L.A., New York, Atlanta, Detroit and D.C. Out of the country, I really love Amsterdam, anywhere in Italy, I traveled there with Incognito and it’s just amazing. Then again, London is it. I love it there. If I had the money I would live there half of the year and live here the other half. It’s cool being there, being on the subway, and just getting around easily. It’s just a great place. They have great Indian food, every corner has a great Indian restaurant.
Tell us a little about where you’re at in 2012, where are people going to find you and will you be doing any touring?
Maysa: I’m definitely going to tour to promote the new album. The album came out November 8,  so it wasn’t eligible for Grammy nomination, so this year we’re going to work hard to get my name out there and get my music out there so that we can hopefully be nominated, and get more exposure because it’s a great record.
You can play from top to bottom, you don’t have to skip a lot of songs. These albums that they make today you have one or two songs that you like and the rest is just junk. I never make those kinds of records. I’m hoping that it will reach more people. He wrote the [“Have Sweet Dreams”] song for Michelle Obama because he loves how she supports her husband. She’s a very loving and supportive wife and he really loved that about her.
Watch Maysa’s “Have Sweet Dreams” video ft. Stevie Wonder and Kimberly Brewer
CLICK HERE to catch Maysa on her official site Maysa.com, follow her on Twitter @MaysaLeak and like her at Facebook.com/MaysaLeak