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Foreigners in China

By Cool Han

NOTE: The following article is Track A of a two-track series on American indie-jazz band MAYA AZUCENA, who performed this past April across China. The four-piece outfit - Maya Azucena (Vocals), Ivan Katz (Drums),Christian Ver Halen (Guitar) and Bruce Mack (Keyboards, guest), - are part of the The Rhythm Road: American Music Abroad program developed by ‘Jazz at Lincoln Center’ and the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, which affords MAYA AZUCENA a chance to perform internationally before a wide variety of audiences.

TRACK A: Maya Who?!

He was a Junkyard Jewel, hidden in trash, forgotten too long until found at last
Junkyard jewel with so much inside, hidden from the rest as a matter of pride
Junkyard jewel you are so beautiful, oh can't you see, oh can't you see...
He was a Junkyard Jewel, hidden in trash, forgotten too long.
--Junkyard Jewel

Maya Who? The New York-based emerging song stylist? Which one? Who’s Maya?

Today, while Maya Azucena is fuelling an audience of hundreds of Chinese with her raw soul sound and progressive lyrics as a part of “The Rhythm Road: American Music Abroad” program, she is not a “rock star,” she is just herself - a singer connecting with the heart of men and women while traveling around the world with one goal: to uplift the global community.

If you’ve seen this girl live, you will realize how hard it is to compare Maya Azucena to any other performer. She may not be the first artist to combine multiple genres into a musical melting pot (R&B, soul, classical, folk, pop-rock, hip-hop, funk, reggae and gospel, to name a few), but she very well could be the first one to pull it off in a fabulous fusion.

And her voice, oh that voice - one moment the soothing sound of classic-soul; the next blowing out your speakers. Yet the power is not just in volume, but of an emotion deep inside that becomes a wellspring freshly unearthed once on stage.

In a letter to her “Dear Soul Trackers” in the liner notes of her sophomore LP Junkyard Jewel, Maya writes: “It is a collection of songs that express my personal feelings about the things I have lived through, about the world I see around me, and the hope and faith I live by.” For Maya, “music is more than just entertainment; it can be a tool for activism, a tool for healing, and a means of giving a voice to those who do not have a voice.”

In Burma, such a country where Maya personally observed “it is illegal to have a formal gathering for more than 5 people at a time” and where the government “censor the TV and listen in to phone conversations,” she and her band worked in a music workshop to encourage Burmese music students “to find confidence in the beauty of their own voices.” Maya took it as a great honor to “offer hope, love and a touch of healing through music” to a people whom she describes as “sadly oppressed.”

Most recently, Maya and her band mates spent two weeks in China performing in five cities. Two events in Beijing were held at separate universities filled with hundreds of the capital city’s vigorous youth, allowing Maya an opportunity to intimately interact with her fresh Chinese audience. “Chinese people are really COOL, and they are so nice. I really do have a good feeling in China.” During a performance at a Beijing Modern Music Conservatory, young music students actually became part of the set: Maya sat and sang together with her Chinese fans and encouraged other students to “show themselves on the stage,” transforming, the concert into a Sino-American festivity of love and joy.

Maya on stage and Maya off stage are two different personas. Once named by as “Best Alternative Artist of the Year,” Maya on stage is as polished and professional as any “mainstream” artist in the field. When Maya sings, people know that she is on top of her game. However, Maya off stage remains good, honest people - sweet and wonderful like anyone’s best friend. When you speak with Maya, she has an uncanny tendency to look directly into your eyes, absorbing your words with her eyes, ears, even her hair. No matter how noisy the place is or how busy she is, at that moment you are the only one in her eyes and the only one she’s talking to.

Maya’s strength not merely lies in music; she writes in her blog not unlike a poet or columnist, sharing her “fashion tips for female artists on the road,” and taking the time to “big up” her supporters by writing a soulful Ode to the Press: “It’s like when I am on stage and the lights are in my face, I cannot see you all, but I feel you, know you are there, and respect you.” Maya confesses that “I have cried on more than one occasion just out of surprise and gratefulness of a review that helped spread my story.”

If it is “Junkyard jewel with so much inside, hidden from the rest as a matter of pride,” her lyrics might be true. When Maya hosted Turntable Unplugged on West 26th Street NYC, she recalls hip-hop superstars Jay-Z and P-Diddy sitting down beside her, yet her doctrines prohibited Maya from approaching them. “I felt I shouldn’t try to inset myself into their world, not without being invited. They are like sharks, and if they want something they’ll go after it. You don’t go up to a shark, they come to you.”

But if it is “…Junkyard Jewel, hidden in trash, forgotten too long until found at last,” it might not be true. Being “indie” is not such a carefree thing; Maya has been at the forefront of all the action where “there were no glossy, slick covers or walls” to protect her eyes. But Maya definitely isn’t someone that could be hidden in trash and forgotten - she’s the jewel, and no one can ignore the splendor of a jewel for too long.

On the back cover of their first CD, Maya Azucena writes: “I am a work in progress.” Today, 5 years later, Maya has become a polished stone out of that long process. In the eyes of her fans, she is their “junkyard jewel.”

Maya Azucena can be contacted via her official homepage:


    编者按:以下这篇文章是对美国独立爵士乐队玛雅阿祖赛娜的系列报道之一。2008年4月乐队在中国进行了巡演。乐队的成员包括主唱玛雅﹒阿祖赛娜, 鼓手伊凡﹒卡茨,吉他手克里斯汀﹒冯﹒哈伦和客座键盘手布鲁斯﹒马克。他们的演出是由林肯中心爵士乐社和美国国务院教育与文化局共同主办的“旋律之路:美国音乐在海外”活动的一部分。这个活动给玛雅乐队提供了在全球众多观众面前进行演出的机会。

A声道 玛雅是谁?










   如果是“珍宝藏在旧货栈,内心如此绚烂。不肯示人,只因傲然,”她的歌词也许是真的。当玛雅在纽约西20街主持“拔掉电源的唱盘机”音乐聚会时,嘻哈乐巨星Jay-Z 和P-Diddy就坐在身旁,然而她自己的原则却阻止了她和他们接近。“我感觉在没有被邀请的前提下不能生生把自己塞进他们的世界。他们就像鲨鱼,如果想要什么东西就会主动去追逐它。你不会主动走近一条鲨鱼,他们自会来找你。”


    在首张专辑的背面玛雅写道: “我是一件还在制作中的作品。” 如今,五年之后,在经过精心雕琢的玛雅已经成为了一块宝石。在她的歌迷眼中,她就是他们“旧货栈里的珍宝。”




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